Seven-day sesshin

People often ask me what do I get out of this? Daily zazen for eight hours or more – with breaks, of course, and periods of work, meals and rest – in silence. How is it possible not to get bored by not-doing? And what does it mean to face yourself, can you find Truth?

I have sat many sesshins with different Buddhist groups, Triratna, Soto, Tibetan, and of course Rinzai. In beautiful places, noisy places, special places… What I found there is a universal rhythm to days and nights, especially for a seven-day sesshin. By the end the pain in legs and other parts of your body is immaterial – simple joy of being alive and inexpressible gratitude to masters, teachers and fellow travellers outshines all.

As over-explaining is abhorred by Zen, there is a distilled record of a seven-day sesshin.

Day one

Great! The sesshin is about to start! Settling into an assigned place, glad to crash onto a cushion.

Day two

What am I doing here? I should have done this… had no time to do that… will x, y and z be done without me? What’s for an evening meal?

Day three

Hello bodymind! End of the day: bones stopped screaming; monkey mind had gone to sleep. Quick lie down watching the moon.

Day four

It will take a while

to meet Zen ancestors

in the starry space

Day five

11th Oxherding Picture

Through the trees

I glimpse white ox in the grove.

Now there is an eye, now a swish of a tail –

It mocks me as it has run away.

C’mon get me! The harder I try

the faster it plays hide and seek –

the path is overgrown.

Day six

Watching the dusk fall

getting up before the sun

pulling out the weeds

and then –

zazen is my home

Day seven

The bell no longer calls for zazen

the trip back home is a flash

looking at a willow tree in a neighbour’s garden

everything is empty –

and yet so full

Dedicated to Melody Eshin Cornell Rōshi