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Posts Tagged ‘Ramblings’

The Meaning of Coming from the West

I returned from the New Year Sesshin (Sesshin translated means literally, “gathering of the mind”) three days ago. At first I was too tired to write about the 7 day silent retreat but the more I thought about it, the less I was able to know what to say. The entire schedule is designed to cultivate a deep sense of silence which would allow for the participants to see very clearly the workings of the mind. When I initially talked about it I found myself saying repeatedly, it was at times painful, at times profound and literally every in between.  I haven’t yet found better words for it.

The week started on Monday evening when we entered silence until the close of the retreat Sunday morning. Tuesday through Saturday were a fixed schedule with the typical day going as follows.

4:25am wake up
5:00am Morning Zazen
7:00am Morning Service & Oryoki (formal meal in the Zendo, translates as “Just the Right Amount”)
7:30am Break
8:15am Work Practice
10:30 Mid-Morning Zazen
12:00pm Afternoon Service
12:30pm Oryoki
1:15pm Break
2:30pm Afternoon Zazen, Dharma Talk by Zen Master or Senior Monastic
5:00pm Evening Service
5:30pm Informal Dinner
7:00pm Zazen
9:30pm Lights out

The roughly 8 hours of meditation is in 35 minute sessions broken up by 5 minute walking meditation. The zendo (meditation hall) is very formal with monitors who barked out, “wake up!” at any student seen to be nodding off or slightly moving. The two hour work practice was our chance to clean, prep food or otherwise mindfully participate in smooth operating of the monastery for the retreat. Oryoki is a formal meal that is taken right in the zendo. Translated as “just the right amount,” oryoki means the right amount in terms of the amount of food and movement. (It is mildly choreographed with formal servers, lots of bowing and chanting.) There were two periods of roughly an hour  each where we had a chance to nap.

We were instructed that the week was in silence with no reading, writing, electronics, or staring out the window. The precautions for the week dictated no eye contact, politenesses of holding doors or excuse mes, and even mentioned not to pet the Monastery cat. When we weren’t meditating, we were quietly contemplating. The silence penetrated every corner of the day. The only talking occurred when a senior gave one of the Dharma talks in the afternoon, during your short daily interview with the teacher or when we were chanting at one of the three services.

So, I guess I can’t really summarize the totality of a week long retreat and all the epiphanies, moments of deep and penetrating stillness, poems and day dreams in one post. But I will boil the week down to this… Tuesday was physically and mentally painful. Wednesday, I started to settle in. Thursday & Friday were filled with sprawling, vast moments of quiet & bliss and left me spent by Friday night. On Saturday I had settled into a calm and lucid place that allowed for great clarity into my life. Sunday morning was filled with tears. I think they came from a place of exhaustion, joy and faith that I’m right path.

Really the only bad thing I can say about the week was the complete radio silence was a bit terrifying. There was literally no way to receive a call in case of an emergency and I was worried all week when I heard a door open that it was my brother showing up to tell me a family member had died. Additionally, it was the single longest period of time my wife and I have been apart in 9 years and never have we got more than 24 hours without speaking, not to mention 7 days. It was a very intense week. I would do it again, but not any time soon.

Sesshin Schedule

Precautions (Rules)

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I leave tomorrow for the New Year’s Sesshin at Zen Mountain Monastery. I’ve been on weekend retreats before but never a week long intensive like this. Monday is registration, a meal, evening zazen and early to bed as Tuesday starts at 4:30am. The days are roughly 9 hours of zazen, silent work practice, opportunities to work with a teacher, dharma talks, liturgy and then we rinse and repeat.

I’m thrilled to be going. I found out I had some free time at the end of January and the first thing I did was jump on the ZMM website and check the retreat schedule. I had to do an interview with a senior monastic for approval to attend the week. Sesshin is grueling and a deep and  sincere commitment to sitting required to last the week. The monastic explained when someone leaves mid-retreat the whole shanga feels the absence. In a week defined by silence what speaks louder than leaving?

I don’t think I’ll be leaving!

I won’t be posting for the week. (No cell, no computers) And I doubt I’ll be staying on top of the photo a day project… but we’ll see. I look forward to posting about the week when I return.

