Zen: Sesshin 2022 Preparation Log

This blog is mainly written for myself, but posting it online to keep myself honest and stick to my training….

I previously posted about doing the Zen training retreat Sesshin, which is a ‘test’ the monks do 8 times a year to see how their training is progressing, and consists of near constant meditation for almost 7 days. I somehow completed Sesshin in August 2021. I also posted a short training log, which I found extremely helpful for keeping me accountable in my training.

This is a log of my training for the next Sesshin, which will be in July of this year, and also making a public commitment to do it. My approach will be different to training this time. Last time, I focused on the duration of meditation training. In the end, I didn’t find the meditation itself the hardest part, but rather the physical aspect of sitting cross legged for around 14 hours a day with very minimal sleep (4ish hours a night). During the ‘free periods’ of Sesshin, where you meditate as you like, I did physical moving meditations with two kind people who are familiar with Chinese and Japanese moving meditations. By lucky fluke, the QiGong practices I had developed an interest in were well known by people at the retreat, and these two people had teaching experience. These practices were invaluable in getting through Sesshin. Also critical were breathing practices that centre the breath in the Hara region (see Notes 1 for An Emergent I, posted mid 2021, for partial examination of this). For next Sesshin, I need to be in much better psycho-physical shape to avoid relying on pure grit so strongly, and allow my mind the ability to enter samadhi without the deep physical discomfort as a distraction. NB: I was drawn to Rinzai Zen, as opposed to Soto/Theravadan, due to Rinzai’s strong focus on the mind:body link.

So this year’s preparation will consist much more of physical preparation than last years. I will blog separately in detail as part of an ‘An Emergent I’ notes about these practices, but just outline for myself what I intend to do and keep a log to keep myself honest. This routine will begin on the 11th of January. Before that I will be doing a different set of practices as part of a self study experiment on Hakuin’s Naikan meditation (see ‘Wild Ivy’ by Hakuin and ‘Hidden Zen’ by my teacher Meido Moore).

I’m also working to incorporate other aspects of monastic life into my daily routine, a ‘daily routine’ which hasn’t existed since I left school but which I strongly saw the benefits of during Sesshin. I’ll blog a bit on this later.

Each morning, my zen practice will consist of the following, which I will track daily:

Due to my commute, it might be necessary to split some of this and do some on arrival to work. But I’ll try to get all of it done each morning. When I am working from home, I will do it all in one sequence.

6am latest aiming for 5am, 30 minutes: Waking, brush teeth and sit with a morning bright light to align the sleep cycle and eating porridge.
30 minutes: The QiGong warm up routine [link here]
30 minutes: sitting in breathing practice, with the silent ‘ah’ practice and Nanso/Naikan meditations used to get the energetic flows working.
30 minutes: Zazen
1 hour: QiGong
30 minutes: Standing meditation. This can be split into two.
30 minutes, bathe, dress, pack and leave for work.

This is 4 hours total. I can do the breathing meditations on my commute.

I will also do a 30 minute meditation at 1pm, and 30 minutes of QiGong as part of my ‘evening shutdown’ where I turn off phones etc and disconnect, following by an hour of drawing practice.

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