Kanzeon Shrine

I spent the morning fitting a piece of carpet in the summer house and installing a Kanzeon altar.

Kanzeon Shrine

So this is now the Kanzeon shrine and it is available to anyone who would like to come and make their own silent day retreat here. Just give me a ring on 01629 821813 or use the contact form to let me know when you’d like to come so that I can confirm that the date is suitable and let you know how to get here. You can bring your own lunch and use the kitchen facilities. The shrine has electricity and a heater if needed. The path around the lake is great for walking meditation. I simply ask that you leave a small donation towards the upkeep of the Hermitage.

The trees and shrubs are blossoming and there is plenty of bird life around the lake – it’s a lovely time to visit!

The Non-Ferocious Way

Soft spring snowdrops

Soft spring snowdrops

There is only one thing
To train hard
For this is
True Enlightenment.

Taken from Rules for Meditation by Zen Master Dogen

We set great store by being sharp, being focused, being brightly alive. In short being THERE or better, HERE. In Zen practice and any other kind of practice for that matter being one who trains hard is better than being known as a slacker! But what does it mean to train hard, in practice. Are there particular times or circumstances when training hard is what’s asked of us or is the instruction itself a bit of a red herring? Did the intended meaning get lost in translation?

I had an email from somebody this morning who reflected that with a number of people in our sangha diagnosed with serious medical conditions, and one who had recently died, the call is to train hard while you can. Yes, I can understand that response in a certain kind of way and I also question it too. In my view meditation, be it formal zazen or throughout-the-day meditation, is essentially an internal movement, a movement to reflect within. How one does that ‘harder’ is less to do with visible effort and more to do with the growth of internal conviction, faith and a steady commitment. That cannot be measured nor should it be. Not at any time in one’s religious life and certainly not measured by oneself. Faith cannot be measured yet known none the less.

When people become sick they quite often become distressed because they are not able to do what they once did. I’m not sitting zazen regularly, I’m not practicing…etc. A woman on the phone today said, through her tears, that she was an utter failure because of the thoughts and feelings which were overtaking her at that moment. I advised her to take a walk to her altar, a pilgrimage in itself, and pause there for a few moments. This she did. Her voice changed becoming softer and once again she’d returned to touch something deeper in her being. A place of refuge and of faith. At whatever age the mind may not be as strong or as disciplined as we’d like. Emotions can rise up out of nowhere and become overwhelming as was the case of the woman this morning. As I pointed out to her at the time. All that has happened in your life, all the pain and suffering and disappointments and the seeming failures point you back to your altar. The non-ferocious way is simply and softly and continuously returning to the altar of our own heart/mind.

Now thinking of those who will join Rev. Alicia on retreat. Extra meditation invariably points out the very human tendency to hurl ourselves at the edifice of ourselves. On retreat we come to realize the futility of that approach and in the process discover by accident the rock-solid-softness within our being.

Holding the Space

This tree at Mount Grace Priory holds space beautifully

This tree at Mount Grace Priory holds space beautifully

Recently I was talking with a friend and she used the term holding the space. I have heard it before, but this time it really struck me because it so closely expresses what I see as my role when Field of Merit is established as an actual place of retreat. My understanding is that holding the space means to create a space, a safe environment, both physically and spiritually, for another person, or oneself, to be fully present with whatever is arising in the moment.

It is about being present without judgment, giving your complete attention to the situation you are in, or the person you are with. You are in the mode of listening deeply and accepting all that appears in front of you. You are not trying to change or fix anything.

Holding the space requires one to embrace the silence, to drop from the head to the heart and know that there is something greater at work that you can trust to move you towards a more profound understanding and wise and appropriate action.

I very much look forward to creating and taking care of a place that will give people the safety and the space to fully enter into the experience of silent retreat in a quiet and natural environment where one can meditate, contemplate and reflect and deepen one’s practice.

Bridging the Gap

I’d like to continue on my theme of the difference we experience when we spend time away from our daily routine, because I have realised that it has much relevance to the support that Rev. Mugo & I can provide to those who come to the retreat facilities that we eventually hope to offer at Field of Merit.

Obviously the retreat environment itself will probably be quite different to people’s usual living arrangements. Individual hermitages on the grounds of a quiet rural Zen temple will enable people to absolutely minimise input and demands from the outer environment and concentrate on listening to their own inner environment. This is the opportunity that Rev. Mugo & I wish to offer, but as well as offering a physical place, we also wish to help people to make the most of their time with us, and that includes helping people to find ways to bridge back into their world.

Retreat time is always valuable, but the main value is in the lasting transformation of ourselves that we bring back to our normal daily lives. A peaceful few weeks away is all very well, certainly beneficial, but if we just unplug from one situation and plug in to another, if one does not inform the other, then I think we are losing something.