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Things Tom D. Says

My friend Tom D. says some pretty awesome things at our weekly sitting group. I decided I would start a post where I could add all of my favorites. Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten more than I’ll remember but I hope to be updating this regularly. I’ve got a terrible memory so most of these are paraphrased…

  • “Meditation is my chance to watch all the trains of thought go by and I choose to stand on the platform and not get on every one.”
  • On living in the moment: “I have to remember that I’m building a wall, brick by brick, but in my mind, I’m building a Cathedral all at once. But its really just a wall and I can only do it one day at a time.”
  • On how meditation helps us be better listeners: “People mistake me for being a good listener because I don’t talk much myself.”
  • On meditating when on vacation: “Instead of meditating first thing in the morning, I have a few four cups of coffee and then have speedy meditation.”
  • “I want to know Karma and Impermanence like I know gravity. If I knock a glass off the table, I don’t wish it would float or imagine it will suspend in the air, I just know its going to fall and shatter.”
  • On discussing if Tom read the comments on a blog post by a meditation teacher,“[No] There
    should be a cop standing next to them saying “Move along folks, nothing to see here..””
More to come…

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New Year, New Blog

Okay… so its 2011. I figure, new year, new blog. I deleted 57 posts and I’m essentially starting over.  (Most of what I wrote was pretty cliche, self indulgent, garbage.) I’d still like this to be a collection of some useful links for beginners but from here on out it will focus more on my photo a day project, short reviews of the books I’ve been reading and some notes about my current practice.

My experience practicing Zen has grown and changed, practically daily in the last 7 months. Since I attended the Zen Training weekend at Zen Mountain Monastery my life has changed pretty dramatically. I meditate at least twice a day, I’ve started a photo a day project, I have started losing weight and engaging in various physical activities, I study Zen spirituality, history and original texts rigorously, I sit with a small group regularly and finally, the three of us started organizing 1/2 day retreats which I delight in.

Essentially, through my practice of Zen, my life has changed completely. It’s pretty cool actually. I’ll talk more later on about the art and body practice stuff. (It’s all part of a comprehensive program of Zen study the Mountains and Rivers Order teaches.)

Glad to be doing this again… I hope its presentable this time around.

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The Beginning


On Sunday, April 18th, 2010 I made a pledge to myself. I was going to meditate 30 minutes, twice a day, every day for ten years. Then I would decide what to do next.


This may strike you as odd. It certainly strikes me as odd. While often the victim of delusions of grandeur, I am not generally given to serious commitments like this one. Actually, other than getting married, I don’t think I’ve ever made any real decision to apply myself to anything before. But something is calling me to this…

My path as a novice seeker started in September of 2009 when I started attending a weekly meditation group. The format of the meeting is to meditate for 10 minutes, discuss our week in meditation and close with 5 more minutes of meditation. By January I started sporadically meditating by myself. With little aim or clue of what I was doing I started reading everything I could find. Everything seemed to indicate that I was doing it wrong. It wasn’t until March that I finally settled into a real pattern of meditating in the morning and the evening. I had spent Easter weekend in the country of Upstate New York with my family and I rose with the sun to meditate, read and meditate again, most of the day until sunset. It was here that I had my first “real” experience meditating and it opened my mind to the potential in cultivating a more consistent practice.

It was only a week ago that I started meditating for extended periods at a time. I thought it was torture. 30 minutes?! Why couldn’t I do it in 5? But I immediately discovered the benefits. I started dreaming vividly. I suddenly felt emotionally vulnerable. I started to feel a real sense of calm in my practice. I was wide open for the first time in my life. It became clear to me. I need to stick to this practice for a while.

How I will use this blog. I want to track my growth, record my evolving opinions and hopefully meet other seekers on the path. I’ve found the web to be little lacking in the kind of hand holding/guidance I feel like I want for this journey. I have found some great resources, all of which I will share along the way, but have yet to find someone who says, “So, you’ve never meditated before… here’s how I started.” I’ll track my progress counting the day’s minutes until they total up to 219,000. As of today, I am 270 minutes of 219,000 into my project. (5.5 days or 9 sessions at 30 minutes each) On my mind this week… the meaning of “emptiness,” the details of my practice, and my curious desire to commit myself to this project. I’m planning to post at least twice a week. Wish me luck!

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