It was an honour to be asked to be head trainee during the August retreat this year. I must admit I was a little nervous at the prospect of spending a whole month of zazen, taking bookings, preparing talks and generally organising and being responsible for the whole thing. I was extremely grateful to have Suigen’s help during the process explaining the ‘whys and wherefores’ and the ‘dos and don’ts.’ I had attended a training period the previous September and experienced first-hand a prolonged period of zazen. Whilst I can say that I enjoyed the experience, the idea of being up front and holding the space, was something I looked forward to with a mixture of excitement and a certain amount of trepidation; a perfectly normal response I suppose. My upcoming Shusso month and ceremony at the end of it was for me an experiment in stepping out of my comfort zone, stretching my practice and deliberately putting myself in a position where I felt uneasy, where I had to challenge myself and simply be with whatever presented itself.
2018 had presented me with a number of challenges where having to deal with that scary unknown aspect of reality stepped directly onto my path and demanded to be dealt with. Some pleasurable, like being made an assistant teacher, and some not so pleasurable, like having a heart attack. Having come out on the other side relatively unscathed and still feeling positive about life is testament to the fact that not being satisfied with our practice and moving beyond the space that feels comfortable is ok, even if some of the challenges of life are unlooked for and out of our control. I can highly recommend it; not the heart attack thing though, that I definitely do not recommend.
These, however are simply afterthoughts as I didn’t keep a journal of any personal reflections for the month, as I was too busy focusing on working on my koan and organising the retreat. I was determined to enjoy my month and make the most of it. The practice of gratitude was a prominent factor during the training period. There was so much to be grateful for, the beautiful surroundings, the help and encouragement of so many people. There was also a lot going on for me personally. I had not long returned to the practice after recuperating and it was nice to have the time to just be and to reflect on my recent experience; and the one thing that kept coming up for me was appreciation. I remember returning home after being in hospital and noticing the simple things of my life, familiar mundane stuff that I just take for granted. It’s easy to forget these things and lose sight of what really matters, like good health, a roof over our heads, good food, the ability to get up and go for a walk, to be able to sit and meditate, or sit and read a book.
Ultimately dealing with the one life I have, whether it’s organising a training period, having a heart attack or just the day-to-day challenge of earning a living, is all I am left with. I can choose to do that from a perspective of ignorance and delusion, or from a perspective of awareness, of showing up to the one life I have, reminding myself to not be complacent, and to occasionally step beyond the bounds of what I think I can do and experience what that is like. That’s the key lesson I feel I’ve learned from my Shusso month. It felt good to be there in the Lakes, to work with my teacher on the koan he chose for me, to meet so many different people, to support and be supported by them, to give a talk in the zendo, to do dharma combat. I really enjoyed it all and can highly recommend it. ‘… there is gold that fills the land’ and it feels good when I recognise it; it’s always there; we just need to be willing to look for it.