When I arrived at the office this morning after three days of being on retreat with my Zen community, one or two of my co-workers asked: "So are you refreshed?" Mmmm...refreshed? Well, maybe. Never really thought of a Zen sesshin as being refreshing.
Challenging? Demanding? Exhausting? Yes, by all means. Illuminating? Depends on what you mean by "illuminating." The light gets cast on the whole inner enchilada. And much of it ain't pretty.
But then there are moments of ease, of clarity, of delicious pure awareness--of how the sunlight with shadows of branches blowing in the wind is cast on the warm hardwood floor of the zendo, of the geese and ducks splashing in the pond water out back, of a night full of stars, of a teacher who quietly assures me that I'm not a total shit or a basket case after all but fully human, a fellow journeyer on this amazing endeavor of coming alive, of having one's heart stretched and melted and transformed in the crucible of practice.
I inevitably dread going on sesshin and I'm always happy to come home. And I also know that, as hard as it is, sesshin is the most important work I do, that we do together. As I'm often reminded by my teachers, this going on retreat is not a private affair. It's about saving all beings. It's about transforming a world of suffering. As we sing every evening at the close of the day...
I vow to wake all the beings of the world,
I vow to set endless heartache to rest,
I vow to walk through every wisdom gate,
I vow to live the great Buddha way.
(DSH photo: Boundless Way Zen, April sesshin, 2009. Note: that Teddy Bear sitting on the floor wearing a rakusu in front of David Rynick is actually James Ford. He had to leave, with his wife Jan, after the close of day ceremony on Saturday evening. Such are the hazards of being Zen teacher and parish minister!)