Dai Sesshin 2021 – Preparation log [Updated 3rd August]

[Update/Edit post-Sesshin 21st August – Two major comments. The first is that the schedule below is less strict than the schedule we followed. The 2nd is that my main mistake in this preparation was not to focus on being absolutely still during meditation. I moved and shuffled about, which is not allowed in a training schedule. I will write later on this.]

As I recently posted, I’m doing Dai Sesshin this year. I’m going to track my preparation to keep myself accountable. First, a summary of Sesshin I wrote in the previous blog, then i’ll post short daily updates on progress, as I’m worrying I simply won’t be up to it without doing more intense training and I hate giving up.

Film about Sesshin: http://www.folkstreams.net/film-detail.php?id=175

Here is a typical Sesshin schedule in west (Zazen = meditation):

Earlier blog post: Zen meditation – Doing Dai Sesshin annually, starting this august (restrictions permitting)

I’ve long been fascinated by monks (‘Into Great Silence’ is one of my favourite films). I became very interested in zen buddhism in relation to my unusual visual disorder. I’ll blog on this soon. 

I’ve visited a monastery but never spent significant time there – one of my dreams is to spend a few months in a monastery, and may do in the medium term. Over the past year I’ve been corresponding with Meido Moore, Roshi of Korinji Monastery in Wisconsin, one of the few Rinzai Zen training schools in the west. Sadly due to restrictions I’ve been unable to go to Wisconsin despite various trips being planned, but I’m hoping to become his student more formally.

I’ve got into a good habit of meditating 30 minutes a day. But for various reasons/motivations its a helpful challenge to do more. In a monastery, they work toward doing Sesshin, which is the most intense part of a zen monk’s schedule. Sesshin involves near continuous meditation for a week, with 5 hours of sleep a night. I figured if I am to go beyond ignorant babbling about this, I should commit to doing it myself. I recently got an invite to do this in August, and decided to go for it. 

But I’m also daunted by it and worry I’ll make excuses. So to avoid wimping out, I’ve decided to commit publicly! It will probably be the hardest thing I’ve done but now I’m getting old I need to challenge myself to stay young!

There is an explanation of Sesshin here (wikipedia), and its also covered in this excellent documentary: 

Meido has written two detailed and excellent introductions to Rinzai, available here.

7th July 2021 – Wednesday

I paid for the trip, so fingers crossed travel restrictions do not kick in. And I’ve setup this blog/accountability page. I’ve been doing an hour a day prep, but meditating almost all day, every day, will need more intense prep.

I leave for switzerland 7th July, which is slightly over 4 weeks away.

My target is to do 3 hours a day meditation, every day, until then, and record log here.

I’ll do this training schedule:

  • Wake at 4.55
  • 5am: Meditate for an hour
  • 6am: hour of exercise
  • Midday, or as close as possible with work meetings: 1 hour meditation.
  • 6pm: or immediately on return from work: 1 hour meditate, 30 minutes exercise

I bought a Lacquer Oryoki Jihatsu set to use, and a white cloth and utensils. The guidance is strict on size and even cloth colour. Each zen monk has their own in the monastery.

Lacquered wooden bowl set with 4 or 5 bowls. This set is the traditional Rinzai Zen set, which is also used by many Soto Zen groups and the Shambhala sangha for oryoki practice.

Today: wrote the plan today so will start fully tomorrow, but a good hour of meditation.
Meditated 5:30pm-6:30pm.
First 30 minutes excellent, though puppies kept disturbing me as I had to child mind them for mum. Knees hurt a bit by the end – I’ve been sitting cross legged all day to practice for Sesshin. Ended up lying down for last 10 minutes.

8th July 2021

Poor start – woke too late, too much caffeine last night watching england game…. but will aim 2 hours today which would still be a personal best for this year!

Did 1 hour in the end, so a failure. Tomorrow we start again…


9th July 2021

1 hour of meditation

10th July 2021

1 hour of meditation.

I need to make meditation the first thing I do, or other things get in the way. However, I find on waking I am not in the right space for this. So, like in the Rinzai monastery, I will do some QiGong-style exercises to get my mind moving ahead of meditation.

11th July 2021

1 hour meditation, but also 1.5 hours of exercise before and this made meditation a lot easier. So an improvement.

12th July 2021

Failure – no meditation though did an hour of exercise.

13th July 2021

Did one hour of meditation on the train to Oxfordshire. Tomorrow I must do two hours……

14th July 2021 – 2 hours/day for first time

Morning: 1 hour of meditation in morning, divided in two. 30 minutes exercise.
Afternoon: 1 hour of meditation, divided into two. I focussed a lot on abdominal breathing.

15th July 2021

1 hour meditation so far.

My eating bowls arrived ๐Ÿ™‚ Lacquered wood, from GreatEasternSun on Etsy


16th July 2021 – 2.5 hours!

