Three-Day Chan Retreat 2023 (Anonymous)

Thank you again for the opportunity to practice with you.  I was especially looking forward to this retreat because although I have been practicing Silent Illumination for years, this was the first time I was able to have an interview with a practitioner and teacher of this specific method. A previous teacher used to say that “we are blind to our blindness” and once again that proved to be true in my case.  When you offered your instruction to me during daisan, my incomplete understanding of the Dharma made me confused by and resistant to your words.  After I left the interview, I felt disappointed in myself for wasting this opportunity to improve my practice.  However, as your comments began to integrate with my understanding, I realized that even though we had literally just met and I had only spoken a few words to you, in actuality your penetrating insight went right to the marrow of my practice. 

As Seng Ts’an famously stated at the beginning of the poem Faith in Mind, “The great way is easy if only you do not pick and choose”.  I have worked on cultivating this “mind of non-differentiation” as regards to the physical things around me.  Yet, blind to my blindness, no matter how many times I assured Sariputra that ALL 5 skandas (including thought) were empty (of individual existence and permanence), somehow I had never realized that the mind of non-differentiation must also apply to my own thoughts.  I had made a basic mistake in my understanding of the dharma regarding my own arising thoughts. Whereas I was able to see that all physical things should be honored for their own existence, independent of my wants and desires, I missed that the same was true for my own thoughts.  I had mistakenly taken the “silence” of Silent Illumination to be the quieting of the mind through reduction of arising thoughts, instead of the silence of non-discrimination towards all arising thoughts and phenomenon.  I should have known better because I could clearly see that when sitting in open awareness, phenomenon that would once have been distracting, were now part of the “all that is” that I was paying attention to.  The point of open awareness was not to block out or reduce sensory phenomenon, but to  calmly experience them fully and without discrimination.  Furthermore, in those few times where I was able to feel a deep calm abiding, I noticed that thoughts still arose, they simply did not lead to discrimination as they normally did.  

Once I was able to process your teaching, I was able to clearly see that I was still treating my own thoughts with discrimination; as good or bad, helpful or unhelpful, with the Dharma or against it.  Also, I was practicing to get rid of these thoughts as soon as possible and prevent them from arising.   The Buddha promised the cessation of suffering, but I was ignoring half of the cause of my suffering, my inability to accept my own arising thoughts as part of all that exists. Trying to train the mind though practice to only abide in blissful mental states is impractical and prevents you from accepting the other 99% of your life. Just like with sensory phenomenon, all these arising thoughts are “originally pure”.   Now that you pointed it out to me, I see my discrimination towards my own thoughts everywhere.  Now I that I am aware of what I am doing, I can expand my practice to work on being aware of and accepting all of my thoughts, as they are, without discrimination. By applying the mind of non-discrimination to my own thoughts, I get closer to fulfilling the promise of true equanimity. In reality, there is no (discriminating) mirror for the dust of my arising thoughts to settle on. 

Although this was a short retreat and during it I felt as if I had wasted an opportunity, it turned out to have a profound and critical improvement in my understanding of the Dharma. As I had hoped, you have pointed the way for my practice to improve and mature.

One-Day Online Retreat (C.T.)

I appreciate this opportunity to practice in a structured way at home. The schedule is tight so it is a good training for me to apply mindfulness moment to moment in the home setting. It definitely pushes me to practice more diligently by myself at home.

From the sittings, I noticed I had many wantings especially in the morning sessions: wanting to relax, wanting to do good, wanting to apply the teaching, and wanting to stop the other wantings. These wantings were so pervasive that they were affecting my attitudes continuously. I can sense the wantings but I can’t remove them. 

In the afternoon sessions, the grips of the wantings subsided. I was just in the state of being, being with the leg pain, being with the breathing sensations, being with the awareness and the thoughts. I was at peace with the present moment. 

From this retreat, I can see how strong my inner urge is. Yet, it is not that formidable anymore because I have also experienced it quieting down. It is a continuous practice to let go the interference over and over again, not only during meditation, but more importantly, in real life situations.

Thank you, Rebecca, for providing a valuable retreat for us to practice. 

