The Ups and Downs of Zen Practice – Sue Chie Davis

When asked to write a little about my experiences of Zen practice I had to think long and hard. I have practised for so many years now the memory banks have got a little dusty!

I’ve decided, as I write, just to let thoughts and feelings flow, mixing highs and lows as they arise.

I started practice with mainstream Buddhism about thirty-five years ago, moving to Zen roughly five years later. I had heard Zen was the rapid way to enlightenment and being impatient by nature that sounded good!

It was quite a revelation to me when I first found Zen, learning that practice is your daily life. I’d never thought about that before, in fact had been encouraged to think that “The spiritual life” was something different, of course setting up a duality.
This was quite life-changing for me at the time, particularly as the only formal practice I did was on Sesshin.

My first Sesshins were quite an experience. We used to go to Amaravati in Hertfordshire. Genpo (then Sensei) was the teacher.

We sat, facing the wall, for what seemed like hours at a time, in a chilly Zendo.
We also had formal meals (Oryoki) in the Zendo which was quite challenging for a beginner.
We all slept in a dormitory. Often the showers in the morning were cold.
However, the talks Sensei gave made me see that all this made sense. I was hooked.

In those days I maintained a regular weekly sitting practice at home plus met up with a sitting group fairly locally.

Over the years I travelled twice a year to the north for Sesshin. Here I met and made many friends and have kept in touch with most over the years.
The journey by train from Suffolk was arduous and where possible I tried to share a lift, often travelling to London to do so.

Once I entered the Zendo for the first sit, smelling the incense, listening to the clappers and the rustle of robes, the familiarity of everything, the tiring journey was forgotten.

Often on Sesshin I would sit with “busy mind“ for days. Just sitting with this experience eventually this would pass and I’d enter spacious awareness.

Taking Jukai was definitely an “up” for me. I’d practised for many years before I decided to take this step and commit to the precepts.
My Jukai ceremony was at Crosby with Tenshin Roshi.

On most Sesshins, for many years, I had the role of assistant Tenzo.
Working in the kitchen was challenging at times but also very fulfilling. A practice in itself.

About twenty years ago I attended a month-long Sesshin at the Mountain Centre in California.
There were certainly ups and downs for me there. I stayed in a caravan on site. One afternoon when taking a nap there was a pounding on the door and someone telling me to get out quickly. The gas cylinder attached to the caravan had caught fire!

There was complete silence, apart from in Daisan. I certainly learnt a lot about myself in those four weeks.

Whilst there, Tenshin Roshi asked me to move to Liverpool to assist Roshi (then Dave) at the centre which I believe at that time was being created.

I felt quite honoured that Roshi had asked me to do this but felt I was unable to leave family, ailing parents, and a career I was committed to.

Sometimes on reflection, I regretted my decision, particularly as I have struggled somewhat practising without sharing with Sangha and the support of a teacher.

I did have a small sitting group for about five years, we met in my home. This felt good to share practice together.

Coming into the present day: I feel so fortunate I (we) can share our practice on Zoom. Daily sitting, Sesshins and Daisan.

I was slow to approach this form of practice mainly due to tech phobia. Now I have embraced it and a day doesn’t pass without my feeling thankful to technology and to those proficient enough to set it all up and work with it on a daily basis.

Long may it continue!!