Becoming Unstuck: A Creative Process and Koan Retreat

Date: February 2 - 5, 2023

Time: Thursday 5pm to Sunday 1pm

Location: Great Vow Zen Monastery

Address: 79640 Quincy Mayger Road, Clatskanie, Oregon 97016, USA

Price: $200 - $300

Becoming Unstuck: A Creative Process and Koan Retreat

February 2 - 5, 2023

Thursday 5pm to Sunday 1pm

Do you ever feel stuck? Maybe it’s a creative project, a relationship, a job, your spiritual life, your meditation practice, or a certain thought-pattern or belief? As human beings, we tend to tie ourselves up in knots, thinking things should be otherwise, different, somehow better. This thinking can leave us feeling stuck– dry, arid, without options, lacking creativity and perspective.

The dharma teachings remind us that we are process. That all is flowing, changing, regenerating. And yet, we still get stuck– we make conclusions, we grasp and try to hold onto this changing world. We build empires around our knowing, trying to stay safe in a world of uncertainty.

In the Zen tradition, the ancestors devised koans to help practitioners get unstuck. Koans are part of the awakening technology of the Zen lineage. Practiced now for over 1500 years, the koans help us see through our fixed beliefs, embody new perspectives and liberate our hearts/minds to the innate possibility and creativity of life itself.

During this retreat we will work on the koan Case 42 of the Mumonkan Stuck in Samadhi. We will engage the koan through the Creative Process (embodiment, journaling, painting/drawing, poetry, song/dance), Zazen Meditation, Group Koan Work, Dreams and Sanzen. We will spend time getting to know the different aspects of the koan and see how these energies arise in our own hearts, minds + lives.

To be stuck any place is to be impotent, no matter how grand the place, how big and clear. Stuck is stuck. –Natalie Goldberg

This retreat is for anyone who is feeling stuck and would like to explore how to get unstuck; Those who are curious about koan work and would like to engage with it in a low-stakes, non-judgmental, playful, supportive way; And for those interested in the intersection of Zen practice + Creative Process (something we have been exploring at Great Vow for the last 20 years).

Below is the koan. If you read it and feel like “I don’t understand”, that is part of the process. Notice the words or images that you have a strong reaction to- maybe aversion, maybe intrigue, maybe confusion or dismissiveness. This retreat will give us an opportunity to explore the opaque, to move with our reactivity, to get stuck and then unstuck again and again.

Mumonkan CASE 42: Stuck in Samadhi

Case: Once in the ancient days of the World-Honored One, Manjushri went to the place where Buddhas were assembled and found that all the Buddhas were departing for their original dwelling places. Only a young woman remained, sitting in samadhi close to Shakyamuni Buddha’s throne. Manjushri asked the Buddha, “Why can that woman be near the Buddha’s throne while I cannot?” The Buddha said, “Just awaken her and raise her up out of samadhi and ask her yourself.” 

Manjushri walked around the woman three times, snapped his fingers once, took her up to the Brahman heaven, and exerted all his supernatural powers, but he could not bring her out of samadhi. 

The World-Honored One said, “Even a hundred or a thousand Manjushris would not be able to bring her out of samadhi. Down below, past twelve hundred million lands as innumerable as the sand of the Ganges, is the Bodhisattva Mômyô (Delusive Wisdom). He will be able to arouse her from her samadhi.” 

Instantly the Bodhisattva Mômyô emerged out of the earth and made a bow to the World-Honored One, who then gave his command. The Bodhisattva went before the woman and snapped his fingers once. At this, the woman came out of samadhi. 

Mumon’s Commentary: Old Shakya plays a country drama on stage, but people of shallow realization cannot appreciate it. Just tell me: Manjushri is the teacher of the Seven Buddhas; why can’t he bring the woman out of her samadhi while Mômyô, who is the bodhisattva of delusive wisdom, can? If you can grasp this completely, you will realize that surging delusive consciousness is nothing other than greatest samadhi. 

Verse: One can awaken her, the other cannot; 

Both have their own freedom. 

A god-mask here and a devil-mask there; 

Even in failure, an elegant performance.


Amy Kisei, Sensei
Laura Jomon Martin