Five-Day Chan Retreat 2022 (Anonymous)

Thank you so much for holding such an endlessly impactful and life-changing retreat. I came in with the intention of learning to deepen my practice and to address my phone addiction habits, and ended up leaving with so much more. Apologies if my reflection comes out a bit rambly, but here are the main points I ended up taking away from the retreat:

  • Allowing yourself to be heard fully, and without judgement, is the best gift you can ever give to yourself. A lot of self help books and teachers tell you to simply “love yourself”, but don’t usually elaborate much. For someone who does not know themselves, this advice can feel a bit hopeless to hear. Both in the talks, and in our interviews, you helped me to realize that I have not been letting myself be heard, felt, and experienced fully, and my inner child is yearning to be seen. Although I have just begun on this journey of seeing myself fully, I already feel so much more loved and connected. I spent much of my life so far looking outside of myself for validation, and blaming other people and situations when I didn’t feel the fulfillment I desired, but the source of love and connection really can be all within me. 
  • It is important to not only view yourself as ever changing, but also people in your life. The practice is incredibly helpful in allowing one to know themselves fully, and then use that same loving compassion and empathy to view others fully as well. 
  • The mind is tricky and can distort the present moment to fit certain narratives. The practice helps us to have the awareness required to recognize those habits and not give into them as redilly. 
  • When trying to avoid being like our parents, we can sometimes become like them in a different way. 
  • Blocking out certain thoughts, because we feel twinges of pain, guilt, or fear, can make them seem scarier and scarier and end up causing us a lot of suffering. Each time we block it away, it will come back stronger and stronger. If we simply allow the thought to be heard and seen fully, chances are it is not as scary as we may think. There is usually far more complexity to an issue than the first glance at it, and there is value in investigating the issue further and observing what comes up. 

This retreat really brought clarity to the importance of regular practice. I am happy to say that I have been practicing at least 20 minutes a day, since we left the retreat. I hope to continue to practice daily, and build upon the habit when I am ready. 

Three-day Chan Retreat 2022 (by M.C.)

This Three-Day Online Chan Retreat was hosted by Dharma Drum Vancouver Center on April 15-17, 2022.

Retreat report by Michelle C.

First, I want to express my sincere gratitude to Rebecca, for carrying out the weekend retreat so meticulously and guiding us through the practice in such a loving and compassionate way.

I’d like to describe how I feel about the retreat by using an analogy. For Chan practitioners, self practice is like hiking the longest journey alone. We don’t know how long it’ll take us to the final destination, but we do know we’ve been experiencing ups and downs along the journey every now and then. A Chan retreat is functioning as a staging post, offering shelters where we can take good rest and get necessary food supply, and meet other hikers on the same path, hearing their experiences and advices. We can also get a band-aid if we’ve got a wounded finger or a blister covered heel, or a compass which we may find helpful in navigating across a desert or forest along the way. Therefore, when leaving the retreat, we will be fully recharged and equipped, and hopefully, with a more clarified view of which direction we should be heading toward, and what attitude and method we should be applying along our own journey ahead.

The past weekend retreat with Rebecca has been extremely healing and rejuvenating for me. It has not only corrected some of my erroneous views on practice, but also cultivated my appreciation of being unconditionally kind to ourselves. From now on, I will keep practicing to relax into every emerging present moment, by allowing thoughts and feelings arising in and passing through my mind, and by letting go my entrenched habit of constantly judging and criticizing myself for not being good enough, based on past experiences or future assumptions. It’s okay for not being okay, as long as I become fully aware of the constantly changing nature of every phenomenon in every moment. It’ll pass whether it’s favourable or not. All I need to do is bring myself back to the present moment, and fully experience it. If I were allowed to take one word from the retreat back to daily life, which I can use as a reminder for myself from time to time, it would be “BE HERE, JUST BE HERE.” Simply enough, yet powerful enough. 

Once again, my deep appreciation for Rebecca’s teaching and for all the causes and conditions which has brought me here today at this moment.

Retreat Report for One-Day Online Retreat (by J.X.)

This is a retreat report for a One-day Online Retreat conduct via Zoom on February 26, 2022. This bilingual retreat report was translated from Chinese to English by Rebecca Pai.


I always feel blessed to be able to participate in Chan meditation retreats. This is particularly true for joining retreats guided by Teacher Rebecca Li. Chan retreats guided by Li is productive and inspiring. Her teaching is a booster for me to reflect on my life attitude and to enhance my interest and courage in going on and on with Chan practice.


