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To Study the Self: Zen and the Art of Creative Writing

Residential Program
Dates: Apr 01, 2022 - Apr 04, 2022

Instructor(s): Ruth Ozeki

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Course Description:

In his famous fascicle, Genjo Koan, the 13th century Zen master Dogen Zenji wrote, “To study the Buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by the myriad things of the world.”

Dogen was writing about Zen practice, but his words beautifully describe the practice of creative writing, which also takes the self as its starting point. Whether we are writing poetry, memoir, fact-based nonfiction, or the wildest speculative or fantastical tales, the key to rich, evocative, fully-embodied writing is the close study of the self. Then, having studied the self, we must forget the self, get out of our own way, and let the world speak through us.

In this course, we will approach writing from this contemplative perspective. Using Dogen’s words as a lens through which to view our own, we will explore the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, and experiment with the myriad ways of bringing those stories to the page.

We will use mindfulness exercises paired with tailored writing prompts to tap the rich treasury of our sensory and emotional experience.

We will play with genre—with poetry, fiction and memoir—remixing and using these forms to explore the edges of our (many) (imagined) selves.

We will play with imagery and metaphor, pushing beyond well-worn tropes, conventions, and habits of mind, and de-familiarizing the world so we can experience and evoke it with fresh eyes and ears.

Writing is conversation, a meeting place of self and other. In this retreat, we will sit and write together, sharing words and noble silence.

Noble Silence:
Noble silence will be observed following each evening session through breakfast the following morning.

Experience Level:
Suitable for beginning and experienced practitioners.

Cancellation Policy:
During the pandemic, there is a cancellation fee of $50 for all residential programs longer than two nights and $25 for weekend programs.

Covid-19 Safety Protocol:
Please review our Covid-19 Safety Protocols here: https://www.buddhistinquiry.org/covid-19/.

As we work to become a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive community, we invite feedback/suggestions you may have regarding ways that we can make participation in the program more accessible and welcoming. Please email us at contact@buddhistinquiry.org.
    About the Instructor(s):
  • Ruth Ozeki is a novelist, filmmaker, and Zen Buddhist priest. Ruth was ordained in 2010 and is affiliated with the Brooklyn Zen Center and the Everyday Zen Foundation. She is the author of  My Year of Meats (1998), All Over Creation (2003), and A Tale for the Time Being (2013). Her most recent novel, The Book of Form and Emptiness, was published by Viking in September 2021. She lives in British Columbia, and New York City. She currently teaches creative writing at Smith College, where she is the Grace Jarcho Ross 1933 Professor of Humanities in the Department of English Language and Literature.