After having a couple of weeks of distance between my daily life and Sesshin, those strange and wonderful experiences I was having did eventually dissipate. Little by little I was sucked back into the distractions and complications of ordinary existence which ultimately ate away at that retreat induced sensitivity.
I knew this was a part of the process and anticipated a kind of leveling up but at first it was some what painful and disappointing. Im not gonna lie, I wanted that feeling to stay. It felt special and unique and significant. It was like a confirmation that I was indeed having a spiritual breakthrough.
Even after all the books I’ve read, Teisho’s I’ve sat through and lectures I’ve listened to-which all clearly indicated that those exceptional states are not the point-I still wanted to hold on to them. Many of the highest teachings in Zen are directed to this very fact, that experiences are temporary and the real breakthroughs come when we let them go and instead ask, “Who is it that is having them?” I knew this and yet I still allowed myself to be swallowed up by those marvelous states.
I don’t really look at this as a bad thing, though. As far as I can tell, it’s all part of the process. How could I have ever come to this realization on such a personal level had it not been for getting so lost. I needed to make that mistake in order to learn from it. I needed to swerve off track so that I could remember what the point of this whole practice really is. The point isn’t to latch onto some isolated incident or a fleeting event, regardless of how delightful or transcendent it might be. The point is to remain present with what is happening and to turn our gaze back upon awareness itself. In doing so, we are placing ourselves in a position that is most suitable for remembering.
Zen, as I understand it, is about something much deeper than simple mindfulness or a silencing of our thoughts. It’s about awakening to our true nature; to our Buddha mind. The practice of Zazen is about remembering who and what we truly are. This, as they say, is our birthright.
None of this is to say that the experiences I had after Sesshin weren’t relevant or beneficial. I fully believe that the sensations and altered states of consciousness I entered into were necessary to getting me to where I am now. They might have just been the simple side effects of a much larger unfolding but they were still very much worth having. I am so grateful for all the twists and turns along this wonderful journey.