My Huatou Retreat Experience (4/22~4/29 in Dharma Drum Vancouver Center)

Below is what I'd like to share some of my experiences during the Huatou retreat at Dharma Drum Vancouver Center in April 2016. I am a relatively new practitioner who has been meditating sporadically for about 3 years and then daily for the last 1.5 years. Prior to this event, I participated in four 7-day meditation retreats (Rinzai style) at the Vancouver Zen Center.

I truly appreciated and enjoyed the teaching style employed by Dharma Drum lecturers. Namely, very detailed and thorough explanations of techniques, approaches, interpretations, difficulties and potential pitfalls. Supporting these teachings with simple examples from our daily lives was very helpful too. For the first time, I felt that my thinking mind doesn't have to be viewed as some undesirable annoyance or an obstacle. Instead, it was given explanations and understandings of what is being done and why. So much so that instead of the usual experience of struggling to calm the thinking mind while it is fighting back trying to protect itself, I felt as if it became a cooperative component. This is when I noticed that getting into a meditative state became easier and took less time. Also, any time I found the mind having wondering thoughts, going back to method (following the breath in my case) was happening with either less effort, or no noticeable effort at all.

A strong, yet gentle, emphasis on the need to go back to one's method of creating a meditative state in case of distractions such as deviation of focus or noticing the flow of random thoughts, was very helpful and encouraging. Feeling that I am in a friendly, supportive and kind environment produced a very relaxed and trusting state of beingness. In this state, I found it possible to reach further and deeper when meditating and also when participating in other daily activities such as having a meal, working or resting.

I've heard of the Huatou method, the theme of this retreat, in the past and found it either very hard to understand, or not suitable for novice practitioners whom I consider myself to be. The way it was taught at the Dharma Drum Center gave me an opportunity to learn many details and specifics about it and, of course, to practice it. It was very surprising to find that the Huatou method actually works for me. Even though I was able to successfully do it only a couple of times, the experience was eye-opening.

Every morning, we did 8-form movements slowly in a Qigong style. To me, this was a whole new way of practicing mindfulness. It produced a deeper connection between the mind and the body and provided a better setting, a more harmonious frame for being more present in the now moment during each day. Couple of times there was such a harmony, that it felt as if there is no gravity, no tiredness and no resistance, but only one continuous smooth gliding.

In summary, I've got much more than expected out of this 7-day retreat, will definitely go to the next one, and certainly would recommend this experience to everyone who is interested in meditation and self-exploration.

With warm regards,
Svetlana Petelina

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