Retreat Part 2: Dai En

Hey there. So if you’ve read the first post in which I began to describe my silent retreat, you may recall the mention of Sensei Dai En Friedman. She was the teacher who transmitted the Japanese White Plum Buddhist lineage to the other teachers, Senseis Koshin and Chodo (both super cool, funny guys). Until the last of the seven days I thought her name was Diane. It’s Dorothy, and she was a dancer for Martha Graham many versions ago. After suffering a major back injury that essentially stripped her of her dancer’s identity and ability, she ultimately found her true essence in Buddhism. We can only find ourselves after wandering around lost for awhile. Dai En also is one of the senseis who runs the well known Ocean Zendo in East Hampton. Side note: I have never been to the Hampton’s nor have I ever had any interest, now I do. While the other retreat leaders wore black robes, hers were a regal bright purple. She has a crown of soft white hair. I was immediately drawn to her, partially because I was fascinated that she was a woman, a Jewish woman at that, and because she was the transmitter of all of this incredible information and tradition. She’s a quietly powerful figure, who walked with grace, strength, and humility. Midway through the retreat, during morning kinhin (walking meditation) at around 6:30 am a voice told me “you’re going to meet your guru today”. It’s important that I tell you where in my head I heard this. When it’s to the right and I feel it outside my head, like in the space above my shoulder, it’s not real, most likely coming from my ego/shadow self/ imagination/neurotic reactivity. When it’s at the base of my skull a couple inches above my neck then it’s truth. I have never not been able to tell the difference. What we feel in our gut is also heard elsewhere. This is the work of the third eye and ajana chakra. It is a marvel when this type of communication takes place. You just know. Ok, so I get this message. I smiled to myself and said, ”ok let’s see”. I wasn’t skeptical, just curious but with no expectations. I had not met Dai En yet. Full disclosure; I was knee deep in the Ram Dass/Maharaji archives from the late 60’s and early 70’s. So I was entrenched in the whole notion of a guru. I was aware that subliminal messaging could have been a bit at play.

The word “guru” means “one who dispels the darkness”. It’s someone who sheds light. We have many gurus all the time. It doesn’t have to mean one magical figure who can read your mind. The biggest jerk you know is unwittingly your guru if you’re a student of consciousness. We can learn from anyone and everything. Nature is a guru in that it teaches stillness, phases, patience, change, harshness, and wonder. Each evening we had a voluntary dokusan (five minute meeting) with one of the teachers. I loved these because I finally got to speak, it was a break from sitting and meditating, and I loved personally connecting to the peeps in charge. We never knew which teacher our section of the room was assigned to. That evening it was my section’s chance to meet with Dai En. I was excited. They took us out five people at a time, and as I was waiting my turn, my whole body started to shake. I was reacting to something. My eyes welled up with tears and I was overcome with emotion. I sat in that line every day, but only had that reaction then. When I bowed and entered her room it was hard to speak without crying. I was clearly connecting to her energy. I had been having much difficulty with a certain important person in my life, and right after I introduced myself she said, “so what’s going on with (this person)?” I asked how she knew that, and she looked me straight on the eyes and said she just knew. Bam, that was the trifecta for me. Around 6 am I was told I’d meet my guru and at around 6 pm I had. I knew that incident could just have been isolated. Perhaps she was there to teach me in that moment, and not necessarily that I was going to follow her around forever. Each moment contains something else we need. But there was no denying her insight into me, and how strongly I reacted to her presence. I reacted that way only one other time, to a very spiritual person who I’ve known for three years. Same thing; I was full of fireworks then burst into tears at eye contact, no words had been said yet and we’d never met. She’s very much in my life since that day and has given me an unshakable bedrock of strength and guidance. Her impact on me has been life altering. As was this encounter. I told her that I was afraid of this person. She said “you’re afraid of yourself”. I took it and though I did not know why that would be, I really accepted not knowing. It would come when I was ready. There are no obvious reasons why I’d fear myself. I’m not self destructive, I have learned how to be good to myself, I have good habits and discipline, and I generally have my act together. So I was curious but didn’t question my need to explore that. I do know that every single way we relate to others is a direct correlation to how we relate to ourselves. Needless