Today the Zen retreat in Munich begins. Yay?
I got in trouble when I called the retreat in Frankfurt "another darned retreat." Some people who read that statement took offense at what they felt was my disparaging of the event. I didn't mean it that way.
I thought the irony would be obvious. If you look at my schedule (linked to your left) you'll see I do a lot of retreats. Last year I even attended Zen retreats that I did not lead or organize, in which I was a mere rank-and-file grunt rather than the Exalted Master™ (this is also irony, perhaps I should put a little "i" for irony each time I use any). I do Zen retreats because they're good for me and because on some level I actually enjoy them.
But it's also a job. As Johnny Ramone said, "Being a rock and roll guitar player is a good job, but it's still a job and I still hate going to work sometimes." Me too. The fact that you dread going to a retreat is no reason not to go. In fact it might even be very good reason to go.
As whatever the hell I'm doing with my life continues to attract more attention, retreats have begun to take on a different character. Years ago I was just that weird guy in the Godzilla T-shirt who sat at the back. Now I'm the center of attention. This is a tiring thing.
Have you ever noticed how a wild bird reacts when it notices you're making eye contact with it? They usually fly away. Animals are programmed to regard prolonged staring at them as a threat. This is hard-wired into our brains. When I go on stage in front of people that response automatically starts to be generated. I'm used to this to an extent having played in rock bands since my teens. But the synapses still fire every single time. Plus at a retreat, the attention is focused on me for several days at a stretch rather than an hour or so when I play a show or do a book signing. There aren't many places I can run away and escape from it.
Lots of pairs of eyes all looking at me. Should I run? Should I do a strip tease? Should I sing? Should I say something funny? Do I have a booger hanging out of my nose? All this kind of stuff runs thru your mind whether you want it to or not.
It takes a lot to try and keep it together as the leader of a Zen retreat. I'm constantly amazed that anyone can do this job and not go completely insane. How does Joshu Sasaki manage it at 103 years old? As I've said before, I already anticipate a time when I'll have to stop. But not just yet. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I'll be able to just keep on keepin' on until I can't keep on no more.
I'm not trying to make this sound like it's tremendously hard. It's not really. But a Zen retreat is a very different thing for the leader from what it is for the participants.
At the end of the retreat in Frankfurt a whole bunch of the participants wanted me to autograph copies of my books or pose for photos with me. That's the first time something like that has happened at a Zen retreat. I'm used to it at book signings, so I just handled it the same way I do there. If it happens again this weekend, it will be just fine. I'm always glad to sign books and pose for photos. When I met Gene Simmons you better believe I got him to sign his book and autograph the current KISS tour program and pose for a photo with me. I have no problem at all with people reacting the same way to me. It's nice to know that what I do has some kind of meaning for people.
I am happy to sign autographs and pose for photos. But it's still a weird thing. In my mind I'm still the guy in the Godzilla T-shirt sitting at the back. I can't understand why this is happening.
I also think it's good to let people know what a Zen retreat is like for the person who leads it. As far as I'm aware of nobody else talks about these things. Maybe they find it distasteful, or maybe they just don't like to talk/write about such matters. It also could be that some folks don't want to break the mystique that comes from not letting anyone in on the pressures and suchlike involved in this job.
OK. A guy in leiderhosen and suspenders with one of those caps with a feather in it just walked into the coffee shop where I'm writing. If that's not a sign from God to wind up this entry, I don't know what is!
I'll be off-line for at least the next four days if not longer.
See you in England!!