Sunday, March 14, 2010

Retreat, Teachers, and Zen Ego

Spiral Staircase

Spiral Staircase, Bengtskär, 2008

I just got back from my first weekend Zen retreat. It was nothing like I expected, and not at all what I wanted, but it may have been just what I needed. That 48 hours included about 15 hours of formal zazen, complete silence, some work periods, some recitation, and dokusan. And an emotional roller-coaster ride that went from abject misery and self-loathing to near-euphoric elation, with hefty side servings of pain and perhaps just a bit of practice and tranquility.

There's been some discussion on a few blogs here and there about how important Zen teachers really are, with some people arguing that you can practice by yourself almost or quite as well. At least I just figured out first-hand one of their most important and perhaps irreplaceable functions: the ability and will to expertly puncture an ego that's getting too inflated for its own good, and that without the tiniest shred of malice. I'm sure there's no permanent harm done, since it'll no doubt inflate right up again, but I will try to remember this experience.

I might write a bit more about this some other time. Or not, as it may turn out. Not right now, though.

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