Now before I say what I want to say here, I want to point out that I specifically designed my Zen retreats to be the best possible retreats they could be. I didn’t even start running retreats of my own at all until I was able to run ones that wouldn’t be compromised into being inferior ones. So of course I think mine are the best. That doesn’t mean every other retreat is bad. It just means mine are the best. Here’s why.
We’re doing a Zen and Yoga Retreat April 24-26 at Mt. Baldy Zen Center. Now if you sign up for a “Zen and Yoga” or “Zen and Calligraphy” or “Zen and Skeeball” or “Zen and whatever” retreat at some places I’ve spent time at, what you’ll get will be a lot of yoga or calligraphy or skeeball and a small amount of (almost always optional) Zen. Meditation centers generally know that actual meditation is a tough sell and often minimize or very nearly eliminate actual sitting from the schedule. The idea of such retreats is to get you in the door with the hope that maybe 10% of those who sign up might come back some day.
On the other hand, some Zen places go to the opposite extreme. They expect even first-timers to sit for as much as ten hours a day and will, quite literally, punish you if you so much as scratch or sniffle. I know they like to tell you it’s not punishment, but let’s be real. You get hit with a big wooden stick when you break the most minor rules. Where I come from we call that punishment.
What we offer is a genuine Zen retreat with the yoga added to soften the impact of so much sitting. We offer three and a half hours of seated meditation on the longest of the three days along with one hour of yoga (split into two sessions) and two hours of lecture/discussion. Three meals are eaten in silence as a way of continuing the meditation during the meals. There is also a Zen style work period of 40 minutes, which is yet another opportunity to practice meditation with movement. During the sitting periods, I also offer personal consultations with all participants (dokusan).
This is the perfect amount of sitting for both beginners and long-time practitioners. It’s not too much for beginners to deal with and it’s not so little that people who’ve practiced for a while feel cheated. And if they do, we offer free time in the schedule when you can go to the zendo and sit some more if you want. I used to do that when I attended Gudo Nishijima’s retreats, which had a similar schedule. You can also skip yoga and lectures to sit if you feel so inclined.
Three and a half hours of staring at a wall can seem like a lot to someone who has never done zazen at all. In fact, it is a lot. That’s the idea. One of the most effective ways to do Zen practice is to do it longer than you imagine you can endure. If ten minutes is your limit, do fifteen. If you’re too angry or too stressed or your mind is racing too much for you to do 40 minutes, then do 45 minutes.
That last bit, the part of your practice in which you feel like you can’t possibly go on any longer, is the best. It’s like exercising. You have to push a little. You’re bothered by your overactive mind because you give in too quickly to whatever it demands of you. This is true for me and for everybody else too. When you learn in practice not to give in so easily, you train the mind to be still when it doesn’t get exactly what it imagine it wants. By not scratching every single itch that comes up and not shifting around each time you feel like it, you learn something incredibly valuable. You learn how to be fine with the things that come up even when you don’t really like them. And you also learn how to enjoy the things you like that much more because you can stay with what’s actually going on.
We’re also very liberal at our retreats. If you have to miss part of it, nobody’s going to bug you about it. If you’d rather go hike up the mountain while the rest of us are sitting, we’re not gonna tell you not to. We may wonder why you signed up for a Zen retreat instead of just driving up Mt. Baldy and hiking on your own, but that’s about it.
Retreats are a great way to deepen your practice. You can get into it in ways that you just can’t at home by yourself or at a weekly sitting where you just do one or two rounds. There really is no substitute.
Anyhow, that’s my two-cents. The link to sign up is below. See you there!
April 3, 2015 Pomona, CA Open Door 2 Yoga 6 pm 163 W 2nd St, Pomona, California 91766
April 24-26, 2015 Mt. Baldy, CA 3-DAY ZEN & YOGA RETREAT
May 16-17, 2015 Nashville, TN 2-DAY RETREAT AT NASHVILLE ZEN CENTER
July 8-12, 2015 Vancouver, BC Canada 5-DAY RETREAT at HOLLYHOCK RETREAT CENTER
August 14-16, 2015 Munich, Germany 3 DAY ZEN RETREAT
August 19, 2015 Munich, Germany LECTURE
August 24-29, 2015 Felsentor, Switzerland 5-DAY RETREAT AT STIFTUNG FELSENTOR
August 30-September 4, 2015 Holzkirchen, Germany 5-DAY RETREAT AT BENEDIKTUSHOF MONASTERY
September 10-13, 2015 Finland 4-DAY RETREAT
Every Monday at 8pm I lead zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. All are welcome!
Every Saturday at 9:30 am I lead zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. All are welcome!
Registration is now open for our 3-day Zen & Yoga Retreat at Mt. Baldy Zen Center April 24-26, 2015. CLICK HERE for more info!
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