Monday, August 25, 2008


I'm back from my Zen retreat, and happy to be home. Those of you who have never done a sesshin should see my post from last year, which describes the basic arc of the experience. I joked with my teacher that it's a bit like Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance). At first I was all into the beauty of the silence and the peacefulness; within a few days I was angry at being expected to sit all day on my aching knees, watching my mind desperately trying to entertain itself; I'd say, "If I could have a cup of coffee, I could get through these next three periods of sitting"; eventually I gave in to a kind of resignation. And by then it was over, and as usual, in restrospect it seems pretty remarkable.

It was nice to be utterly disconnected from the outside world. I didn't use a phone, check my e-mail, look at a computer. It was just me in a community of fellow students and our teachers. The weather was beautifully cool, which is a change from previous years, and that helped a lot in terms of physical comfort.

It's nice to be back now, in my own bed with my cat and a good book. I'll relate more about the week over the next few days, after I've had a chance to settle back in a bit more.

I didn't take my camera on retreat, either, so I'll have to improvise on how to illustrate my posts. The photo above is from our Zendo in New York City.


  1. You are mighty!

    Sharon Salzburg relates an experience she had during a long meditation retreat in which she was so terribly restless that her mind came up with this thought: "If there was a nuclear war, I wouldn't have to continue this sit."

    She laughs at herself, but gosh, the power it takes to keep sitting even when this desperate to stop. All I can say is wow.

    And to you, too! Welcome home.

  2. Ha!! I can TOTALLY identify with that thought!

  3. Sounds like a cleansing experience I could really use. I was the only person in my meditation circle this morning. It was a remarkably quiet, much-needed sit. I really could use a week of it, although I'm sure I too would be craving caffeine and release part-way through.

  4. I was once a miserable failure at an all day retreat, so I can only imagine a week.

  5. B: I should clarify that we did have coffee. I guess I was actually bargaining for a cup of GOOD coffee...

    Merle: A miserable failure? Remember, no judging -- just noticing! :)

  6. OMG, the prayer in that picture is the one Ray (Jack Kerouac) teaching Japhy (Gary Snyder) in The Dharma Bums! But you probably know that. :-)

    Welcome back! The first Zen teacher I sat with used to say that the first three days of retreat are like going to hell, which is why weekend retreats are, in some ways, more difficult than longer ones: you never reach the "fourth day" of hitting your stride and settling into the experience.

  7. what a gift that you give yourself with this annual retreat....

    although it had periods of being hard, over all it sounds divine!! if it didn't have some difficult moments I'd say it would hardly be worth it....what does buddhism tell us about what life is....

    wonderful illustration!

  8. your first paragraph here made me laugh

    i'm glad tho it was worth it.

    i think i'd quite like a week of disconnection. but who knows if i could really take it...

  9. At this moment I think what a blessing to just sit - but then to just sit without reading or talking would be a struggle for me. I seem to be constantly on the go or on the move either physically or mentally. I wonder what would come up for me if I allowed myself and experience such as this. Would I implode? Good for you to have done this (more than once!).