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Ringsfield Hall Retreat, Suffolk, July 2013

Emily from StoneWater Zen London has written a piece on the Suffolk retreat with Keizan Sensei last week.  It can be found, with some lovely photos, on http://swz-northlondon.blogspot.co.uk.

Sore knees, chilly early mornings, insects, sunshine, peacocks, birdsong. These are what first spring to my mind without much thought, and the list appears to get more pleasant as it progresses – a bit like my experience on sesshin this week. This is, of course, from a relative perspective; I imagine, unfortunately, rather longer is needed to truly find the no-separation state that we discuss at such length. The nice aspect of sesshin though is that this concept starts to finally feel within reach. The long, stuffy, smelly tube ride home tried its best to pull me further away, but for the moment at least, I’m closer than I was before. Sensei once said to me that “retreats act as a kind of cold shower and a punctuation mark on all that was going on before.” Although it is hard to believe the tube and I will ever be one, the world has become calmer and slightly more focused.

We spoke about perfection, everything is just as it is. Ringsfield Hall, for me at least, needed no semantic or absolute debate in its perfection. It made all the difficult bits bearable, with beautiful views at every angle. A wood hiding a treasure trove of discoveries from log camp fires, rope swings and pirate ships to angry pixies and upside-down tree tea parties (see photos below for clarity…) The rabbits, sheep, army of guinea pigs and collection of birds reinforced that feeling of innocence, simplicity and original perfection. The light and airy Zendo accompanied our silence with a backing of rustling leaves, cooing, splashing and buzzing; and brought us face to face with insect life from a speeding cockroach to a magical dragonfly. (I did my best to observe the itches – unless the itch crawled which mine frequently did.) 

One thought I have had is slightly more… personal, let’s say, but as it has arisen and I have a shred less ego than I did before, I’m going to write it down anyway. After all, it is just as it is… (although I will probably wish it wasn’t.) Every time I disappeared into nature to delight in the surroundings, it was never long before my insides dictated my movements and I had to return to use the facilities. I was filled with annoyance that my peaceful ramblings to reflect and be were continually interrupted. Perhaps it was just the retreat’s healthy menu, or maybe it was the Universe’s way of snapping me out of my ‘serenity’ and reminding me that nature comes in different forms! Life will throw at you distractions, irritations, and ultimately shit, but it is all the same. 

This has made me reflect in a somewhat different light on the infamous Monty Python line: “life’s a piece of shit, when you look at it.” 

As the week ended, I felt like I knew everyone well without knowing much about anyone. As Sensei said, perhaps it is the inherent good in people that emerges when delusion is chipped away a bit. Everyone extended such warmth, and I thank each of you there for being. 

(Special thanks to Sebastian, the stunning peacock who woke me up each morning before the early bells – because what would a retreat be without a love-hate relationship.)