In the same way that we need to integrate the time we spend on our meditation cushions with the rest of our day, we need to integrate our experience on retreat back into our daily lives, to not completely leave behind the peace and more inwardly-directed way of being that we have found in the quiet of our retreat.

I am imagining that when you arrive for a retreat at Field of Merit one of us will sit down with you and talk about what kind of retreat you feel would most benefit you: the balance between formal meditation, reading, refection, walking, resting; the amount (if any) of working meditation that would be good; how much interaction with others e.g. taking meals together or alone in your hermitage, the opportunity to have tea and a chat together. At the end of your retreat I imagine we will take time to sit down again and review how the retreat went and how to make the transition back to your usual daily life and integrate the fruits of your practice on retreat.

When we do a solitary retreat in the Kanzeon Retreat at Throssel we usually do a short private ceremony when we enter retreat and again when we leave. I personally find this a very helpful practice for making the transition in and out of retreat and one that I’m sure we will encourage at our eventual retreat centre.

Walking Meditation – Kinhin

Our At-Home meditation day is coming up this Saturday and I hope there will be many of you who can sit for some of the day. We start at 8.00 am GMT and end at 4.00 pm with an on-line ‘Tea’ using a conferencing facility called GoToMeetings. If you would like to join in the tea please drop me a line either directly to my email address if you have it or via the contact form if you don’t. I can then send you the invitation to the meeting with details of how to join it.  If you would like to do a no-stress trial run connecting using this facility I can do that with you on Friday. Just let me know a range of times you can do that.

As promised I have found instructions for doing walking meditation (Jp.kinhin) which means one doesn’t cover much ground during one ten minute walking period. Helpful for those who are sitting and walking in a small space. I’ve copied and pasted the instruction from  the Japanese Soto Zen site. All thanks and recognition to their efforts. Please note: we do not tend to practice kinhin like this in any of our temples, priories or meditation groups. So this is really for the purpose of those walking in a small space at home. It is a bit tricky to keep ones balance moving with such small steps by the way.

How to do Zazen-17When doing kinhin, walk clockwise around the room, holding your hand in shashu position. From the waist up, your posture should be the same as that in zazen. Take the first step with your right foot. Advance by taking only half step for each full breath (one exhalation and inhalation).

Walk slowly and smoothly as if you were standing in one place. Do not drag your feet or make noise. Walk straight ahead, and when turning, always turn to right. The word kinhin means to go straight. When you finish kinhin, stop and bow. Then walk at a normal pace around the room until you return to your seat.

The schedule for the day, Saturday 20th is to sit twenty minutes on the hour and half hour with 10 minutes walking meditation following the meditation periods. I’ll be scheduling in a break for food and probably a couple of rest breaks. With this lovely weather I can see no reason why we could not do the retreat outside. A park bench in a secluded spot would work OK.

Please leave a comment to this post letting fellow sitters know you will be doing part or all of the day and where in the world you will be! If you are in North America I will endevour to sit with you after the tea at 4.00 pm staring at 9.00 am PT as I know on the West coast you will just be starting your Saturday.

Another Meditation Day, Saturday 20th July

Following the success of the meditation day held on the 22nd June we have decided to hold another one on the 20th July. The format will be the same with an 8.00 am start, 20 min. sittings on the hour and half hour with an ‘on-line’ tea at 4.00 pm to end the day.

Meditation Day – Saturday 22nd June

So, we are going to try out our first at home meditation day on Saturday 22nd June.

The idea is that you can join in wherever you are, whenever you can and for whatever length of time you’d like to. Or dip in and out during the day.

We’ll start at 8am (UK time), and have a 20-minute meditation period on each hour and half-hour, so there’s a 10-minute walking meditation, or break, between each sitting. There isn’t an official finish time, to accommodate those who like to sit late or who are not in the UK time zone.

At 4pm there will be an opportunity to have a ‘tea and questions’ together online via the GoToMeeting software for those who have participated in any part of the day. This online meeting facility is relatively straightforward to use, but if you haven’t used it before let me know and I can do a trial run with you beforehand if you’d like. If you want to have the option of joining the tea you will need to email me in advance of the day via the contact form so that I can send you the email invitation that will allow you to join the tea. We can have up to 26 people online, which should be plenty, but it will be first come, first served on the day. Rev. Mugo will be sitting with us, since she will be on retreat anyway, however she will not be at the tea – see her comment.

And we thought it would be great for people to see who plans to be sitting on that day, where you are, and roughly when you’ll be sitting (and which time zone if you are outside the UK) so, if you would like to, please leave that information in a comment below so we will know who we are sitting with. And do feel free to leave any other comments too.

