THE WISDOM OF SOLITUDE: A Zen Retreat in the Woods

Jane Dobisz, Author . Harper San Francisco $21.95 (160p) ISBN 978-0-06-008595-7

At an early point in her Zen training, Dobisz (former guiding teacher of the Cambridge Zen Center in Massachusetts), packed a few basic supplies and journeyed to an isolated cabin in the New England woods for a winter retreat. She spent 100 days dedicated to a strict schedule of meditation in its various forms: sitting, walking, bowing and work. This book, arranged in dozens of brief chapters, loosely follows the chronology of her retreat. She is unafraid of sharing the challenges she faced, both small and large—from trying to empty her frozen-solid chamber pot into the outhouse, to the intense boredom of being alone in the woods for over three months. She also shares many of the joys she discovered, such as a heightened awareness of even ordinary chores: "A sense of rapture permeates even the smallest activities of the day." Yet the book suffers from lack of a unifying theme or style. Although individual chapters can be quite effective—as when she describes how her intense desire for a change of diet led to her stealing cookies from nearby picnickers—many chapters end in a lesson that either feels forced or is simply too enigmatic to be accessible. Also, the various approaches she employs—some chapters chronicle her experience on retreat; others are more like Zen sermons; still others read like a personal journal—prevent a coherent approach to her topic. The result is a disjointed work that fails to provide fully satisfying insight into either Zen Buddhism or the experience of a solitary retreat. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 10/27/2003
Release date: 01/01/2004
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