– The meditation hall at Great Vow Zen Monastery, where I have lived for 9 months and have participated in 10 sesshins. I have also done one 10 day Vipassana retreat (as taught by SN Goenka), which I highly recommend.
I returned this week from a 5 day silent meditation retreat that Zen Buddhists call sesshin (sesshin is often translated as “touching the heart-mind”) at Great Vow Zen Monastery. It was my 11th long retreat, and, as usual, it was a deeply meaningful experience. It was also utterly outrageous and fascinating; although retreats can be difficult, for me they are like going on spaceship adventures through my own mind/body and discovering new worlds! In this post I’ll share three reasons why I feel that going on meditation retreats is spiritually useful. This post is mainly about retreats that are 5 days or longer. There are also shorter 1-2 day retreats that are good introductions to retreat practice, and that can be very powerful experiences. My discussion in this post is also limited to my experience in the Zen tradition, though I have also done a Vipassana retreat which I strongly recommend as well. For a more in depth explanation of what meditation retreats are like, and for a fuller explanation of why I think they are important, you can read my book (specifically, the section is entitled “Meditation Retreats”) in the free pdf above.
“Great is the matter of birth and death. Impermanence surrounds us. Do not waste your life!”
– Saying written on the front of some Zen monasteries
Om. Towards the end of my senior year in high school I began doing daily Zen Buddhist meditation to cope with an emotional crisis I was then going through. I immediately discovered that it was a potent way to practically reduce stress and therapeutically heal myself. This was the initial purpose I used it for, but then by the infinite grace of God I had a powerful awakening experience in meditation that completely revolutionized the way I think about God, spirituality, and life. The rabbit hole had exponentially deepened, and what initially began as an idle curiosity mushroomed into a consuming desire to experience more of the Divine.
During the next year I began thinking seriously about living in a Zen monastery. There were only a handful of major ones in America that I found on Google. I eventually chose Great Vow Zen Monastery, located in the forested setting of Clatskanie Oregon (the trees!), because they had a summer program during July and August where residents could live for donation only (normally it is 500 dollars per month). So at the end of my freshman year at OU I packed my bags, rented an anthology of Bach’s organ sonata’s for the road, and took a three-day journey to Oregon that would become a life changing spiritual adventure.