to say those five minutes were not nearly enough for me, but as her attendant was literally but lovingly dragging me out, I said ,”I can’t believe how many people have bunions!”, and boom, the connection was sealed with laughter. Making these teachers laugh was kind of a mission. It’s like trying to impress Lorne Michaels at an SNL interview. I had five minutes to gain massive insight into myself and crack a joke that would leave a lasting impression. I must say I think I accomplished this each time. At next day’s dokusan with Sensei Shinzan who joined us from Mexico, I brought this fear thing up. I asked him why one would potentially be afraid of themselves. He asked me a few questions and none of my answers were satisfactory to him. He cut me off and redirected me several times. I am used to charming my way in and out of most situations, and someone saying nope, nope, nope was a frustrating first. I was really trying to delve and I was annoyed that after all this self exploration I was coming up short. But then Shinzan hit on something he and I had discussed a couple days prior, and I struck emotional oil. I can’t write about it here, but it went back to early on in my childhood, where so many things begin. Basically I learned very early on not to trust myself. We fear what we don’t trust, and there is nothing that can really mask that. I had become afraid of this person because I was mirroring those feelings of a lack of trust. This realization was fast; then the work of dealing with it began. This is why people go on these silent retreats. To find those silos of pain that we ignore, forget about, or think we are over. The next couple days I saw tons of black smoke pouring out of my root chakra, the one that houses our sense of safety and security. It’s the one for me that’s usually unbalanced. It’s at the bottom of our stomach, and I’ve had ulcerative colitis since I’m 11. The smoke was like the bad spirits that came to take Patrick Swayze in Ghost, or the death eaters in Harry Potter. I’m telling you the Harry Potter references were everywhere. Koshin was like Dumbledore, Chodo is huge and reminded me of Hagrid, and Dai En was duh Mrs Mcgonagall. Following these discoveries, I’d often merge with Dai En in my meditation seat. That never happened to me before. I just kept absorbing her and it never felt forced. When I met her and told her about the guru message and how I can tell the different voices from each other, she nodded knowingly and said it’s great that I can discern. I told her about the merging and she said ,”I completely understand that”. I knew she would. I also told her about two visions I kept having of me and her. One in which we were standing in front of a wall covered in layers of old wallpaper. Each layer had writing on it, with words containing various roles or narratives in my life. I was peeling away each old layer, crumpling it up, and discarding it. At first I was aggressively ripping it down, but because she knows me, she told me to slow down and not rush (damn, this woman is on point). Behind each layer that we knew I no longer needed was a giant, quivering, white heart. It had a milky, gelatinous quality. When I could see it she told me to climb in and I did, lying down peacefully in a fetal position. She didn’t join me in there but she never left me. I have this vision to this day, and will invoke it when I get trapped in the narratives. The second scenario was her and I in an empty movie theater. We sat front row, watching a scene of me gasping and drowning in a dark, choppy ocean. Overcast skies. Then she said ok next, and I came up for air and settled comfortably with my head above water. Again she asked for the next scene, in which I’m happily floating and doing the backstroke. I’m smiling and moving at my own, unhurried pace. No one is bothering me or holding me down anymore. When I told her both of these scenarios she of course got it instantly. This is why we need these teachers and spiritual masters. They are here to guide us home. None of this is made up bullshit. The black smoke kept coming out and lessened in volume. More on that in the next post. When she and I continued to discuss this fear, the whole purpose of my being there on this certain retreat at this time began to unfold. To finally deal with this body of fear at the most primal level. I’ve been working on it deeply for about a year but this was the deepest I’ve ever gone. I kind of followed her around like a creepy yet sweet puppy the rest of the time. I lit up when I saw her and I beamed when she told me what a sweetheart I am. I asked her if we could continue our relationship outside of this week, and that I’d understand if she’d decline. I said I bet people ask you that all the time. She replied that they don’t and that she’d be happy to. On the last day I coincidentally wound up in the ladies room a few times with her. I told her I’d understand if she was considering filing a restraining order, and she cracked up. Mission accomplished, Lady Dai. Mission accomplished. I love you so much. But you already knew that.