Issue 17;

All together

Retreat Report

Reflections on Zen at West Lexham - February 2012

By Wendy Klein (Gyoka zenhyo)

Eleven of us including teacher, Ingen Breen, gathered for 3 nights at the West Lexham Education Centre in rural Norfolk.  The group comprised 4 beginners to Zen practice and 6 Dancing Mountains East folk who were the organisers and “practice committee”.  

The venue was lovely if not somewhat quirky… two comfortable multi-double-bedroom “cottages” one of which included the “Village Hall” which, in no time was transformed into a functioning zendo complete with huge open wood fireplace that John maintained for us.  And just to practice our ability to let go, we had to strike the Village Hall zendo on Friday evening and “bug out” to the sitting room in the other cottage for the remainder of the retreat – I think that Ingen was impressed with our ability to do this and suggested we could be “zen paratroopers”, taking the zendo forms and services on the road! 

We actually had a 12th participant – our beautiful surroundings.  The immediacy of nature… the moon – especially in the mornings walking to the zendo - the birds, the longer pre-spring days and the warmer weather all supported the practice. 

We were delighted to welcome Ingen and enjoyed his gently uncompromising depth of practice.  His generosity showed from leading qi gong exercises at 6 am to helping out with veggie chopping.  For those of us who have been to San Francisco, we were able to dust off our Zen Center forms with his guidance and some were able to try out zendo jobs they hadn’t done before.  He offered us chanting assistance and in-depth and welcome explanations of chants that we’ve done many times. 

There was a real “beginners mind” feel to the retreat with lots of questions and opportunity for questions throughout the precious days together.  The theme was “Living Zen” and Ingen invited us to bring the practice out of the confines of our attics, our sitting rooms, our minds and give it the space to breathe…  to turn that dharma wheel.  There was a commitment within the group to the schedule, to supporting each other and the forms.  Ingen suggested in one of his morning talks that we might want to consider formalising our meals a little more – so organically, lunch evolved into just that – he came back to see the table set and the food ready in 3 containers ready for serving.  Thinking back on it, because of his accessibility and easy goingness, there was more room to respond to such an idea and a real opportunity to be fully ourselves. 

In just a few days, the daily anxieties, sadness, heaviness, etc., dropped away in the co-created environment of stillness and sangha.  Sangha…. How wonderful to REALLY experience many hands make MUCH less work and MUCH more joy – the meals so caringly organised by Carol were made manifest in such a seemingly effortless way.

We look forward to nurturing and fostering this new relationship with Ingen and were deeply grateful and dare I say excited to have a “brown robe” priest with us and potentially more available to us here in the UK.  With deepest gratitude…

 Wendy Klein (Gyoka zenhyo)



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