I’m spending 48 hours at a Zen workshop. Two friends were coming, and encouraged me to come, and given that I am facilitating a group on contemplative practices, I thought it a good thing to try. The workshop is essentially immersion into Zen practice. Explanations are sparse, just enough to shape our practice so that it is incrementally better than it was before. Zen teachers are sprinkled throughout the zendo (or zen hall). Three-quarters of us (including me) are rank beginners at this. The Zen master who is leading the weekend emphasized at the beginning that Zen is a practice that deepens whatever religious tradition you profess (or don’t).
Even though I regularly use stilling practices and exercises of awareness for prayer, and am a veteran of 8-day Ignatian retreats where I might spend 6 or 7 hours in formal prayer each day, I’m finding this weekend hard going. Part of this is the necessarily rigid schedule of the communal meditation. We are to be in the zendo ready to go 5 minutes before the appointed hour. “The work” as one of the monks calls it, may last 3 hours at a stretch. We sit and meditate, walk as a group – meditating - and chant. The first period began at dawn, the last one will end at 9:30 tonight. All together, we will spend 9 or 10 hours working together.
The sitting is hardest for me. The instructions are to be aware, pay attention, but not to process. Don’t internally name the sound you hear, don’t think about what you will do in the free period after lunch, don’t think. Just sit. Above all, don’t think about what you might blog about the experience!