The end of the Rohatsu sesshin will mark my seventh full sesshin, not including two and three day retreats and zazenkai - half day retreats that pack a punch. Don’t think I am too impressed with myself for sitting through seven - a close friend has completed over 150 sesshin. I have a lot of catching up to do!
Sesshin is an essential part of Zen practice. Lay followers are expected to complete one full sesshin every year, typically the Rohatsu sesshin. While two and three day retreats are excellent, sitting for the full week is a completely different beast. Three days is the average time it takes for your mind to calm itself, to settle down. As you enter the crème de la crème of sesshin, you will find your mind clear and alert.
Each sesshin has its own texture and no two are alike. Mindset and setting play an important part in the flow of the sesshin - the energy you bring to the retreat, the environment, and the other participants all determine what comes up.
One can feel a lot of nervous energy or anxiety in the weeks leading up to a retreat. Taking that energy and letting it motivate your practice can benefit you tremendously. Very rarely do my anxious worries manifest themselves in reality.
Most of my meals are taken standing up in the kitchen, so I relish the opportunity to slow down during retreat. Much like wearing a uniform frees you from having to choose your clothes, formal meals free your mind to savour the food. One question we ask ourselves as we eat: this food that has traveled so far, touched so many hands - based on our practice and virtue, do we deserve it?
While it is hard to find temples that practice the incredibly formal ‘Oriyoki’ style of meals, which involve taking your meals on your meditation cushion, this level of formality is something to strive for.
Throughout the week, we are building up our Jiriki, or concentration energy. Taking this energy back into our work-a-day lives, we use it to make insights, from the profound and grand to the small and practical.
Sitting in sesshin has been an incredibly positive influence in my life, and I believe that anyone who devotes themselves to this practice will feel the same way. As soon as they are over, I find myself asking, ‘When is the next one?’