Moving into the silence is a powerful way to calm the mind/body. In today’s noisy world, however, finding silence is a challenge. That is why there are retreats where you can practice. The Empowering Team enjoyed this article and video interview with Laurence DeRusha about his meaningful experience at a seven-day silent Zen retreat.
“Sesshin, meaning to gather the heart/mind, is an intensive meditation retreat done with others that deepens our relationship to our mind and to the world. In sesshin, the mind/body calms and settles, and the mind becomes clear and open. We experience the deep stillness that lies within each of us and the tremendous strength of a community (sangha) practicing together.
“The retreat is in silence, with sitting and walking meditation, formal silent meals in the zendo (oryoki), chanting services, one hour of work-practice (samu) and daily dharma-talks by the teachers. Private interviews (dokusan) with Teachers.”
The previous paragraphs are the explanation my wife and I never received before heading to this retreat, which was a gift from friends. As we arrived at the Upaya Zen Center, just outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico, I realized what I was in for while reading the flyer in the office. I became excited and a bit concerned at the same time: It was not only seven days of silence, but we were not supposed to look into the eyes of anyone else.
With that in mind, add to it that this “sesshin” might be very daunting to the individual without any understanding of meditation or basic Zen practices. We were fortunate. We were told this whole session was milder in format than many others, and it was still intense.
Throughout the day from 5:30 in the morning through 9:00 at night there were many hours of meditation, rituals, silent meals—called oryoki—and yoga practice.
The sitting meditations called Zazen were difficult for me the first couple of days primarily because I tried the postures and failed. Perhaps, those much younger than I or with 30 years of practice might’ve found them easy. I broke down and asked for a chair—silently. I found it easier to practice from that point on.
There were other challenges. My style of meditation has always been a mantra—a word or phrase given by a realized master—that I repeated in my mind until I moved into the deeper parts of meditation. So this also affected the first couple of days of trying to practice Zen meditation, which is more a clearing of the mind, and/or simply being aware.
In spite of my few frustrations the entire seven days was well worth it. I felt it was better than a vacation: I reconnected with soul, and I found myself rebalanced.
The Upaya Zen Center in northern New Mexico provides a wonderful setting for this type of event and is very much in the forefront of Zen communities. They have many different kinds of programs including photography and calligraphy. For details follow the link below.
Laurence De Rusha is an author, speaker and spiritual teacher. He has written several books including, The Secret of Knowing: The Science of Intuition.