The theme of Dharma talks for this retreat is refuge-taking. Teacher Li raised a question: Are you always expecting to get liberated from vexation through assistance from others? I was deeply touched on hearing this, for it seems to directly probe into my heart. I used to be a dependent person, relying on parents and teachers as a little girl, dependent on my husband and coworkers in my adulthood, and on the advice and support from spiritual teachers. I’ve been starting to take heed of the problem for the past years, but how hard it is to eradicate those deep-rooted habits! Teacher Li reminded me of the fact that this is not a case like “O.K., got it,” but rather, it’s a universal problem worthy of constant reflection.       

雖然聽了不少禪宗祖師關於皈依自性的教導,但在我看來這些教導一直都是非常高遠。老師很形象地說明,皈依就是“coming home”, 讓我這幾天很認真地思考真實皈依處這個問題。老師強調,當下一刻練習回歸自性,如實觀照、接納自己的身心狀況,我們就是走在皈依的路上。

We have learned from Chan masters quite a lot of teachings regarding to “taking refuge in our self nature”, but to me these are all based on remote and profound viewpoints. Teacher Li’s specific definition of it, “coming home”, has urged me to seriously ponder on the issue “where is the sanctuary.” According to Li, we are precisely on the path of refuge-taking if we can keep on practicing contemplating our real states, returning to our self-nature moment after moment, and accepting our momentary physical and mental state.   


As far as my understanding goes, I have to take care of two parts in regard to this issue. The first one is to keep immersing myself in the learning and understanding of Buddha Dharma, and the other is to increase my self-confidence through solid and steady practice so as to strengthen the confidence and perseverance, which is necessary for the spiritual cultivation and to gradually reduce the upside-down view of seeking outward.

這次禪一的另一個收穫是關於方法。過去幾年我一直使用數息法,因爲數息法的所緣非常明確,能夠幫助我攝心專注。而老師指導的方法是覺察不斷變化的身體覺受。因為自己對這個方法不熟練,感覺上比較容易陷入昏沉或者散亂,因此常常就會不自覺的去提起數字、回到數息。但是,老師開示時提到,我們常常用禪修來為自己樹立一堵保護墻,在墻裡享受輕安與寧靜,誤以為這就是禪修的目的。當我們這樣做時 ,我們其實並沒有真正置身於當下。那麼,我是否應該練習著放下數字呢?我在小參時請教老師。

Another reward I reaped from this retreat is concerning the application of method. I’ve always been using the method of counting the breath, for the key targets of the method, breaths and numbers, are efficient items in terms of retrieving the mind to concentration. The core skill taught by Teacher Li is to be clearly aware of our changing sensations. Since I am not quite familiar with this skill, drowsiness or scattering thoughts become my frequent disturbance. Accordingly, I would very unnoticeably return to the method of counting the breath and pick up the numbers. However, as instructed by Li in Dharma talks, practitioners have a common habit of taking meditation concentration as a wall for protection, inside which they can enjoy ease and tranquility. This is mistakenly considered as the goal of Chan meditation but actually it is precisely against the core teaching of Chan: live the moment. Then, what should I do, should I practice letting go of numbers after all? I asked Teacher Li during my personal interview.


In response to my question, the teacher very skillfully emphasized the cultivation of the clear awareness of body and mind as the major goal of Chan meditation. She reminded me of closely watching the mental states of rejection or evasion whenever I am going to pick up the numbers. Mental states like these can be likened as noise which can impede my abiding at the moment and honestly facing my own self. I ventured to clarify my preference of sense of security based on well-organized and step-by-step way of handling matters, otherwise I would easily fall victim to anxiety. In reply to this, Teacher Li prompted me to do a self investigation out of curiosity and ask my self, “What on earth are you afraid of?” She suggested that I practice facing and accepting my internal contradiction and conflicts with an open-minded attitude. After continuous practice for a period of time, the mental states of resistance and evasion would naturally transform and dissolve. Peace and ease of body and mind would according be attained.


The method suggested by the teacher was sort of shocking to me at first, but it turned out worthy of try. Yes, what am I worrying about? What am I scared of? Am I afraid of being rejected? Or am I scared of being punished? I decided to give it a try. In the next two sitting sessions after that individual interview, I tried to tell myself, “Let it go! Let’s see what’s the next!” whenever the notion of picking up the numbers popped up. I felt so good for the next sitting sessions in maintaining the state of relaxation, in which I was experiencing the physical and mental sensations in between drowsiness or wandering thoughts once in a while. It is exactly the case as stated by the teacher, no big deal, just keep on practicing letting go and returning to the method.  During the two sitting sessions I was fully enjoying the internal calm and contentment.


