At the end of March I am going to be attending a 7 day intensive zen meditation retreat amongst the sandstone cliffs of Yengo National Park, 2 hours north west of Sydney.
Albert low, talking about zen meditation wrote:
The practice of Zen is called zazen. Za means “sitting” and zen, which is a derivation of the Sanskrit word dhyana, means both “meditative absorption” and “beyond the opposites.” Zazen therefore means sitting beyond the opposites of “me” and the “world,” “me” and “you,” “me” and “God,” and so on.
Zazen can be seen to have three dimensions: meditation, concentration, and contemplation. To meditate is to allow the mind to circle some phrase, idea, or feeling. One does not try to understand the phrase, but instead allows understanding to come. Concentration means to focus one-pointedly upon a single thought or image. Contemplation means to be at one with whatever arises.
In the zen tradition retreats such as this are called Sesshin which translates as touching the heart mind.
OK, touching the heart mind….that all sounds pretty cool in a slightly syrupy yoga pants and kombucha kind of way.
But I have no delusions here.
I am expecting sesshin to be something more like climbing Mt Kosciuszko. On my knees. During a thunderstorm. In the nude. Unsupported by chocolate or WiFi.
I already have a fairly consistent meditation (or zazen) practice. Most days I sit 1 hour early in the morning. Some days I sit a little in the evening as well. I have sat through a previous retreat (in the Tibetan buddhist tradition) many years ago. So I have a little idea about what to expect.
Pretty much, for those 7 days, all extraneous distractions and interruptions will be buffered, both by the geographical remoteness of the retreat centre, and by the crafted conditions of sesshin itself. Conditions that have been developed over hundreds of years to optimise a space for intensive meditation.
The retreat centre I am attending is called Kodoji (Ancient Ground) Zendo, and according to the Sydney Zen Centre website the facilities seem appropriately simple and austere.
There is a meditation hall or dojo (pictured above) as well as a few small support buildings including a kitchen, teachers quarters and some pit toilets.
Unfortunately, there does not seem to be an on site emergency department or neurosurgical intensive care unit to manage the surely inevitable de-lamination of my spine, or the rectal pressure areas and exploding kneecaps erupting from all that sitting.
No. I am going to have to manage all those unfolding catastrophes in some other way. It may not be pretty.
In a state of preparatory apprehension I Googled: ‘how to survive a 7 day Zen Sesshin’.
Most of the main advice seems to be typically zen in its assistance … EXPECT NOTHING.
OK then. I am expecting nothing. Which of course is expecting something.
Other tips include:
- Don’t talk or whisper.
- Don’t look around.
- Don’t greet people or make gestures.
Sounds a lot like school detention.
So, I hear you asking…”are you butt naked crazy?”
“Why in the name of lucifers laundry would you want to spend 7 days sitting down doing nothing?”
Well, if it was actually doing nothing I would tend to agree with you. But there will be a lot going on in that nothing. A lot.
I will leave it up to you to investigate what that ‘lot’ might be if you feel so inclined.
But I will say that it is something that I believe is totally worth giving up 7 days of comfort and flushing toilets and Netflix and social media and cold beer and huge helpings of simple carbs to envelop myself in.
So I have signed up. I have paid my money. I am locked in.
I will write a follow-up post after I get back to let you know if that belief was warranted.
Photo credit: David Moore.