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.
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)
- Alcoholic beverages
- Radios, media players, and so on
- Reading materials or journals (to Beginner’s Mind or Sesshin)