Friday, August 15, 2008


In a couple of days, I’ll be going up to Cornwall-on-Hudson for my annual meditation retreat. It’s a sesshin, a period of intensified practice: lots of sitting, three daily services, small ceremonial meals, and no casual conversation all week. It’s a terrific opportunity for quiet introspection, to let your mind and body settle down and perhaps come closer to escaping their routine daily obsessions.

Last year, I went to sesshin for ten days, which was a bit too long. I emerged doubting the wisdom of those last few days of practice. This year, I’m going for seven days, which should be more manageable.

I guess I’m looking forward to it, though to be honest I’m also a bit anxious. I’ve really been slacking off in my practice for the last several months. I’ve gone to the Zendo here and there, and I’ve sat once or twice at home, but I haven’t been nearly as attentive as I’d been the last few years. I’m wondering if my system will be a bit shocked when I go in for a week of intense sitting!

Why have I slacked? Well, who knows. This seems to happen in practice - sometimes you’re practicing intensely, sometimes you’re not. For me it all began with a very busy spring, with lots of activities almost daily that literally kept me from sitting, and away from the Zendo. I’ve been working to make my schedule lighter by extracting myself from some extracurricular activities, but I haven’t quite resumed my regular sitting.

I leave on Monday, and I’ll be back the following Sunday evening, perhaps with a quieter outlook and the ability to see and appreciate daily life a bit more clearly. Or not!

(Photo: Blossoms floating in a bird bath, Mt. Tremper, N.Y., Aug. 2008)


  1. The photo is extraordinary! All the worlds come together in the pic, as they will when you go sit for seven days.

    You are mighty! Intense sitting is extremely strenuous for me (though I haven't done a long retreat like that EVER - a weekend retreat was enough to get me launched into what my teacher called a "multiple hindrance attack." Oh yeah!!

    As for less and more, I think all practices have a rhythm, like breathing. At least every practice I've undertaken has had its ebbs and flows, just like the tides, my breath, heartbeat and everything else. It feels organic to me. People who sit exactly the same amount of time every single day, year after year? Seems a bit obsessive.

    Have a wonderful retreat!

  2. Here's to a quieter outlook, a chance to appreciate what's outside of us.

  3. A beautiful photo. One can mediate for quite a while on all that it contains.

  4. I've gone through the ebb and flow of practice with music and meditation. I've come to find out that sometimes a change of pace is actually quite healthy. I hope you have a week of peaceful, easy sits. You will certainly come home reaping the rewards of your week of stillness and introspection.

  5. escaping routine daily obsessions sounds so appealing

    i hope its a great retreat for you

  6. Fishing used to be like a Zen thing for me....I went for two weeks one time, but I didn't fish at all the last three days!
    Now I don't know anything about Zen, or sitting, but when you used the words "sometimes you’re practicing intensely, sometimes you’re not" it seemed...well... seemed like the whole idea was to not be intense....
    And then I thought that maybe it was like Fishing; people think of fishing as being this relaxing thing where you sit and watch your bobber and just try to stay awake...and that can be so...but other times its intense and you fish "HARD" and in the hardness you find Relaxation.
    So is that what the yin-yang thing is about?
    What would they think if you didn't want to Zen the last day, the way I didn't want to fish for those three days?
    Have a good trip!

  7. Steve, have a good trip! Wishing you a positive and peaceful time.

  8. Forgot to say I really, really love that photo

  9. I've always been tempted to try something like this and wonder what it must be like to re-enter the world of conversation afterwards. Relieved? Annoyed? a bit of both? Enjoy your retreat!