Vince Imbat

The Real Sesshin

Nov 28, 2022

What is the colour of wind?

~ A koan

I’m  Vince Imbat, and this is  The Long Walk.

# The Long Walk: November 21 to 26, 2022

# November 21, Monday

I went to a group retreat in the mountains of Tanay over the weekend, hoping to get some more time with myself in nature. But the retreat felt more like an outing than a retreat, so as I returned to Los Baños, I felt like the real retreat was just about to begin.

During the last sesshin (接心) I attended in 2018, our sensei Elda, in her closing talk, mentioned that the real sesshin begins the moment we leave the ICM Convent in Baguio, where the five-day silent retreat was held. The real sesshin is out there in the world, she said. I reflect on what my life looks like, and it feels like a never-ending retreat, a pseudo-monastic life.

Speaking of sesshins, the first post-COVID sesshin in Baguio has just culminated this November. Unfortunately, I learned about it ex post facto, so all I could do is to wait for the next one on April 2023. Sitting once more for long hours and long days in silence would be nice.

In my digital note garden, I wrote the following note:

Explore metaphysical and epistemological beliefs as if it is a walk

Perhaps developing our metaphysical beliefs also involves this careful walking. Building a home, a minimum viable one, starting with just a few principles then going out to try things out. Exposing oneself to as much beliefs as one can. But returning to the center.

I remember Andrew James Brown’s similar method for what he calls  “metaphysical hitchhiking”:

Well, in a nutshell, it is simply to have in mind an appropriately confident sense of the general direction and horizon towards which it seems best to travel and also to have adopted a general minimalist form of life and style of movement that seems appropriately suited to help us take steps in that same general direction.

So how on earth are we to distinguish between missteps and sidesteps and the kind of steps that seem to us to right and which move us in what we feel is the right direction? Well, that can only achieved by those who find a way with a clean heart and full belief (pathos) to commit loyally to some kind of minimal, general sense of direction of travel and an associated minimalist, or basic form of life and style of movement that will help then navigate towards that horizon. (emphases mine)

# November 22, Tuesday

One of the exercises in the book  Designing Your Life, which I am slowly realizing is a compelling book that integrates a lot of lessons I have learned in the past about career planning and job searching, is writing your philosophy of work (workview) and philosophy of life (lifeview). After writing my workview and my lifeview, I reflected on how the two relate to each other.

I realized that both my worview and my lifeview have this minimalist and balanced view of money that acknowledges its importance but only as a supportive element. I internally agree that the most important things happen not in exchange spaces but in gift spaces. I realized that I have never truly been driven by money. I have been very cheap in my life and could be even cheaper if needed. The more I don’t think about how I can generate more income, the better. On a related tangent, because the main work is inner and its movement is slow, fame is not part of the equation. I am never motivated by it.

That said, I see a contradiction between my philosophy of work and my life philosophy that needs to be immediately addressed. I still see work mainly as a tool to generate income. While money is supportive, work treated simply as something secondary to the real vocation I want to do could damage how I show up in this area of life. Is there a way to treat my income-generating activities as an integrated extension of my vocation, even if that vocation happens in the gift space? This is a question I continue to ponder about.

# November 23, Wednesday

Continuing the exercises in Designing Your Life, I went down memory lane. I listed all work- and nonwork-related activities I have engaged in throughout the years and graded each in terms of engagement and energy levels. I also placed a star on activities that brought me to flow. For each activity that induced flow, I wrote a quick reflection about what was happening during each activity that made the experience incredible. The authors of the book called this a “good time journal.”

While washing the dishes, I listened to  a TED interview with the poet Ross Gay about joy.

In the afternoon, I took a grounding, comforting, and pleasant walk along Pili Drive.

# November 24, Thursday

In my journal, I wrote some common threads I noticed in my list of activities in my good time journal so far.

  • creating stories make me flow. Either fiction or nonfiction.
  • there are two big areas in my life: CREATIVITY & SPIRITUALITY.
  • I do my best work when I am alone.
  • there should always be an element of aloneness even if I want to work with other people.

# November 25, Friday

From all the activities I listed in my good time journal, I chose three: one that engaged me, energized me, and made me flow. I chose creating stories, walking, and photography for each, respectively. As the book instructed, I made a mindmap for each activity. I set a timer for six minutes and rigorously wrote the first words that came to me.

After this, I went back to each mindmap, looked at their outer rings, and encircled three words that jumped to me. As the book instructed, I created a job description with a drawing incorporating those three words. I did this for each mind map. The results were:

  1. Creating stories -> sign language tour, self-directed learning, poetry -> a self-directed learning poetry tour with Deaf participants
  2. Walking -> Tanay Rizal, ancient aliens, mindfulness -> a history/cosmological + well-being retreat at a nature-filled environment like Tanay
  3. Photography -> journaling, indigenous peoples, numinous -> a book project about indigenous creative spirituality as described in old journa

This was one of the most fun and eye-opening activities I have done in a long time. The purpose of the activity was not as much to arrive at answers as to shift my mind from “what is next” to “what is possible.” This is precisely what it did.

In the late afternoon, I walked at Jose Drilon Jr. Street alongside an arm of the Molawin Creek and sat at the end of the road to sketch my first odyssey plan, a five-year plan of the current life I was living. This was still part of the exercises in the Designing Your Life book.

# November 26, Saturday

Right after waking up, Lea and I walked toward Forestry at UPLB. Under one of the sheds, we sketched our odyssey plans and presented them to each other. We drew three odyssey plans each:

  1. A five-year plan of what we are currently doing or have planned for
  2. A five-year plan for an alternative life if number one suddenly becomes impossible to realize
  3. A five-year plan for an alternative life when money and image were no issues

Lea presented her three plans: as a copywriter, a dentist, and a “hippie” resort owner. Then I showed mine: a writer of many genres, a self-directed learning facilitator, and a manager of a farm for artists and learners.

Here is what that last one looks like.

In the afternoon, I read the latest Nightingalingale newsletter by  Craig Mod, a newsletter he sends to his membership patrons about the process of writing his latest book. He wrote about the importance of scale in creative projects.

Scale is something I’ve discussed in the past. I think it’s one of the most “important” choices someone who is doing “creative work” has to make: What scale do you want to work at? Because so much flows from that choice.

I decided ages ago that “my scale” was relatively constrained, mainly because I have a fairly uncompromising sense of what I want to do, which is not always the most “commercially viable” thing, and I have very little patience for bullshit. The bigger your scale, the more bullshit against which you have to defend (the more complex the thing becomes: the more moving parts, the more people involved, the more money at stake).

Important to note that even small scale things can be crippled by bullshit; vigilance is critical — the worst situation is one where you’re working on a small-impact item that acts like it’s a Big Deal and comes with all attendant Big Deal Bullshit."

After reading this, I returned to my odyssey plans and asked myself, “Do these plans reflect the scale that I want to work in?”

I picked up new pieces of paper. There is a plan that needs revising.