Sesshin

What is “sesshin”?

Sesshin is a week long silent meditation retreat. In sesshin we practice the settling of distracted mind  This progression into stillness is developed by maintaining silence, refraining from media use and engaging in work practice, formal meals and, most importantly, zazen meditation. Zazen, the zen form of sitting, is the primary practice of sesshin, taking up 8-10 hours of the daily schedule. It is what allows the mind to quiet, the body to still and one’s innate wisdom and compassion to emerge. The transformative power of sesshin, however, is not only accessible during the moments of ease and clarity but can also be found when one squarely faces the challenges sesshin brings up.

What to Expect

Sesshin is a time of intensive meditation and is psychologically and emotionally demanding. Sleep is reduced and physical discomfort is a challenge all participants will face and should be expected. If you sense that the stress of focused, silent sitting meditation for 8-10 hours a day is not a healthy or appropriate endeavor for you at this time, please honor your wisdom. If you have never attended a sesshin at Great Vow, it is recommended that you first attend a Beginner’s Mind Weekend Retreat. If you have never been to either of these retreats, or if you would like to discuss the appropriateness of sesshin for you, please call the training office at 503-728-0654.

Sesshin are held in silence. After opening remarks on the first night, we enter silence and maintain it until a closing circle on the final day. During sesshin we meditate together between 8-10 hours per day. Sitting meditation is usually in two-hour blocks of four 25-minute periods, with walking meditation and opportunities to shift your sitting position. We provide meditation supplies (chairs, benches, and cushions), but you are welcome to bring your own. 

Meals are formal and held in silence. There is a morning work period and a few breaks throughout the day. The daily schedule may include an afternoon dharma talk (teisho) from the teacher, interview with the teacher (sanzen), and formal tea at night. 

Days usually begin at 4:20 a.m. and end around 10 p.m. Dharma talks and guided meditations revolve around the sesshin theme. Click here to see an approximate sesshin schedule. 
 
The morning work period lasts roughly 90 minutes. During this period, participants engage in simple work practice, such as cooking, cleaning, gardening, or sewing. There are scheduled breaks after meals.
 
Please arrive between 5 and 6 p.m. the first night, and check in at the office. 

Part Time Attendance

Part time attendance is only available for members of Zen Community of Oregon. If you are a member and would like to attend sesshin part time, please contact the registrar to arrange the details. 

Food

Meals served at all events are healthy and vegetarian. Food may contain eggs and dairy products. Gluten-free and dairy-free food is provided if requested. If you have specific food allergies please indicate that when your register. Food donations are always encouraged. Fair-trade coffee, peanut butter, chocolate chips, dried fruit, cheese, and nuts are especially appreciated.

Proper Attire

To support the dignity of spiritual practice and to lessen distractions, we ask people to wear modest, subdued clothing in the meditation hall. People tend to be most comfortable wearing loose-fitting pants, skirts, or meditation robes. Please do not wear shorts, sleeveless tops, leggings or shirts with advertising or logos. Because many people are sensitive to scents, please do not use strongly scented toiletries, essential oils or wear perfume or cologne in the meditation hall.
Cell phone and laptop use

During any overnight retreat, but especially during Sesshin and Beginner’s Mind Retreats, we encourage all participants to keep their cell phones and laptops turned off. The phone number for the monastery is 503-728-0654, and is checked daily. Please arrange for those who might need to contact you in case of an emergency to use this number, rather than your cell phone. Not using these devices is an important part of creating a strong container for the retreat.

What to Bring

  • Personal toiletries (we have a small supply of toiletries including ear plugs if you forget anything)
  • Flashlight (optional) 
  • Slip-on shoes or sandals (helpful for shoes-off areas in the zendo and dorm rooms)
  • Please also consider bringing your own linens or sleeping bag. This helps the monastery cut down on energy use. We have plenty of linens available if you would rather use ours.
 

What Not to Bring

  • Non-prescription drugs (excluding allergy medications, vitamins and supplements, or related items)
  • Pets
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Radios, media players, and so on
  • Reading materials or journals (to Beginner’s Mind or Sesshin)