2.5 hours meditation!

17th July 2021 – Saturday

1.5 hours

18th July 2021 – Sunday

45 minutes so far

https://buddhaimonia.com/blog/zen-master-rules-to-live-by I read this, maybe my next project after Sesshin is to turn this into a Franklin journal…..

Pulling an all nighter to reset my sleep cycle……

19th July 2021 – Monday

Up at 5am, by virtue of pulling an all-nighter… off for a jog, then exercise + meditation….

Did only 30 mins meditation as I missed my usual evening meditation, but got to sleep at 7 to make up for lost sleep ๐Ÿ™‚

20th July 2021 – Tuesday

Sleep reset worked ๐Ÿ™‚ Woke at 5am, now off for a job, then meditation ๐Ÿ™‚ Today I will do 2.5 hours come what may, hopefully 3….. There is a heat wave in the UK and we don’t have air conditioning in the UK….. I might use this as a bit of a living diary also. Right, the puppies are complaining they haven’t been let out (im at my parents) despite hearing me wake up and get water, so off I go….

This is Newton & Nimbus being woken up and having their breakfast….

They then spend the next 30 mins or so wandering around aimlessly wagging their tails seeking attention and being mischievous, every single time….

25th July 2021 – Sunday – a confessional

1 hour meditation today.

So, a confessional, I failed in my meditation training so far, and going to 3 blocks of 1 hour straight away was too much. Doing a single hour plus 4 half hours seems much more attainable.

But I realised that my inability to wake up early was a key problem in getting 3 hours a day in, so I focussed on solving that, and I did! For the first time ever I’ve succeeded in waking up between 5 and 6am every day of a week, minus one very late after a social event. So now for a redoubling of effort….. Getting up early means you get a solid chunk done, get ahead of the day, and succeed.

This past week I’ve reliably done an at least hour a day, but now I will push to 2 hours every day then in the final week 3 hours.

26th July 2021 – Monday

2 hours meditation!

31st July 2021 – Saturday – 2 hours

Last 4 days not great…. but did 1.5 hours so far today and will try to make it to 2 hours before sleep.

Did 2 hours ๐Ÿ™‚

2nd August 2021 – Monday

1.5 hours. Says a lot that this is considered failure by me. I didn’t start until too late in the late. Will try to sneak in another 30 mins before bed… Sesshin doesn’t start for over a week, as there is an intro time etc, so I’ve still got time to hit my 3 hour target. Not sure how I will do 3 hours meditation on the day I spend 11 hours on a train (saving the climate innit).

3rd August 2021 – Tuesday

1 hour so far, aiming for 1.5 hours today.
Note: today I actually looked at a western sesshin schedule and realised its not as strict as Japanese ones I’d been expecting, and 3*1 hour blocks was too ambitious to aim for. I’m much more on track than expected by hitting around
Sesshin starts 1 week Friday….

To do list of things to buy and check off:

Organising travel:

Still to do

For Sesshin and Zen retreat please bring:

  • Hakama and gi or black pants and white shirt
  • Warm socks (if the floor is cold)
  • Jihatsu set (for formal meals) with cloth if you donโ€™t have, please bring 3 small bowls (diameter 10cm to max 15cm) different sizes even better for putting them together
  • Chop sticks
  • Korinji Okkyo book, if you possess one
  • Appropriate outdoor clothing (rain jacket, solid shoes, hat, sunscreen) for samu (outdoor work practice)
  • Water bottle
  • Eventually sleeping bag (beds with mattress are available)
  • Pajamas
  • Toiletry and personal needs: please no strong smelling parfume or deodorant!
  • Shower towl
  • Flashlight
  • NO electronic devices (mobile, personal computer,…)
  • There will be an emergency phone number
  • Zafu: meditation pillows (zabuton: floor cushions are provided)
  • For Shugendo please bring: Tradition is to wear white during Mountain Training. Please bring white clothes suitable for hiking in all weather conditions (top layer should be white if possible).
  • Hiking gear (rain jacket, solid shoes, hat, sunscreen, hiking poles if needed)
  • Daypack with extra clothes
  • Water bottle
  • Small towel
  • Bathing suit or similar for takigyo (waterfall training)
  • Sandals or other footwear (for takigyo)
  • Eventually sleeping bag (beds with mattress are available)
  • Pajamas
  • Toiletry, and personal needs: please no strong smelling parfume or deodorant!
  • Flashlight
  • NO electronic devices (mobile, personal computer,…)
  • There will be an emergency number The Shugendo mountain training is also a very intensive form of spiritual training in and with nature. A lot of hiking, little sleep and getting by for many hours without food is challenging and therefore suitable for students in good physical health. You do not need to be in top athletic condition for this event, but you should be prepared to hike on uneven, rugged, and exhausting terrain.

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