Posted inHenry's Messages

Message from Henry: Practice and Training

November 25, 2015

Training is about … diminishing our faith in what we think we understand, and learning how to surrender.


There’s a distinction between practice and training. At times we are happy to practice, but are not so open to training. But to practice without training is to miss the heart of practice. Only through training does practice keep opening itself. This is hard to see for ourselves, without help.

Sesshin is the main element in training. The great majority of people are afraid of sesshin, even some long time practitioners. We’ll often come up with convincing ruses to talk ourselves out of doing it. Hopefully we see through them, but quite often we may not. But rather than spinning fancy philosophical arguments against it, it may be better just to accept and embrace our natural simple human fear of the unknown.

Whatever else it may be about, this practice is about not believing ourselves as much as we have done for most of our lives. Sometimes we’ll surreptitiously puff ourselves up without even knowing it, by criticizing others, or by dissing our elders or forebears, or by believing we understand things better than others. Training is about the opposite of that — diminishing our faith in what we think we understand, and learning how to surrender.

Surrender doesn’t come easily to most of us. It goes along with trust, and trust isn’t easy for many of us either. But it’s not something we either have or don’t have. It’s something we have to learn to allow to show itself. It comes by itself. That’s an important part of what training is for.

Normally we think we go through childhood, grow up and become adults. The Zen Way is simply a way of making “growing up” an eternal process. We never stop. Again and again we allow ourselves to go to the brink of what we know, and give it up, and surrender to the unknown. Surrender is scary. Surrender and trust are like the two feet in walking. As each takes a step the other is encouraged to do so, then the other, and so on.

If we can’t be humble we can’t “go the Way.” Perhaps this is why pride is a cardinal sin in the Christian tradition. (Sin meaning “hamartia” or “missing the mark.”) When pride has made its way into us, we often can’t see it. It’s sneaky. We have to look out for its telltale signs.

When we have a lot of thoughts about practice, good or bad, positive or negative, the best advice I’ve had is to take note of them, then put them on the shelf. We can let them know that we’ll be attending to them later, but for now we’re going to just do our practice rather than think about it.

If we do some of the above, we will probably find over time that our sense of self diminishes, and this opens up an appreciation for existence that is quite new. It keeps showing itself not in just one new way, but in ever new ways that keep multiplying and keep surprising us. Then we start to find that our attitude to life shifts toward greater gratitude, and quite naturally, humility.

May we all find the courage to follow the Way.

Message from Henry is excerpted from our November 25th Newsletter.
Image: Cloud Light, by Wherenow3099, CC0 Public Domain, from

footer support banner image

Support Mountain Cloud

You can show your gratitude for Mountain Cloud events, retreats, podcasts and other teachings by making a one-time gift, or by becoming a supporting member.

Donate to Mountain Cloud Become a Member