Taking a Long Winter Retreat
"Zen is not putting anything into your pocket. It is actually just checking what is already in your pocket."
Zen Master Suzuki Roshi
As the days grow shorter and a noticeable chill embraces the air, it becomes evident that my fishing season has concluded until spring. This annual decision marks the transition from the riverside to the warmth of indoor activities. Cold water, icy conditions, and slippery riverbanks don't hold much appeal for me during the winter. I'd much rather retreat to a cozy cottage with a good book or spend time at my fly-tying vise, savoring a glass of amber-hued liquid.
Cultures worldwide have long recognized the wisdom of winter retreats, drawing from ancestral traditions that offer physical, mental, and spiritual benefits. My personal connection to winter retreats stems from my days as a student of the Kwan Um School of Zen, where they practiced an intensive meditation retreat called "Winter Kyol Che." Although I no longer attend the school, I continue to embrace the concept of retreat, including a 20-day solo retreat in the mountains just over a year ago. Thus, I've decided to create a winter retreat experience at home, combining my past experiences.
My plan for the upcoming months:
For the next three months, I'll be taking a more adapted and measured approach to my winter retreat. Rather than getting lost in idealized images of a retreat, I've grounded myself in the idea that retreats are about being present, not dwelling on the past or projecting into the future. I won't be shaving my head or climbing to a mountain top to meet a Zen Master; instead, I'll be conducting this retreat from my home.
Traditionally, the Kyol Che retreat involves distancing oneself from home, family, work, and the outside world. However, I will only travel as far as my backyard to reach my 10" x 12" shed, which I affectionately call "my tenkara adventure hut" (although it needs a better name). This space houses my camping gear, serves as my fly-tying haven, and is home to my meditation cushion. It's the most fitting place for my retreat.
Embracing "Monk Mode":
During the retreat, I'll transition in and out of what I call "monk mode." My focus will be on my practices, spending considerable time in my hermitage (formerly known as the shed). Most importantly, I'll remain unplugged from news and social media, fostering a deep connection with myself and my mind. This approach allows me to maintain a balance between retreat and the outside world, enabling me to work periodically and spend quality time with my family.
A Peek into My Hermitage:
I've intentionally kept my hermitage simple, with minimal distractions and access to reading materials. Fly tying serves as my meditative practice during the winter, and I anticipate a surplus in the spring. With electricity in the space, I've installed a space heater and a hot pot for tea. I've stocked a few essentials for lunch and snacks, but I'll mainly prepare my meals in my house's kitchen and bring them to the hermitage. My house will continue to be my primary space for sleeping, cooking, and bathing, while the hermitage offers seclusion for my retreat. Yes, there is a chair as well for Fezzik to hang out on when he wants.
A Flexible Schedule:
I've drafted an initial schedule to guide my regular meditation sessions, walking meditation, and mindfulness practices for work and meals. However, I expect to modify it weekly, if not daily, as flexibility is vital for success. This schedule serves as a guideline to follow each day. The retreat will take place during the holiday season so I will have a few days where I will likely get at least one session of sitting meditation in on those days. I have decided that the schedule should never feel like a burden. I want to be gentle with myself on some days too.
Embracing the Winter Silence:
In the Zen tradition, "Noble Silence" is a key element of most retreats, fostering deep meditation and concentration. As a solo retreatant, I'll strive to maintain silence throughout "monk mode", quieting both my voice and my thoughts. On those occasions when I am out in public I will avoid impulsively expressing thoughts and opinions without consideration.
I've already prepared most of my December blog post, and I may include updates on my practice when I post it. As for January, it's too distant to plan for at the moment, and I might skip a January posting. If you have questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below, and I'll try to address them when I post the December blog.
Regarding My Etsy Shop:
I'm aiming to reopen my Etsy shop for a few weeks in mid or late November. During my work practice time, I plan to craft items suitable for the holiday gift-giving season. We'll see how that unfolds.
I hope that these insights into my retreat inspire you to allocate some time for yourself, allowing you to step away from your autopilot routine. Retreats like these have guided me toward a better life and a greater appreciation for the small joys that many of us tend to overlook. I wish you peace, health and happiness through the winter months.
TENKARA AS PRACTICE
In this space I will continue to share my own musings, experiences and insights to tenkara as a practice that can help us live our best lives. Topics will range from minimalism, meditation and finding peace and lessons through tenkara.