The more I practice meditation the more I realize the essentials of Chan practice: a process of inward exploration. Whether it’s about the learning and reflecting on Buddhism teachings or the application of practice methods, the goal of exploration is aimed at the mental activities of consciousness. 

Deeply appreciated to Teacher Li for your wisdom and skillful instructions. Your guidance makes Chan meditation more and more fascinating to me. I aspire to take the best opportunity to work hard on practice, so as to cultivate my mental power and to bring about my part of peace and serenity to the world.

Retreat Report–WZ

I am learning to be friendly to myself, to allow myself to feel tired, frustrated. I can tell myself “Let’s see how you feel, what you want to say”, instead of not allowing any negative emotions and thoughts. There is no need to push them away – they are part of myself. I can deal with them in a positive way.

What a relief to know that it is OK to doze off, to make mistakes, to feel tired, to not feel up to par. I am only human. There is a gentleness in allowing. Not allowing things to be causes agitation and tension; constant fighting and rejection causes fatigue.

Just to accept oneself and all as it is brings relief. Causes and conditions determine the way things will be. I need to give myself a break from constantly trying to improve myself, from trying too hard to change. I am good enough the way I am, regardless of my faults and shortcomings. I need to concentrate on my accomplishments in life and allow, accept and be at peace with how things are. It will save a lot of mental anguish, of wanting things to be different from what they are. It will free me from trying to be what I am not. I am no better or worse than anyone else. I am unique and am not obligated to live up to other’s expectations, and nor should I allow myself to get caught up in the pressures, the struggle and the comparisons.

I have been unfairly judged and have unfairly judged others. It hurts me and it hurts others. I do not continually have to keep trying to be better than I am or to try to live up to other people’s ideals. I can be at peace with myself and relax.


Allow the leg pain, emotions and thoughts

to come, stay and go,

Allow the clouds, rain and the sky to be grey.

Allow all to be just the way it is.

without hoping anything to be different than how it is.

without criticizing, judging and blaming.

Allow and accept all just the way it is…..

All is just the way it supposed to be……. unique and beautiful.

Retreat report by T.M.

Reflections from Western Zen Retreat October 11th – 16th 2019 Dharma Drum Retreat Center

“Nothing matters, and everything must go, Yet love is having the heart touched in the valleys of suffering”

These words which were part of the liturgy recited at the retreat really sum up how I am post-retreat.  I also cannot help but recite these words and I cannot remember exactly where they are from but

“When I close my eyes and look within I know I am no-thing and this is wisdom, when I open my eyes and look outside I know I am everything and this is love”

As I’ve said to yourselves and to many other people since, this retreat with its very special format should be compulsory for everyone who considers themselves “a meditator”.  I have been practising so called meditation for embarrassingly many years yet I now feel I know what it really means to meditate properly and to understand the simple truth of when I’m not meditating. The insistence on moment by moment mindfulness of everything going on in the body, mind and environment yet remaining completely relaxed was compelling.  I realise I’ve been pretty good at the body sensations and the environment but tracking my own mind/emotions on a moment by moment basis has really opened me to my denied and disowned suffering and given me the ability to really empathise with others, developing compassion with the listening exercise repeated over and over and over again.  I was so amused and guilty on the second day when Rebecca spoke of how “Buddhists” struggle with this retreat more than others because of our “Buddhist concepts” which of course, I was naively spouting after a few rounds of the “Who are you?” – “well I’m pure awareness” “I’m empty”- hee hee!  Instead of being prepared to go in to the 100,000 caves in the dark mountains (a reference back to my koan on my first Chan retreat) and shine light on that which I have not explored.

