Zen retreat thoughts

Mostly for posterity, so I can remember what I’m thinking at this point in my life.

1. I need to work on concentration first. (As opposed to insight/wisdom.) I read this from Daniel Ingram, got the same idea from S.N. Goenka (days 1-3 of the 10-day course are just concentration training), and now Niko at the Zen Center in Amsterdam agreed with what I was thinking there too.

I’m not sure how well I need to work on concentration, but I’m guessing that I should at least be able to follow my breath for an entire sit with not a huge effort.

There are two reasons I want to develop concentration: first, because I have to get good at that in order to work on insight; second, because I hear it’s really pleasant once you get good at it; and third, because a couple of mental fireworks would convince me I’m not wasting my time.

I’m not sure what is the best way to develop concentration. Just trying again and again is about all I’ve got.

2. There are relative and ultimate benefits to meditation. Relative ones are the day-to-day things, like feeling less stressed. Ultimate benefits are things like “seeing reality as it truly is” and “becoming one with everything” that you can’t really explain in words. I’m interested in both types of benefits. Lots of people are only interested in the relative ones. This is also fine.

However, I wish I could easily scan potential retreat/sitting groups by asking “are you interested in getting enlightened, or are you only interested in community and stress reduction and all the other relative benefits?” And I wish I could do this non-judgmentally. Hell, I’m now approaching 3 years of┬ámeditating daily or near-daily, with few mental fireworks to show for it, so I’m in no place to claim to be right about anything. It’s possible that most people are slacking, but it’s also possible that I’m a tad overenthusiastic and just following a bunch of nonsense anyway.

3. That said, I don’t think I am. I think I’ve derived good relative benefits, and maybe I’ll make more progress when life calms down a bit. When I hit some quantifiable benefits or mental fireworks, dear blog, I’ll make sure to write them down.

4. Also with that said, props to the Zen Center in Amsterdam for letting me join them and making me feel welcome even though I don’t do zen regularly.

5. Soto Zen does seem less strict than Rinzai Zen (like the Seattle Zen temple I went to a few times). Still a bit too much ceremony for my taste. But hell, ringing a bell is too much ceremony for my taste.

6. Sitting for 25 minutes, walking for 5 minutes, and repeating is easier than sitting for say an hour. I wonder if there are downsides. I was hoping to increase my daily practice to an hour, and maybe adding some walking would be a good way.


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