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seven-day silent retreat in karuna

Updated: Jan 26, 2023

I shave my head and pack my suitcase. Tomorrow the retreat in Karuna begins. I hear a pigeon calling: "You see it". There is a saying in German: the sparrow in the hand is better than the pigeon on the roof. In my diary I note the words : the hand is open, the sparrow has flown away.

Retreat in Karuna. Hamid leads the retreat without leading. He is present in his being, participating in the silent sitting together for 7 days. In the late afternoon he gives a Dharma talk. The other participants listen in silence. A phrase that should come up more often is : open the hand that holds the thoughts. Let go of concepts, experience the moment as it is. When I arrived home after the retreat and read the sentence I had written earlier, I discovered a deep connection: the hand is open, the sparrow has flown away.

The first day after the retreat. I feel a deep loneliness, depression. Already during the retreat, my hip arthritis and problems in the lumbar vertebrae began to cause me great pain. I took a painkiller in the morning and in the evening. When sitting I had no pain, the usual practice, security, the sparrow in the hand. Hamid spoke about the dark night of the soul, a point in our lives when a complete reorientation occurs that can present us with enormous difficulties. I associate this,with the process of advancing age, declining vitality, in which I find myself. I am entering the dark evening of the soul. When I see the world situation, the war in Ukraine, the impossibility of reducing pollution, I see the dark evening of the human collective. It is the penultimate afternoon, I feel great despair. I am lost, totally alone. I ask Hamid for a personal meeting. It is combined for the next day after breakfast. With the certainty of a personal meeting and conversation, I feel better.

At this talk the next morning, I confess my loneliness, let go of the shell of years of Zen practice. I cried. Long time I did not cry.

In a sitting period I have a memory. There is a photo in the family archive. I am not yet a year old, sitting in a kind of little cage for baby kids. I had been put on a potty to poop. I lost my balance, fell over with the potty and was lying there crying. My father had found this moment funny and had taken a photo.

One morning I'm lying in bed, it's an hour before I get up to do zazen. I am afraid. The fear appears as a stone, the size of a child's fist, a white stone, marble, in the shape of a heart. I say to myself, this is my fear. I can doze on quietly afterwards, even go back to sleep. Then came the conversation with Hamid. It is about giving up structures. I wish that the process would go on. ( I write this enthusiastic sentence in the evening after the sesshin. The next morning, today, I have such severe back pain that I can hardly move. Giving up structures has to be done slowly, otherwise we completely lose balance. )

When I sit, sometimes my mind whirls to the point of madness, impossible to stop or tame. In Zen manuals we read: control your mind, the monkey must be tethered. Metods like counting the breath are recommended. I practise this sometimes, counting to 10, can show myself that I am concentrated, am concentrated but not open. When the breathing is transferred to the whole body, there is a cellular openness, not this rigidity, this being frozen, which offers protection. I feel that this permeability of the body is linked to the geometry of the posture: mouth and nose above the navel, ears above the shoulders, free floating breath. This opening expands with breathing and becomes inviolable, it cannot be disturbed by thoughts. This state arises and disappears spontaneously.

Last evening I immersed myself in an experience that happened 50 years ago. I am together with two people, the name of one of them escapes me. I cannot mentally detach myself from the search for this name. It is impossible to deliberately stop thinking about something. That's how the quest for the name should stay during the whole period. After zazen, I sit alone on the sofa in the dojo. Relaxed, I objectively observe the process that is taking place in my brain. I can't stop it, it's automatic. At some point, attention will fall on something else. Impermanence. Now the situation is irritating. Suddenly the name comes to me, out of nowhere.

Here I would like to end the report. I hope that this mood I have been in since this morning will soon leave me. If I look for reasons for it, it tends to intensify. Again and again in Zen, the state of not knowing is highly praised. Opening the hand of thoughts. That means the hand loose its support. A bit difficult in dayly life. I am still in the mode of ZAZEN.

In the Sho Bo Genzo in the chapter IMMO Dogen writes : if you fall on the earth you can only rise through emptiness, if you fall into emptiness you have to rise through the earth.

I want to know again, I prepare my dinner now.

Carl Zimmerling , 29.04.22

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