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Buddhadharma : Spring 2011
51 spring 2 01 1 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly We also have hermitages and people do solitary retreats that generally last a week, but we reserve those for people who have more experience because you don’t have the sangha there to direct you and you don’t have the access to the teacher. The Zen tradition has many stories of teachers and practitioners living in sol- itude and practicing for a long time by themselves, but that usually came after a period of communal practice. guy arMstroNg: At both IMS and Spirit Rock, we’re doing retreats of two months and three months every year, and at the Forest Refuge people may be in retreat for as much as a year. In all those centers, we try to keep a close eye on people’s ability to relate to their fear. It’s nothing out of the ordinary for fear to come up in retreat. In fact, it’s something we value, because normally in daily life people feel overwhelmed by their fear and don’t know how to find any space in relation to it. Seeing fear as another emotion is very liberating, and an important part of retreat. If at any point we feel someone’s fear is pushing against the workable edge for the person, we back them off the intensity of the schedule, encourage them to take more walks, interact with staff a bit more, and make sure that a teacher sees them every day for fifteen minutes or more. If someone can get through a shaky patch, often they come back in, learn how to moderate their own intensity in the retreat, and learn to experience fear with more equanimity. gEoffrEy shugEN arNold: It’s also quite important to determine whether someone has the stability to enter retreat. We only allow people to enter whom we feel are ready to go deep with themselves. No one should be pushed overly hard into retreat, by themselves or by others. ElizabEth Mattis-NaMgyEl: We too are very careful to be sure someone is ready to enter retreat. And as retreat master, I am there to support somebody to work through extreme difficul- ties, which we’ve all experienced in retreat. These experiences are incredible opportunities to develop a new relationship to suffering. In retreat, we have the space to ask ourselves what it really is that we’re experiencing before we immediately close down around it. As you learn to not react through greed, aversion, and delusion, as Guy was saying, you start to see that maybe what you fear is something different than what you thought it was. For me, that was the most strengthening thing to come from retreat, to be less intimidated by my own mind. Freaking out is an opportunity to let your attitude shift. If you can go into retreat with that in mind, it will help you. Otherwise you may take the approach of simply trying to manage your experience, as we so often do in the patterns of our outside life. buddhadharMa: Ironically, the restrictiveness of the retreat container provides the space where a question mark could leak in. The Village Zendo’s year- end sesshin, Litchfield, Connecticut, 2009. Photo a. jesse jiryu Davis