Good morning. Finally I return to the humble word processor that takes all. It took me a long moment to get out of bed, as I awoke perplexed with the same question that had been hounding me for months, “Why had I become such a solitary figure?” In a half-awake state I reviewed many scenes from my early years, to try to make sense of it. I grew up in a farm community in rural Louisiana – a good amount of this is covered in The Zen Revolution, so here I’ll just say that I had no friends within easy reach. For me, it was an eternal, abysmal training ground of self-sufficiency, on building things out of nothing, with no idea or reason or purpose – out of sheer boredom. The effect was so powerful that it rang through all of my life. This I turned over countless times. Why was I different than the people around me? Why had I attended so many long retreats in the Zen tradition?
Another time, another life, when I’d just had my first deep experience in meditation; after 20 years of a fairly rigorous practice regimen, interspersed with years of wandering aimlessly, of course; I told the teacher, I told everyone. There was a general mistrust and what I would call on overbearing silence. I realized I was on my own, that there was no one alive with the authority to validate my experience.
Since then I’ve completed three 100-day solo retreats, and a few kyol-che’s in the Chogye tradition (90-day group retreats similar to the Kwan Um model, though no teacher). I’ve only done koan interviews a few times, with a Zen teacher in Los Angeles. Here’s what I’ve discovered:
- There is no thing that can be encompassed (as in enlightenment).
- There are shocking revelations/occurrences that meld, reform, obliterate what was previously known.
- These occurrences are an exchange of energy, more or less, so only flow when conditions allow.
- The major flow can only occur when the self is released, which is at the far end of what humans are capable of. In fact, no one can do this that is not driven to the end of existence by some dire event.
- There are infinite varieties of these exchanges, a long retreat will develop the particular aspect that is flowing.
- No one will understand, though those on the path will recognize it.
- It’s good to be self-sufficient.
Beyond this, meditation became luminous, fiery, rapturous, a thing of wonder and unfathomable beauty, the difficult long retreat form easy to navigate. It is a profound gift that has turned my whole life into a deep song of its own workings. Curiously, I’ve not become a master of the koan. I’m hardly better than when I began!