Words and Sights from BZC’s Residential Summer Retreat

This past August, Brooklyn Zen Center held its first-ever residential retreat. This special weeklong gathering took place in the farmland of the Watershed Retreat Center, a couple of hours north of New York City.

BZC’s teachers Laura O’Loughlin and Greg Snyder co-led the retreat, which included zazen, service, study, dharma talks, discussions, dokusan, and silent meals, along with time for swimming and walks in the woods.

Participants focused on the seminal Zen teaching poem “Sandokai,” using the translation in the BZC chant book, “Harmony of Difference and Equality,” and Suzuki Roshi’s commentary, “Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness,” as a support for their exploration of this beautiful exposition on the relationship between oneness and multiplicity.

This was a very special occasion for our sangha, as the words and sights below so well reveal. More BZC residential retreats are expected in the future!

The care provided by the folks at Watershed allowed me to more intimately be with our sangha – watching morning mist rise as night claimed day, the dangling, ornamental caterpillars and dew-dappled cobwebs, the sound of shoes crunching earth, letting my skin slacken and spine strengthen. What a gift. – Alice Pencavel

Contrary to other residential retreats I’ve been on, my time at Watershed felt like I was extending my practice from Brooklyn into the green pastures of upstate New York. Back in the city, while I am teaching, riding the subway, and even sitting in my room for morning zazen, I have continued to feel the container of support we cultivated at Watershed.

I’ve developed such close relationships with sangha members, some of whom I knew for some time and others with whom I had never had the opportunity to practice with. We now reach out to one another to continue practice – both in and outside the zendo. I never, ever expected those six days to do all this for me!

As Laura said on retreat, it is such a gift to study this great mystery together. I am eternally grateful to all the beautiful practice that made this possible. – Radha Radkar

I learned something about what it is to practice as community. Not just my personal practice in community, but to be caring for silence and all beings in a full way together. Greg and Laura and Ian and all the leadership did an elegant job in crafting and evolving the retreat’s container. – Emily Mendelsohn

The retreat at Watershed was really wonderful – very powerful, very sweet.  The setting was absolutely idyllic:  forest, mountains, and the loveliest river valley.  It was my first residential retreat, and I found it deeply healing to be present with the lake, fish, insects, trees, birds, sky.  So many insects – dragonflies, caterpillars, spiders, ants, mosquitoes, horseflies – and I was able to befriend them all, which is saying something, because I once had a full-fledged phobia.  The food was ample, fresh, and delicious, with many vegetables grown on the farm right next door.  Most of all, it was a delight to practice in such an intimate way with so many sangha members that are already dear to me.

On the second to last day of the retreat, it was gently raining.  We were on a break, and I was sitting in an Adirondack chair in front of the main house, with three other students.  I could feel every single raindrop as it landed on my bare arms and legs.  There was no thought of needing to get out of the rain.  Feeling at one with the whole world, I tipped my head back to let the rain fall on my face, and noticed that the students next to me had done the same. – Liz Roberts

It is very nourishing to practice in nature. Laura guided us in silent swimming, silent walking in woods and silent sitting in nature.

How wonderful to meditate being intimate with nature – water, trees, rocks, flowers, grass, birds, insects, butterflies, salamanders, rain, sky, clouds. We blended with nature.

Being intimate with nature, we woke up together, ate together, sat together, chanted together, played together, studied together and rested together. In this retreat we experienced what it means to move as one body. Sweet. – Kiku Morimoto

What a treat to practice with such trees, grasses, hills, bees, waters, and skies! I love nature. I have spent lots of time walking in it. And, to be so deeply settled internally and at the same time so connected to mother Earth’s rhythms and presence, was a new kind of gift for me. Her message was interdependence, Indra’s entire net sparkling in each sighing blade of grass. An intimate transmission.

What a treat to receive the dharma from Greg and Laura, from Suzuki Roshi and Sekito. And the Flaming Lips. I spent much of the retreat in a funk. The relative, the absolute, the light, the darkness, and a persistent sense that I just wasn’t “getting” it. With the support of these teachers, it only took the whole week for the fever to break. On the other side was not-knowing.

What a treat to share my heart with this sangha! I treasure the experience we had of sleeping and waking together. What beautiful faces you have. So sincere, so fun, radiant with genius and inviting every cry into the tender warmth of your flowering-open hearts. Thank you. – Tom Weinreich

Here we are
Embedded in the land
Sleeping in the farmstead
Sitting Zazen in the yurt on the hill
Surrounded by ancient trees and stones
Meadows and fields
Woods and stream.

Waking at 5:45 to walk lightly and sleepily
Up the hill to the yurt
As the sound of the Han fills the valley
Sitting sitting sitting
Service and chants
Dokusan in the cottage
Thank you Laura! Thank you Greg!

Studying the Sandokai by night
Together we understand so much more.
Walking up the hill in total darkness
Sounding the clackers to announce “time for bed.”

Eating joyful meals
Made from food grown or hatched
Practically next door
Carrot ginger salad dressing zings
As it meets tender greens
Blueberry plum crisp
Made (and eaten) with love.
Thank you, Watershed kitchen Devas!

Walking meditation, together in the woods, past the waterfall
Lying in the field alone
Yoga in the yurt
Or swimming in the old iron gorge
A mysterious mossy tree trunk
Appears and disappears
From day to day
Just like my glasses
Lost in the pond
And then they were found
Thank you, Tom, deep diver and wearer of goggles.

For evening viewing a nest of baby birds above the porch
Our dilemma: to clean or not to clean the droppings of these tiny creatures
What worlds and beings lie within worlds we thought we knew? – Brenda Biddle

Do You Realize??

Do you realize that you have the most beautiful face
Do you realize we’re floating in space,
Do you realize that happiness makes you cry
Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die
And instead of saying all of your goodbyes, let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It’s hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn’t go down
It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round – Flaming Lips

Images by Kristin Miscall, Terence Caulkins, Brenda Biddle and Ian Case.