Friday night was our meeting night for a short sesshin at the Palolo Zen Center. I practice with the Honolulu Diamond Sangha.
A sesshin is a zen meditation retreat. It’s a silent retreat so we meet on the first night and go over a plan for the duration. Everyone has a job to make the sesshin work – cook, dish washer, server… We go over procedures. Since we’re going to be silent the whole time, we need to be pretty clear about what to do. I love this. If we could put this into practice in daily life, things would run more smoothly.
Our schedule begins at 4AM when the wake up bell rings. We sleepily make our way to the zendo (the meditation hall) and take our place. We have a brief exercise period for stretching and then tea. It’s all done quickly and efficiently. Then our sitting begins. We sit for 25 minutes and do walking meditation for five alternating throughout the period. We have dokusan (private interviews or talks with the teacher during this time). This block of sitting ends at 6:30 AM and we make our way to breakfast. Breakfast is half an hour and then a break until 8:30 AM.
During the break, you either do the job you’re assigned or rest. My job was chopper so I minced garlic, grated ginger, squeezed lemons and chopped onions, celery and carrots. It’s a prep-for-the-cook job.
The next sitting block is from 8:30 AM until 11 AM. Then we have lunch from 11:30 until 12. Another break from 12 – 1:30.
The third block begins with tea and then a teisho, a talk given by our teacher. I can’t explain it because I don’t understand it. I believe that I’m okay with that. Then we sit until 5 PM. Dinner is a half hour and is usually a simple soup meal. The break is shorter from 5:30 – 6:30 PM.
The last block is from 6:30 – 9 PM. Then we go to bed. Sitting doesn’t sound very strenuous, but you’re trying to sit with focus and attention and that takes energy. During the break, I’m usually asleep and then I have no trouble sleeping from 9PM until 4AM.
When I first started doing this, it all seemed so strange. It now feels natural to me. My legs and knees hurt and I experience some pain in my upper body because my abs are so weak. The mental exercise is the hardest part.
Why do I do this? Good question. It feels right. I love it. But why? I simply don’t know.
I left sesshin early, after the first block because I had a photo shoot in Maui. Kris took me to Kaimana Beach for breakfast and is was a good way to ease back into the “real” world.
He dropped me at the airport and I went through the chaos at security and check in. I was in the sitting area of the food court when a family of five sat next to me. It was a table for four so they really squeezed in.
The mom distributed fries and burgers to the three boys ranging in age from around 7 to 11. Then she announced that she called their vet and that Tiger had to be put down because tumors were found in her stomach. I could not believe what was happening. The littlest guy who sat right next to me started weeping. One of the older boys pushed his food away, said he couldn’t eat and cried as well. The middle boy seemed to hold it together. The dad started talking about a new dog. I felt so badly for the boys. What was that mom thinking?
I had to leave that scene. So sad.