WESTERN ZEN RETREAT 2019 – A REFLECTION
I came to the Western Zen Retreat because it offered opportunities for personal interviews. I have been in another retreat with Rebecca, and have also had an interaction or two with Rebecca outside the retreat. There was no way I was going to turn down a chance to have several personal interviews with her. I knew nothing else about the retreat, and I’m glad I did not.
I struggled throughout the retreat. I’m used to having 6 cups of coffee before I leave for the office in the morning. And there was no coffee at the retreat! I could barely stay awake on Saturday.
The biggest challenge for me was the communication exercise. I found myself going back repeatedly to my “greatest hits:” I’m the black sheep of the family; I’m a loser; I’ve been given opportunities and assistance no one else has received, and look where I am despite all that; I am yet to grow up and become an adult; Look at the others I know – my brother, my parents, my friends—see how much they have accomplished; I am an addict; All I do is move from one pleasant sensation to another. I talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.
And then came my personal interview with Rebecca on Sunday.
I can’t remember what exactly Rebecca said, but the rug was pulled out from under my feet. All these responses I had disclosed to various partners were narratives, nothing more. All they did was confine me in set patterns of responses and behaviors. They imprisoned me. A heavy, unbearable burden had been lifted. The elation that accompanied the sense of freedom was palpable.
But this was only the beginning. The exercises did not get any easier. If I wasn’t all those things I believed myself to be, then who was I? I struggled more. I tried at all times to be genuine and state what was arising at the moment, without being influenced by responses I heard from my partner, without any intention to impress my partner or gain sympathy. I attempted to stay with the top plate. I was searching, honestly.
What I want to add is that the process of unraveling continued after I returned from the retreat. It is still working in the deep recesses of my mind, even (annoyingly) when I am asleep. The energy from that well keeps on flowing. It is 10 days now since the end of the retreat and the unraveling has not ceased. Something foundational continues to stir within me.
As a manifestation of that change I have not resumed coffee—I realized I was drinking coffee just to do something, to be distracted; how could anyone like dark, black, strong coffee! I have not had alcohol or cannabis. I indulged in these until the very day I came into the retreat. There are many other behaviors I have had difficulty with in the past that seem to be falling away.
There are many new behaviors that are beginning to take their place. Wholesome behaviors. I am being less defensive, more open, more expressive of affection toward my children, my mother, and my friends. I spend more time with my 87-year-old mother. I am more open to self-evaluation at work. I’m looking less toward others to satisfy my need for connection. I am becoming more respectful toward myself. I am more comfortable being by myself (it’s Saturday evening now and it would have been inconceivable that I am not out partying!).
I will close my reflection with something I came across the day after I returned from the retreat. Talk of serendipity! “Through the constant refining of the self—of teasing out what is not self and letting it go—we suffer less, get unburdened, feel lighter. We become more adept at discerning when something is within our control, and bears our acting on it, and when it doesn’t. We can see what kind of perception of self is skillful and put that into practice for as long as we need it, thereby cultivating a reliable inner strength that can ferry us to the other shore. To be one’s own mainstay is to be one’s own self help. Teaching us to do that is the Buddha’s ultimate gift.” From Tricycle’s Daily Dharma, “Saving Vacchagotta,” by Mary Talbot, October 17, 2019.
And that was the greatest gift I received from coming to the Western Zen retreat. My deepest bows of gratitude to Rebecca, Fiona and Hillary. May you be blessed abundantly.