Zen retreats (sesshins) can be physically and psycho-spiritually intense. They are designed to tire our physical body and our calculating mind (“left” brain) such that our deeper layers of consciousness can be activated. Zen retreats involve many hours of seated meditation/chanting each day. We highly encourage preparing one’s heart-mind-body for upcoming discipline and deep purification by trying these steps in the preceding months/weeks:
— Please try getting to bed and wake up earlier than usual.
— Please meditate every day even if for a short time.
— Please familiarize yourself with our zazenkai (all day) schedule or retreat daily schedule, basic Zen teachings and sesshin culture. Do share your questions and concerns with us.
Download online platform: Please download this zoom software. You will need a stable and high-speed internet connection. We will send the exact link to our gathering two days before the retreat starts. At the least, everyone will need to learn to mute/unmute themselves. We will orient the camera so that people attending via Zoom will see the main altar in our meditation room. Here are some basic trouble-shooting instructions.
Getting ready to chant: Please download and print our chant book in advance.
Preparing space for meditation: Please create a clean and otherwise conducive environment around you for sitting. Light incense or candle if you like, make an altar and try to situate the camera such that everyone can see you sitting. And commit to stay as still as you would with other people in the room with you. You will need to experiment with lighting and position of camera. For a sense of online community, it is important that we can see each other.
Make your room/home a temple: You might use this opportunity to clear out clutters parts of your home/room before and during the retreat. We encourage use of breaks after meals for mindful cleaning/gardening. What do you really need? What can be recycled and donated?
Grocery shopping for meals: Ensure supply of nourishing food so that you can minimize trips to grocery stores during the retreat. Please consider that if you were doing this retreat with us in person, the meals would be vegan. Heavy oily foods that are not plant-based make us drowsy and cause a lot of pain to our animal friends. Sugars and alcohol weaken our immune systems. Can you use this opportunity to adopt healthier and kinder diet?
Get teas: They are important part of zen culture. Please try to limit the amount of caffeine in drinks. Herbal/medicinal teas like nettle, lemonbalm, ginger, licorice and echinacea are good options. Adding pieces of lime to any beverage gives us vitamin C.
Tell people you are in an retreat: You might want to post on social media that you are not available to answer phone calls or messages for a few days. Aside from your emergency contact, please also consider telling 2-3 other individuals that you are at a retreat. Someone should know if and when to check on you especially if you are in poor health.
Please try to stick to the online schedule (Five day or weekend retreat) as much as possible. In these time of Coronavirus, we want to increase our body’s immunity to sickness. Meditation and silence are known calm down our nervous systems and increase our immunity. But the gateway to deep relaxation and inner ease comes from facing our inner trauma, fear, grief and anger. Usually, we keep ourselves distracted with work, TV and social media to keep hard emotions away. But during retreat we want to gently adopt some discipline to face our inner trauma even if we are not attending the whole retreat. We don’t want to stress the body too much but we also do not want to be so relaxed that we don’t face our inner ghosts and fears.
In the end our sincerity and intentions matters more than our hours of sitting. Someone needing a brake to take care of a sick child or elder is different from us taking a break to read anxiety-causing endless cycles of news or social media.
Noble silence: We want to tap into body’s natural intelligence and that implies that we don’t drown ourselves in external stimulus. Please try to see if you can limit your conversations during the retreat to functional conversations. “Where is our cooking pot/broom/medicine” is functional whereas “Did you hear how many cases of Coronavirus are in the world right now?” is not really necessary conversation. Checking in with immediate family/friends at this unprecedented time is okay but please tell everyone that you are trying to ground yourself and can not talk for too long. We don’t want to escape our responsibilities but also don’t want to invite unnecessary chatter.
Online distractions: We will all promise to not expose others online to distracting visuals. We will move gently whenever our camera are on. We will mute ourselves when we expect loud sounds around us.
Meals and tea: Do as many meals in silence as possible. Drink plenty of water.
Walking meditation/Yoga/movement: Movement is very important for body’s immunity at this time. Our live yoga sessions will be led by Naveed Heydari. He will lead us into Kaiyut Yoga, a biomechanical practice to serve modern body-mind and intended to increase freedom of movement. Please use every break to stretch the body or do walking meditation outdoors. Here are two free online yoga resources (1) Doyogawithme DOT com OR (2) youtube DOT com/user/yogawithadriene
Sutras: We will not do long sutras but some chanting from hara (that activates vagus nerve) is very helpful in energizing and oxygenating the body.
TV and phone screens: Please do not watch TV and phone screens too much beyond what you really need to attend the retreat. Take care of immediate needs of your family and community at this time but otherwise let the eyes, mind and body get a break.
Bring your passion to explore your own unconscious and sub-conscious mind, love and care with you. May our gatherings serve us all very well. Looking forward to connecting with you very soon!