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To Study the Self: Zen and the Art of Creative Writing
Dates: Apr 01, 2022 - Apr 04, 2022
Days: Fri - Mon (3 Nights)

Instructor(s): Ruth Ozeki

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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 and Mindful Speech: 

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

Experience Level:

This course is suitable for both beginning and experienced practitioners.

Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion:

Three spaces will be held for self-identified BIPOC participants until eight weeks before this course begins when they will be released generally. Therefore, we encourage you to join the waitlist even if the course appears full as additional spaces may become available. Please see our diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies for more information.

As we work to become a more inclusive, equitable, and diverse 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.

  • 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. Her first two novels, My Year of Meats (1998) and All Over Creation (2003), have been translated into 11 languages and published in 14 countries. Her most recent novel, A Tale for the Time-Being (2013), won the LA Times Book Prize, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critic’s Circle Award, and has been published in over thirty countries.


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