I have just come back from a weekend introductory retreat at Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey (Soto Tradition) in the glorious Northumberland countryside in North England.
This was the longest retreat I've done and and in addition to about 6 sessions of formal Zazen on the Saturday, one Friday, and 2 Sunday morning before leaving, the whole thing was done in silence. There were a couple of question and answer sessions throughout the weekend and one-to-one sessions with the senior monks, but most of the time we had to be silent. I liked it a lot. The pressure of finding something to say completely disappears and you're just left with whatever you're doing. Anyway, I had a lovely time and was left with a slightly different idea of my practice. And this has inspired me in my sitting.
Talking with one of the monks was really helpful. I asked him if it was necessary to question ourselves in addition to do Zazen. (Sometimes I feel that questioning myself really just goes round in circles, so I wasn't sure if it was necessary.) He gave me this analogy: Zazen = sitting in the middle of a football field, waiting to see what comes your way. Questioning = taking the ball and kicking it towards the goal. Something like that anyway...And it made sense to me. It's just a different technique for getting to know yourself and then forgetting yourself. In Zazen, thoughts and emotions arise and you let them go. When questioning yourself, you make thoughts arise around a certain subject, and then let them go.
Does this make sense? Do you agree?
So anyway,I feel that now when I'm really getting lost inside a dilemma and it's getting out of hand, I should remember that I'm not really looking for an answer, rather it's the process of questioning that's important. And that in this moment, there's the other kind of practice I could do ie. letting thoughts come and letting them go and focusing on the job in hand.
That was a long post and I'm not sure it made sense. But suffice to say, retreats are good