Zen retreat experiences

Some recent feedback from people about their experiences on a retreat




F inding Out Who I Really Am – First Zen Retreat With Daizan Roshi

Who Am I?
Whoever thought such a simple question could be so perplexing?


Sanzen (interview)
“So, what arises when you pose the question, who am I?”
“Well I am these adjectives and those adjectives. I’m this noun and that noun.”
“Ok. Now if we just put these things down here, what arises when you pose the question, who am I?”


“I’m angry. And weak. And impatient. And I feel like a fraud chanting and bowing when I don’t understand why. And my knee HURTS!”
“Just keep asking the question.”

…..Sometime later. EUREKA!

“I’m nobody and everybody simultaneously. I’m no better or worse than anyone else’ I have the same human needs, fears, desires. That’s it, right?”
“Very good. Now if we just put that answer down here. What arises when you pose the question, who am I?
“Frustration. I was sure I’d found an eloquent, succinct (evasive) answer!”

Day 3: A day of two halves.

“AAARGH!!! I HATE this!! My knees hurt, I’m tired, I’m hungry, I’m cold. I’ve been asking and asking just like you said and I still don’t know who I am. I’ll never know who I am.” (tears)
“You’re doing very well.” (I’m not)
“May I ask who you are?”
“You may.”
“But you won’t tell me?”
“Why don’t I show you?”
I looked into Daizan’s eyes and finally understood why people say they are a window into the soul. They were at once shining yet dark; dazzling yet soothing. I wished my eyes looked like that.
“I don’t think I’ll know who you are until I know who I am…” (more tears)
“Hmmmmm… Well, how about finding out?”
It was during breakfast that I began to feel something happening. An incredible peace had descended over me. I felt still and calm. Food felt alien on my tongue.
I hadn’t asked the question for a long time.

I took a shower and afterwards looked in the mirror, into my own eyes, they were dark, shiny, limitless – just like Daizan Roshi’s. During zazen that morning I felt an incredible energy beginning to boil inside me. Anxious not to allow it to dissipate, I avoided all other people, marching fiercely around the garden, down the lane to an old church. I stood beneath an enormous yew tree and felt its timeless energy and calm flowing through my body. The fire inside me continued to burn, growing more and more intense.

Our Zen Yoga session in the afternoon allowed me to concentrate on this feeling of power – I asked the question: “Who am I? Suddenly, blink! – I got it; I realized –“I know who I am”. Throughout the afternoon I continued to pose the question, each time the answer was the same. By this point I was feeling rather strange. Shivers kept running up and down my spine, I was sweating; my pupils were dilated. I couldn’t keep still. Each time I inhaled I felt a rush of golden, ecstatic energy course through my body. I pressed my hot palms to my head, my heart, my knees, soothing the aches and invigorating every cell. I have never experienced anything like this pure, unadulterated joy before.


No come down! I am brimming with happiness and warmth towards my fellow travelers. I have tucked my discovery safely away, deep inside my belly, I know that each time I pose the question, “Who am I?” the true answer will be there waiting for me.

If you wish to join a Zen retreat, email admin@zenways.org and request a registration form.


Kevin – Psychotherapist


Kevin – Psychotherapist

B efore the retreat I was confused about Zen and what I was aiming to achieve. I was working towards what? I knew meditation makes life better but I was confused about awakening. I see now I was caught up in an identity and also the identity of others. I knew I was searchfing for a spiritual path, yet not entirely sure what.

My experience of the retreat was initially one of great confusion. There was a sense of going around in circles. I found myself developing lots of intellectual “understanding” of the question and lots of metaphors. I actually didn’t think I was getting anywhere when I went to talk to Daizan Roshi and he pointed to my true nature – I already had it. A great deal of joy followed. During walking meditation my self disappeared. There was only walking, seeing , hearing, joy.

I’ve noticed that when I’m caught in critical thinking or abstract thinking since then, there is no joy. Joy comes easily when I return to reality. I’ve tealised that useful words spring from direct insight into the “object” of my focus.

I now feel that I’ve come home in more ways than one.

Christopher – Seeker

Christopher - Seeker

Christopher – Seeker

I am exactly as I am now. This is it. I know all is well. There is arising simply a desire to be the best I can for humanity and beyond.

