Working Zen Retreat, May 18–20

Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water;
after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.

 

Mu
“Mu” (public domain source).

People often think of Zen meditation as something done sitting on a cushion in a sparse room, but in some traditions of training, meditation is considered to be manual labor. The focus on breath and sensation of gravity in the body during meditation can then more easily be brought into any form of activity. This weekend retreat will help you expand your meditative practice outside the zendo (meditation hall). In this retreat, we will spend time practicing seated meditation, but also work outside on repetitive physical activities, such as chopping wood, weeding a garden, shoveling earth, and cooking.

This two-day, two-night retreat will take place at the Low Technology Institute, 25 minutes south of Madison from May 18 at 6:00 p.m. to May 20 at 3:00 p.m. The full schedule is listed below, but largely consists of a rotation of seated meditation (zazen), moving meditation (stretching, tai chi, etc.), physical labor (chopping, weeding, shoveling, cooking), and meals. Seated meditation is a chance to focus on breathing and gravity. Moving meditation builds on the focus of zazen with repetitive actions. Physical labor helps us expand our usually isolated meditation practice to real-world activities, increasing the time and variety of our concentration.

Retreat Particulars

Please bring a change or two of comfortable, loose-fitting clothes that can get a little dirty, as well as sleeping attire. Close-toed shoes for outdoor work are also recommended. If you have a zafu (meditation cushion), please bring it, although some will be available. We will be sleeping in the zendo (meditation hall), if possible. If you cannot sleep on a mat on the floor, two beds are available, as well as air mattresses (please let us know in the registration notes). Please feel free to bring your own sleeping mat, pillow, and blanket or sleeping bag, but we can provide these as needed. Finally, please bring a towel and your toiletries.

Meals will be prepared and eaten on site. We’ll be gathering some of the ingredients from the garden. Meals will be vegetarian by default, but please specify any food allergies or additional preferences (e.g., vegan).

800px-Fire-Tuscarora_Organic_Growers_-_Wood_logs_3_
(public domain source)

The retreat will be facilitated by Sam Whitten — recently back from an live-in internship at the International Zen Dojo of Wisconsin (wisconsinzen.org) under Gordon Greene Roshi — and Scott Johnson, director of the Low Technology Institute and experienced Aikido practitioner. Greene Roshi will lead a talk on Friday evening to open the retreat. A donation of $100 is suggested to cover the costs of food and support the facilitators. You can reserve your spot by paying the registration fee at our online store. If the retreat is sold out, please check out with the $0 “Waitlist” option to be added to the queue.

While previous zen experience is not required, if you have not sat in meditation before, it may be worth attending a few sessions at a zendo near you before the retreat (see resources linked at the end of this post). Note that while we will have time for conversation over meals and in the evening, during meditation and work, we should try to keep speaking to a minimum to allow each person to concentrate more fully.

Register Now!

Schedule

Friday, May 18

5:00–5:45 p.m.     Arrival
6:00–7:00 p.m.     Dinner
7:00–8:00 p.m.     Greene Roshi
8:00–9:00 p.m.     Zazen, Tai Chi
9:00–9:30 p.m.     Wind Down
9:30 p.m.         Bedtime

Saturday, May 19

5:00–5:30 a.m.    Wake Up
5:30–6:15 a.m.    Zazen
6:15–7:00 a.m.    Yoga
7:00–8:30 a.m.    Breakfast, Cleanup, Organize Work Stations
8:30–9:00 a.m.    Tai Chi/Aikido
9:00–11:00 a.m.    Work Stations
11:00 a.m.–Noon    Lunch, Cleanup
Noon–12:45 p.m.    Zazen
12:45–1:15 p.m.    Tai Chi
1:15–4:00 p.m.    Rotating Work Stations
4:00–5:30 p.m.    Bathing
5:30–6:30 p.m.    Dinner, Cleanup
6:30–7:15 p.m.     Zazen
7:15–8:00 p.m.    Tai Chi
8:00–9:00 p.m.     Wind Down
9:00 p.m.         Bedtime

Sunday, May 20

5:00–5:30 a.m.    Wake Up
5:30–6:15 a.m.    Zazen
6:15–7:00 a.m.    Yoga
7:00–8:30 a.m.    Breakfast, Cleanup, Organize Work Stations
8:30–9:00 a.m.    Tai Chi/Aikido
9:00–11:00 a.m.    Work Stations
11:00 a.m.–Noon    Lunch, Cleanup
Noon–12:45 p.m.    Zazen
12:45–1:15 p.m.    Tai Chi
1:15–2:30 p.m. Rotating Work Stations
2:30–3:00 p.m. Optional Bathing

Local Resources

Madison, Wisconsin

Wisconsin Zen
Madison Zen Center
Midwest Soto Zen Community
Isthmus Zen Community
Madison Rinzai Zen Community

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Great Lake Zen Center
Milwaukee Zen Center

Chicago, Illinois

Chicago Zen Center
Zen Buddhist Temple
Chicago Zen Meditation Community
Great Plains Zen Center (also in Monroe, WI)
Zen Buddhist Temple of Chicago
Zen Life & Meditation Center
Udumbara Zen Sangha
Ancient Dragon Zen Gate


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