(Next Zazenkai is on July 8, 2017. For other extended sitting sessions on Saturdays, please visit here)

The schedule includes zazen (seated meditation), chanting (with traditional wooden drum called mokugyo), a talk on Zen practice, rest periods, samu (a work period or meditative activity that supports our individual healing while  contributing towards one movement*) and dokusan (private interview with the teacher).

Ma (Japanese for space or gap) in a pine-tree screen which is a national treasure of Japan.

7:30 Morning Sutra Recitation
8:00 Tea and Bathroom break
8:10 Zazen (two 25-30 minute periods of meditation with stretch break in between)
9:10 Bathroom break and snacks, as needed
9:20 Zazen (two 25-30 minute periods of meditation with stretch break in between)
10:20 Bathroom break and snacks, as needed
10:30 Kinhin (walking meditation): Outdoor if possible
10:50 Zazen
11:20 Teisho (talk)
12:20 Bathroom break
12:30 Packed Lunch and silent rest period
1:50 Kinhin (walking meditation): Outdoor if possible
2:10 Zazen and dokusan
3:10 Samu (Silent work period and a rent for living on the planet)*
3:50 Tea and bathroom break
4:00 Afternoon sutra recitation
4:30 Zazen and dokusan
5:30 Sharing circle
6:00 Closing Song/Chant and Tea
6:15 Additional zazen (if and as desired) (until 8 pm)

If you haven’t done long periods of meditation before, please consider getting basic instructions on posture and breathing from hara. Long meditation sessions can be tiring for our physical bodies and our thinking minds (which is excellent). The result of the this tiredness is that deep memories including troubling psychological issues that are usually hidden from our conscious mind, bubble up. When such issues arise, they are often associated with body sensations that are not pleasurable. Some of us who follow the mindfulness of sensations as a practice technique are able to compassionately but non-judgmentally watch these sensations evolve or be held in a wider consciousness of space around us. Some of us, however, feels very agitated by emergence of unsettling memories and resulting sensations. Breathing from our hara can be extremely helpful in such circumstances. Breathing from hara activates vagus nerve.

Vagus nerve is the longest nerve of autonomous nervous system. It helps us “rest and digest” (parasympathetic) as opposed to “fight or flight” (sympathetic) and controls our emotions. It innervates much of our viscera (all of our internal organs) with the notable exception of the adrenal glands. It is the critical nerve in the expression and management of emotions in both humans and animals, connects central nervous system with autonomous nervous system and considered to a gateway between our conscious thinking minds with our subconscious and intuitive minds. When the mind is strongly excited it instantly affects the state of the viscera (the whole body) through Vagus nerve leading to unpleasant physical sensations. It is these physical sensations that are unbearable for those among us who are anxious. Some people can become more agitated when they are taught be mindful of their physical sensations. Artificial Vagus Nerve Stimulation, through electrical impulses via a surgically implanted pacemaker like device, shows promising results in reducing depression, anxieties and even conditions such as epilepsy and obesity. Here is what do we can to calm the Vagus nerve ourselves: holding the breath and tensing of abdominal muscles (including during laughter, coughing and even sobbing). Meditation traditions that focus on abdominal breathing might not have consciously utilized this understanding of Vagus nerve in their practices but it works. Anyone who has ever gotten Zen meditation instruction knows how much importance is given to deep bated breathing from abdomen (Tanden, Dantian or hara) which induces deep stillness and energy. Yes, working with hara alone without overall compassionate mindfulness can lead to spiritual bypassing and many kinds of problems that we have heard about. If course, simply breathing from hara can not be of assistance in itself. It can be a transformative tool for some people in a safe, caring and energized environment.

*These work periods are called samu in Zen tradition and focus on silently bringing the clarity, equanimity, energy and compassion from our seated meditation practice to chores in our daily lives. Participants are encouraged to continue their focus on their breathing or on their koans while engaging in simple and often repetitive tasks that do not involve too much discriminating thinking or analysis.  Traditionally, samu revolves around maintaining/cleaning the sitting environment (e.g., meditation room or kitchen) or tending to the garden or farm (if any, for food and healing). In addition to these traditional tasks that were central to the lifestyle of poor monks in Asia, we invite you to discuss the possibility of designing a task for yourself that is healing for yourself while contributing towards “one movement” towards ecological and socio-economic sanity — that is serving our world towards justice, joy, equality and kindness. One could potentially choose any activity that can be done at the venue with available supplies and does not distract others. Here are a couple of examples: silently fixing bikes for homeless people, working on art pieces that allow expression of how you are feeling (and perhaps are used later to raise money for  climate or social action). Please keep in mind, though, that sometimes working on our own healing is what is the most powerful way to serve everyone. If you have not ever done long meditation sessions, perhaps you should choose a simple silent task that doesn’t involve too much planning.