Scott – Businessman

Scott - Businessman

Scott – Businessman

I was quite relaxed when I came on the retreat. I’ve done a few retreats and thought of them as a nice bit of time to be away from the normal stuff. I was quite looking forward to taking some time.

My life’s been through huge changes recently. The first day I was really going through all the stuff I’d tried to process previously in a much more condensed fashion. I saw that a lot of the stuff that I was going through wasn’t really important. My brain was going quite a lot. Gradually the analytical stuff lessened a little bit.

I remember sitting there going “Who am I? who am I? who am I”, then I thought, “If I get this question, there’s only going to be another one”, so I kind of gave up.

I realized that in my life I’d always over-exerted. Then and there, I stopped.

That night I went to sleep. A storm woke me up. In the darkness I heard the thunder. There was a complete realization that reality can only be that moment. In a split second I realized, “I am now”. I sat up in bed bolt upright, totally sure.

I went downstairs. I was walking around feeling electric. I was smiling, laughing, feeling “it can’t be that simple. It’s all ok.”

Then I realised that it’s only me that puts the edges of the body where they are, where the edge of my mind is. Later I spent some time walking in nature and I went down to the lake, went down to see the fish. Previously I’d been a keen fisherman. I pondered, “what part of me needs to fish?” There was a lovely grass carp in the shallows and I though how wonderful it would be to see more fish and I walked around the lake and came back to the same spot. There were three carp there and I burst into tears.

This process has given me a wonderful resource and understanding that I can be gentle with myself as I incorporate it into my life and listen to what truly makes sense for the way forward.

Anthony – Dancer

Anthony - Dancer

Anthony – Dancer

S eeing people wake up is the most beautiful thing on earth! I had a very small experience like this with a friend a couple of years ago and it was maybe the most rewarding experience of my life. Seeing another guy awaken on this retreat was incredible. I know I would like to work in this field one day soon.

Inga – Artist

Inga - Artist

Inga – Artist

I ’ve found there is no other – only one. When I know the one, I contact love, peace. There’s no need for anger or forgiveness. I can love everyone and everything freely, without boundary. I can take this and walk through life understanding that at every step I’m not alone.

Diana – Holistic Therapist

Diana - Holistic Therapist

Diana – Holistic Therapist

T he information on the website said ” This retreat will be focused on Kensho, the breakthrough experience of Zen. When you find out who you really are your life moves onto an entirely different level.”

“Sounds good”, I thought so I booked myself onto this retreat, expecting a 3 day intensive silent retreat to help deepen my meditation practice. I had no great expectations but knew I would be in safe hands, having completed my Mindfulness Meditation teacher training with Daizan Roshi.

I certainly wasn’t expecting what followed…..

Day 1

Daizan Roshi explained the journey we were embarking on, and the intensive process we would be using. After just one evening of group sanzen, working with the koan “who am I?” I was beginning to think, I’m really not sure I can do this?

The answers came – the labels, the nouns the roles plus a lot of stuff attached to them. I was also beginning to feel very responsible for inviting my husband along, how was he coping? We were in silence, so having committed myself to the process I couldn’t really ask him.

Day 2

Our 1st sanzen in the morning, having had little sleep as I found the question seemed to be haunting me all night long. The day continued with thoughts and feelings of:

“I can’t do this”, Sadness, grief , regret, frustration ,pain ( physical , emotional, mental), a kind of plateau of contentment, then fatigue , exhaustion , oh and did I say PAIN and FRUSTRATION . I remember at this point saying “I’m beginning to think this process is just some crazy form of Japanese torture!”.

Then in my last period of the evening giggles creeping in ” I don’t care who I am”…….”I’m not sure I even want to be enlightened”……..”just want a bit of peace”….”my head has had enough”…..”don’t care about the question anymore”……”I’m just gonna switch my mind off….go to sleep…. so exhausted….hurting….leave it to my subconscious to wake me up…when it’s found it , chuckle, chuckle” ….. More chuckling…. I was letting go of the need to know…..aware of more laughter and amusement, bubbling up. The bell went indicating the end of sanzen.

