Reviews ...

The wisdom of solitude

... the meaning of Zen.

by Ed Boyd

"THE WISDOM OF SOLITUDE: A Zen retreat in the woods" (c)2004 by Jane Dobisz, Harper Collins, New York, NY 10022 in 2009

I was so captivated by this story I want to tell our readers about it. The author was a young woman, Jane Dobisz, when she decided to do 100 days of Zen retreat. She chose a very small cabin in a winter New England where Jane hoped to find out who she was.

Joseph Campbell in his Myths To Live By, Viking Press c.1972, tells of the meaning of Zen. "Jiriki...the way of self-help, own doing, inner energy, which neither begs nor expects aid from any deity or Buddha, but works on its own to achieve what is to be achieved, is in Japan represented pre-eminently by Zen."

This is a small book, only 134 pages. There are 40 chapters (Chapter 1, Where are you going?) with only one or two pages, some a little longer. Each chapter begins with a title and a caption; each title and caption is meant to provoke thought. “The Great Way has no gate. How do you pass through?” is one of the captions.

As her two friends drop her off at the tiny cabin you can feel the fright in her voice. She has packed enough food to last for the one hundred days, but she is not sure. Fifty pounds of rice, ten pounds of sunflower seeds, dried fruit, barley tea and a medium-sized peanut butter Jane hopes will last her.

Jane posts her schedule on the wall to keep track of things. Her day begins at 3:15am and lasts until 9:30pm, blessed sleep. On this schedule she lists bowing, tea, sitting, walking, chanting, breakfast, work period; break…last two chants and then sleep. Also, Jane chants a two page mantra that is listed as an appendix. As she completes the first day she wonders if the fire she has built will consume her in her sleep. “Very lonely.”


So begins the journey that will last 100 days. There are days where Jane finds herself in a heap, wondering what she has done. Rich, beautiful language is sprinkled throughout this story. On other days she feels a sense of euphoria, certain that she has done the right thing. In the end, Jane is certain.
Here are a few of Jane’s words:
“The sky is white. The ground is white. Insulated. Silent. White. Branches bow low under the weight of it. So perfect.” …“It’s still perfect. There’s a warm, deep, calm feeling permeating everywhere.”

“How could I have missed this pleasure for so many years?”

May 7, 2010

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