Wednesday, April 4, 2012

What the heck is "sesshin"?

So this week, starting last Sunday, a 7-day sesshin is taking place at Green Gulch. It is the equivalent maybe, to going through the washing machine and being hung out to dry or Wikipedia says it translates to "touching the heart-mind." I really like that idea. Not only does it link the heart and mind close together but it implies that we have it and can connect with it and that it is important to try and see it. The general schedule is waking at the usual 4:30am time for zazen at 5am. Then those participating will sit about 10 periods of meditation between 5am and 9pm. There will be some rest times, 3 meals served oryoki-style in the zendo, a dharma talk given by the leader of the sesshin. Everyone is in silence for those 7 days, doesn't make eye contact, does not read or write, or even exercise. All with the intention of fostering self-examination and going inward and that to go inward one must quiet. And they do this every day for 7 days. Intense!

Now I am in a unique position because I am not "participating" in the sesshin. At some monasteries, like Tassajara, everyone who is there participates. I am not totally sure why they don't do that here but it is what it is. The challenge has been deciding what I want my week to look like. Because I am not in the sesshin I don't have to follow the same rules. Mostly I have to work in silence and not disturb the participants or do things in front of them they are not allowed to do (read, talk, eat a big bowl of ice cream, etc) so what I do otherwise is up to me. It's easier to be told what to do. So for this week it is all hands on deck in the kitchen so instead of being outside in the garden I am cooking for 50 people with a small crew of maybe 8 people. It is exhausting, in a different way than gardening. I have found that it actually feels like I am participating. My work feels a lot like zazen at times. Physically demanding, often due to staying in one position for a long time, no talking, trying to focus (today I cut my finger, yesterday I burned another) and paying attention to the same thoughts that come up all over my heart-mind. The kitchen crew eats together in silence. We attend the dharma talk. We feed the community and try to be encouraging in our presence.

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