Rev. Mugo & I are looking forward to sitting with you on the 22nd.

An Online Meditation Day – More

We have had a very positive response to the idea of an online meditation day – see my previous post – so we will go ahead and set a date. We are assuming that Saturday is the most likely day that people will be able to manage, but if this is not so then please do let us know. At the moment possible dates are Saturday 22nd June, Saturday 29th June and Saturday 6th July. Again, it would be really helpful to us to know if any or all of these dates would work for you.

Once we can confirm the date we will give you more details about the day, including how to join the online tea & questions if you wish to. I am looking forward to it!

I am also trying to do more meditation on a daily basis. From time to time I find I need to get a bit more disciplined about this. We have a number of optional meditation periods at the monastery, in addition to the fixed ones, and I have gotten out of the habit of going to the optional ones. There is always plenty of work to do, and sometimes that does take priority, but not always, and it is often my choice to organise myself so that I can get to some of these extra sittings.

It is a matter of flexibility. Some things are helped enormously by being made into a regular daily habit, such as doing at least one meditation period at a set time each day. But for some other things It just doesn’t work to say, for example, OK, I am going to go to evening service every day. If I say that, I am not being realistic. I have to be able to discern what is good to do on a day-by-day (hour by hour) basis rather than rely on a fixed schedule. It’s the same with getting out for a walk. I aim to go more days than not. If I am clear about my intention and don’t just drift into the easiest option (sitting down with a cup of tea, probably) then I can get the best out of each day. It requires a little more effort and self-awareness, but, hey, I’m up for that!

An Online Meditation Day

Inspired by Adrienne’s invitation to people to meditate at the same time as her each morning and evening when she was on her merit walk around the Pembrokeshire coast, I had the idea that Field of Merit could offer an online meditation day.

When Field of Merit materialises as an actual place there will be the opportunity for retreatants to meditate together morning and evening, but most of the time, we imagine, people will be practicing alone in the hermitages, supported by the spiritual momentum that builds up in a place where people are meditating and following a contemplative practice.

Sitting with others, even if we are not in the same physical room, can inspire us to get to our meditation cushion and gives a certain positive energy to our practice. Think of the space that you meditate in at home as your hermitage for the time you are sitting!

My thoughts so far, for an online meditation day, are:

  • Try it once, and if it is popular we could do it regularly, say once a month on a specific day e.g. 2nd Saturday of each month.
  • We would post the program for the day on the website so that people could follow along.
  • People could do the whole day, or drop in and out. The program could start at 8am and end at 5pm (UK time), with a 20-minute meditation and 10-minute walking meditation starting each hour and half-hour. People could take time out for lunch and tea-breaks whenever it suited them.
  • If we use online seminar technology, such as that provided by GoToMeetingwe could have a tea & questions together at a pre-arranged time.

Please let us know what you think of this idea by posting a comment below or by contacting us. Would the online technology encourage you or would you be quite happy without it? What do you think of the suggested program? Have you done anything like this before? (I haven’t!)

Look forward to hearing from you.

Feast and Famine

hut When short in years we feast on life and all that comes. A single fallen petal or a full bunch of flowers hold similar delight. The concept of abundance has not really reached our consciousness. As we grow longer in years we count and imperceptibly, feast gradually transforms to scarcity, limits and limitations. When once we counted our blessings as years grow on us the tendency is to innumerate the curses; the pains and irritations, disease and disappointment. In a certain way of looking at the arc of living we go from feast to famine.

A long time unemployed friend told me today that he had two interviews for jobs this week. During these past years even getting to interview has been a rare occurrence for him. So now having done well in both interviews there might even be a choice between which job to take. But it is early days. Not a good idea to count those chickens, it only leads to disappointments. But getting out of that feast/famine mind for just a moment it is good to remember that abundance and scarcity are constant companions throughout life.

And so to the rustic hut. The one above with a hole in the roof and the battered walls is no longer there nestling in the Black Forest, Germany. It must have fallen down. The decaying structure had limitations in terms of being a shelter. I doubt if anybody had been in it for years. But it was attractive enough for me to take a photograph. And I am wondering why. Perhaps a metaphor for the aging process, a romantic ruin? A natural folly. A structure with questionable value yet redolent with Truth? Perhaps the sad-beauty of decay. An emblem of impermanence.

Now as I think about it I imagine the sparking of interest was to do with this bringing together of feast and famine. Which is discovered, with accompanying joys/sorrows, in the living of a reflective life. And well, OK then, the picture is published here because of the significant place small spaces have in nurturing that life and how, with this Field of Merit project, we intend to nurture reflective living.