As I started to make my way across the room Daizan Roshi came towards me. We sat down I seem to remember he said ” You’re doing well”…..”just stay with it….stay with it ”

Following this I’m just aware of the lightness the humour building inside of me as I walked out of Gaunts House making my way towards my bed in the stable block. Then strange little chuckling noises bubbling up and come out of me, as the

KNOWING appeared, each time it came getting stronger and stronger, until I couldn’t stop laughing….. at the simplicity of it,……so simple……laughing, smiling….. It was right under my nose all the time…..absurdly simple……why so difficult?….more laughter more involuntary bursts of laughter while trying to get to sleep…..feeling so light……amazing…..finally sleep.

Day 3

Woke early feeling alert and more alive than I’ve ever felt, the knowing still there, the question just rolling over and over all by itself, the knowing getting stronger almost taking over my very being.

I couldn’t stop smiling, feeling amazing. Checked in with Daizan Roshi, able to tell him what I KNEW, he said ” Well done…enjoy it”, and asked me to stay with the process, to build on it , said it will help everyone. So I continued with it, the rest of the day seemed to fly by in comparison to yesterday…. Each time I asked the question the knowing getting stronger, and for a good twenty four hours I felt no thoughts could penetrate this.

Daizan Roshi asked me how about times that hadn’t been so good, and although I was aware I’ve been through traumas, grief, sadness, difficulties etc. etc. in my life, I found it impossible to feel any of them, With this Knowing, all these stories had come crumbling down…. Peace…..letting it all go. Just present….being…..smiling.

Daizan Roshi said he thought it would be good to change my question, I worked with “what is another?” This time the answer came quickly, and I stayed with it for the rest of the process.

Day 4

Waking early again, keen to get to the meditation hall. Some thoughts had crept in, “how would it be when I got home?….to my everyday life”. It was like my mind was trying to trick me, by starting to bring back thoughts, Daizan Roshi reassured me this was ok. The morning was over far too quickly, when asking the question the same replies came over and over, and basically the feeling of swimming in an ocean of bliss.

Now I know who I am, what another is, what I am and what life is, and I feel awakened to a new way of being, but I’m also aware of the continued work ahead of me, so moment by moment I continue…..

Russell - Consultant Psychiatrist

Russell – Consultant Psychiatrist

Inside Me

T hat hill is my sadness, and next to it is my anxiety
The one behind it is my joy, and beside that is my integrity
The trees are my moods, and the leaves changeability
The soil is desire that fuels all my energy
The clouds are my thoughts, and the birds chirp my memories
The dogs bark my fears as the winds breathe my breaths for me
The sky is the illusion between me & infinity
The sun is the eye that lights all inside of me
And the houses are the words that grant me my sanity
And they don’t speak in jest, for this is all meant quite literally
As all around is written, and I dwell in this ecstasy.

Charlotte – Mother

Charlotte - Mother

Charlotte – Mother

W hen I came I’d never practiced meditation before. By the second day, I was starting to get annoyed with the process. I felt drained physically and mentally. I’m not used to sitting in the meditation position and I couldn’t seem to get comfortable but the main uncomfortable thing was the emotions. I wanted to go home.

I went to speak to Daizan. I said, “This is crap, I’m aching all over. I feel terrible.”

He said “It’s normal to not feel that great. The process is a spiritual detox. If you keep going, good things will happen.”

It was when we did the silent meditation that I really broke through. I was sat concentrating on my breathing and every time I breathed out I would mentally speak out all the negativity that was coming up in my head. I tried to breathe in something more light and positive. This letting-go process grew quickly, building on itself like a snowball. Suddenly there was a “pow!” moment. The snowballing stopped. I felt the most immense peace and love I’ve ever experienced in my life. I was complete – better than I’ve ever felt in my life with anything or anyone. It was overwhelming. I burst into tears and ran out of the room.

Since then life has been different. There are lots of tests, even more than ever. But the structure of the retreat got me to the place I needed to be incredibly quickly. I feel very honored. It’s very reassuring to know that I have this inside me. I discovered so much about myself. I’d been looking for others, maybe an acting casting director to recognize something special in me. Now I’ve recognized it myself.