There were revelations of course, regarding my childhood, my behaviour, relationships, emotional baggage and more but all happening in the now and passing through, bringing me to a deeper understanding of the Rumi poem – The Guest House.  I noticed my constant rehearsing of conversations!  I do this all the time, I mean all the time.  Is this as a result of my fear of rejection, reprimand, confrontations? – I seem to be treading on eggshells so often around men in particular, no wonder my throat chakra and surrounding areas (shoulders) are suffering!  And then Rebecca’s reminder to be careful of “I already know” – constantly reminding us to stay curious, explore, allow and taste and check.  Tenderly caring for our suffering, tenderly care for the grief, loss, sadness etc. It was moving and painful to hear others whose suffering was great and to feel in others their inability to “open” and as such block themselves, but as Rebecca taught us, everyone does this at their own pace and in their own time.  Reminding me of the word “titrating” which we often use in our Sangha.

This all lead to a renewed appreciation and understanding and I could even say embodied experience of impermanence.  Drilling the fact of the coming and going of everything except this always present, available and unmovable silence.  What more is there to say?

Words cannot quite .………………………………………

Retreat Report by P.T.


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.

Retreat Report–Anonymous

Three years ago, I joined my first SI retreat.  The experience of the first retreat is like to be locked in a solitary confinement.  I was struggling in enduring both physical pain and emotional stress.  But I did get a breakthrough of a complex that had been bothering me for years.   This time, I’m more adapting to the scale of sitting sessions.  There is less resistance from the body or the mind.  But there’s also an added layer of expectation and fear.  Am I going to have an emotional meltdown?  Am I able to face the truth of my imbalance? Even after the registration, I’m still hesitating whether I have the courage to face my own shame and insecurity.

Surprisingly, on the first full-day of the retreat, I have a serene experience of sitting after Simon’s guided relaxation.   It is simply peaceful.  My heart is filled with joy and I feel in harmony with the body and the surrounding during the sitting. I was expecting a teary journey for the nine-day retreat.  And I have a complete opposite experience on the first day.  Really?  Can the mind really be at ease and peace?  Can it be so simple to get rid of the perpetuating suffering in life?  I’m so grateful I have a taste of peace and joy from Silent Illumination. In the interview, Simon points out that there is no involvement from the mind.

For the next two days, I want to have the “happy” experience again. It seems like the correct outcome matching with the description from Shifu’s book of Silent Illumination. But, of course, with the wanting, I’m falling into the secondary.  In the interview, Rebecca reminds me that there is no judging the good experience vs the bad.  Coming back from the interview, I stop trying to cut off the “irrelevant” thoughts any more.  The mind is not focused; thoughts about work, family, conversations, and memories just come up randomly. I’m just in this messy state one sitting session after another for few days.

On the 6th night, the meditation session is extended from 40 minutes to 1 hour.  After settling down on the cushion, I catch myself getting worried that I can’t make it through the whole session.  It’s shocking to know that I’m so deeply concerned about being labeled as a failure even just for a sitting session. I can almost hear my mother’s disapproving remarks if she knows about this. I’ve been conditioned to prove myself over and over again in the race of accomplishments. I have to come out on top in getting good grades, going to good schools, grabbing promotions at work, and making my children getting good grades, good schools, good jobs also. I put unnecessary pressure on myself and my children. I always feel that I’m not good enough and I make my children feel the same way.  The one-hour sitting goes by smoothly as the mind is engaged in the investigation and getting deeper insight.

During the interview on the 7th day, Simon mentions 3 steps in facing my fear.  First is to recognize I was trapped in this mode of fearing my mother’s judgment. Second is to be aware of my emotions when I face the judgment. Third is to communicate with her about my true feelings. The mind is focused on the investigation for the rest of the retreat.

In the afternoon of the 8th day, we have a meditation session in free format for the entire afternoon.  I choose to sit by the window feeling both relaxed and motivated. In the investigation, I keep on repeating a comment “you are just so-so in your life” to see how I take it. I try to think of something positive of myself to refute the criticism but I find it extremely uncomfortable in doing so. I’m just a mediocre, I’m just a faker. Nothing is worthy of recognition. It is I who label me as a failure. I accept that I am a disappointment and I think I deserve the shame. I put the curse on myself. It is an overwhelming realization and tears start coming down.  I find the root that causes me so much pain; and it is all generated by my own mind.

In one of the Dharma talks, Simon mentions that we often practice the First Great Vow as to deliver innumerable minus one sentient beings. We tend to put our own self as the last one to pay attention to. I realize that, if I don’t build myself up, I’ll continue to inflict the same harms I felt to people around me.  I’m a victim and a persecutor as the same time.  The vicious cycle will continue to the next generation; and the harm can spread to innumerous sentient beings. I have to work on it, accepting myself and catching myself falling into the trap of shame.

