RETREAT TALK NOV 22
Here is the early afternoon talk I delivered at the retreat this weekend.
Each of us has our own routine of practice which may include sitting practice, walking practice, study, recitation and so on. These are activities where we set aside a short period of time perhaps once, perhaps twice in a day. We may do this daily or several times a week. This afternoon we have decided to dedicate an extended period of time for practice. As with any kind of activity, giving over an intensive block of time will always produce an enrichment of our practice capacity. This is not to say that we become “better” at meditation, since ours is a practice of non-judgment. It’s more that, through this kind of retreat practice, we deepen the groove of our practice to allow us greater facility in any future practice.
In my earlier meditation career, which took place within the disciplines of Soto Zen, we would regularly set aside such time and refer to it as sesshin. This expression is built around the Buddhist term shin which is one of several words that direct us at the heart, that intimate center of our being. Participating in such an event encouraged us to become intimate with ourselves, that is, to let go of the usual boundaries, limitations or structures that we maintained to preserve a fixed identity. It also suggested intimacy in the sense of love and affection. It was a time for us to practice compassion, loving kindness and sympathetic joy for our fellow retreatants, but also for ourselves. The expression self-care is somewhat trivialized in modern life, but retreat experience is just that, the opportunity to care about and care for ourselves.
For the remainder of our retreat time this afternoon I encourage each of us to bring that spirit of self-care to this activity. Any moment of practice as well as any extended practice such as this calls us to intimacy. We are not here to bully ourselves, to feel sorry or afraid for ourselves. We are not here to acquire some secret wisdom. In retreat there is nothing to prove, no opportunity for either success or failure. As with any more mundane social experience, say lunch with a friend, we need not judge or evaluate, we need not set goals or objectives. We only need to attend and participate fully.
For the remainder of this first half of the retreat I recommend that you begin with accepting yourself exactly as you find yourself. Notice the tendency to set expectations and performance standards, as if someone will deliver you a certificate of excellence at the conclusion. Notice the tendency towards self criticism, with judgments, evaluations and comparisons. None of this is necessary or helpful. When we engage in any reflective process both the tools and the raw materials are the same, our own experience. We can’t get better ones, we can only refine what we have. Therefore, we begin where we are, as we are. Please enjoy this time.
Yours in the Dharma,
om namo amida butsu