I have strong faith in using the method of Silent Illumination now.  It has helped me resolve some perplexing issues at both retreats. I also have better understanding of how to use the method, dropping the controls and simply being aware of the presence. It is a valuable journey to get to know myself and to strengthen myself. I’m grateful for our teachers, Simon and Rebecca, in clearly explaining the subtleties of “the method of no method”, and in guiding us applying the method for our life investigation.

Retreat Report by I.U.

Silent Illumination Retreat report, 5-25-2019 to 6-2-2019 at DDRC

I was in a bit of a funk when I arrived for this retreat. I had been practicing too hard in my daily life and had a bit of an eruption. Had to take a few steps back. As a result, I was the least excited about this retreat that I had ever been. I was just there to practice and see what happened I told myself.

The instructions given were similar but different to other retreats, even other Silent Illumination retreats. Yes, it was still brightly illuminate the mind, be aware of the body, environment, all of mind, but unlike the other retreats I had attended there was a component to explore thought. In every other retreat I felt that if I started to have thoughts I was somehow failing. If I caught myself thinking, the thought had to be brushed away. Even the tiniest little bubble of thought was a failure. Here, though I was encouraged to allow the thoughts to wander through the mind. So long as I did not forget where I was, losing the present moment, the thoughts were to be allowed to remain.

After a couple of days, the mind started to settle down a bit, but it was still thinking all the time. In the lectures, Simon told us to completely illuminate the thoughts. I was having all these thoughts about planning for the future, rehashing old arguments from the past. The vast majority of my mental commentary fit into these two categories. When I started to completely illuminate them, I had to start investigating where they came from, and I discovered much to my dismay that they came from pride, from thinking that I was more special than anybody else.

This was a bitter pill for me to swallow, but that’s what I came to the retreat for, so I just kept on practicing. Whenever a thought arose, I began jumping straight to the root. “Another thought based in pride, let it go.” “Planning for the future again? Let it go.” Mind began to gel, so that everything was flowing together. Yes, there were thoughts, yes there was wandering mind, but it was like the great ocean heaving quite naturally, nothing to fear. I was at peace with what was going on, until I started trying to sit double sessions and ran into the pain barrier.

I had an interview with Rebecca where we talked about this. She had me describe the entire process of my experience leading up to my breaking posture. How the pain would grow, how I would just try my best to hold on, widen the focus, let the pain be just a little part of the overall experience. How it would grow and grow until I had a little conversation with myself, convinced myself that it would be better to just give up, that there would just be more sitting, more pain to sit through afterwards. She asked me if there was any real life situation that mirrored this experience, and I described my most recent bout of home training difficulty. I talked about how I had a habit of walking away from things that were difficult, from situations or people that didn’t bring me the fulfillment that I wanted.

I had been living for some ideal future, practicing for some idea of fulfillment that actually had no basis in reality. It was all just a dream. I could see quite clearly how the meditative experience of Chan is a microcosmic reflection of every day life. The same problems and patterns that are present in mind out in the world will arise on retreat. I was told that the real work was to be done in my normal life, that if my meditation as ever to progress, I would need to deal with this pattern of disengagement in my own life. I generated the intention to live an ordinary life, and it was the hardest thing I have ever done. I generated the vow to put down all dreams and just live in the present moment.

After that interview, I went back to the entry hall and just wept. I cried grieving all of the dreams I was giving up, all of those dreams I had held close to my chest for so many years. Behind all of this pain, I glimpsed something extraordinary. What happens when dreaming is over? There is an awakening. I spent the rest of the retreat trying not to run away from this resolution. There was such a tremendous sense of, “Oh wait! No! Not yet! I could be more!” I did my very best, but I’m not there, not yet anyways.

Coming home was not what I expected it to be. I’d had all these thoughts of the big changes I was going to make in my quest to live an “ordinary life,” but have realized that those thoughts were kind of absurd. They were just another attempt of the ego to be special, just special in being the “most ordinary!” What is ordinary? I think that it’s just what is natural. What is it to live awake? To be aware of what is coming and going in mind. Putting these two together, what is an ordinary but awake life? To be free and natural to be what you are and not be confused about what is going on. This will be my operating basis for this next leg of practice.