On August 22, 2015, I attended my first ever full-day meditation retreat at Lotus Heart Zen in Oneida, NY. It was an experience that challenged me intellectually and spiritually, helped me examine and explore my concept of self, and left me feeling mentally positive, renewed and refreshed. I am looking forward to the next retreat already, and I plan to be in regular attendance at future functions here.
Beginning the day by participating in the morning service held in the dharma room prior to the official start of the retreat was useful in calming and focusing my mind and setting my intent for the retreat. Listening to the Morning Bell and Dawn Drum always relaxes me, and performing the various chants soothes any noisy thoughts I may have. The Heart Sutra and Kwanseum Bosal chants are especially comforting to me.
Reverend Do’An Prajna graciously prepared a delicious breakfast for the retreat attendees, after which he conducted an orientation to give us a clear itinerary of the day’s events. At the end of the orientation the attendees chose various tasks they would be responsible to complete throughout the day, such as meal prep or cleanup, to aid in the smooth flow of retreat activities.
Settling onto cushions and chairs in the dharma room, we began our silent meditation. We practiced sitting meditation for 20 minutes at a time, alternating with 10 minutes of group walking meditation for the remainder of the morning. Each attendee was afforded time for a private interview with Rev. Do’An during this period. Any concerns, insights or questions were discussed, and Rev. Do’An ended each interview with an inspirational reading from Zen Master Seung Sahn's letters, which he’d personally selected for that attendee.
At the conclusion of morning meditation we gathered together to share in a silent mindful meal practice with more delectable food cooked by Rev. Do’An. This silent meal was a profound experience. Eleven gathas (poems) written by the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hahn were read silently, one by one, throughout the progression of the meal, which began with contemplating your empty plate and moved through expressing gratitude for the food, joy at eating the food, and finally to the mindfulness of enjoying a cup of tea after the meal and washing the dishes. “Washing the dishes is like bathing a baby Buddha. The profane is the sacred. Everyday mind is Buddha’s mind.” Enjoying an entire meal in silent mindfulness in the presence of friends is a truly meaningful occasion that needs to be experienced firsthand to be fully appreciated.
The weather was beautiful the day of the retreat and after lunch we proceeded to a nearby park to do walking meditation. One of the sangha members led us in two rounds of Qigong exercises, first at the start of the meditation and again when we had traveled halfway around the park. She explained the purpose of each exercise, how it balanced the body’s energy, what muscle groups and organs would be helped, and demonstrated the correct form for us. It was a rejuvenating way to begin the second half of the retreat.
After returning from the park we spent about 45 minutes reflecting on our experiences to that point, and attendees were encouraged to journal their thoughts. We resumed meditating after this, again alternating 20 minutes of sitting meditation with 10 minutes of group walking meditation. Each attendee had a second opportunity to sit with Rev. Do’An for a personal interview to discuss the retreat experience. The Rev. Do’An once again offered each attendee a personally chosen reading to close the interview.
At the conclusion of meditation we gathered once more for a shared dinner. Rev. Do’An really is quite a skilled cook! We enjoyed light conversation over another great meal, shared in the cleanup, then returned to the dharma room a last time for the closing circle. Rev. Do’An thanked us for participating and expressed that it took courage to engage oneself in self-reflection for a dedicated time as we all had. Each attendee had an opportunity to share his or her thoughts on the retreat, though no one was required to if they did not wish to. It was interesting to hear each individual’s perspective and experience of the day. Everyone seemed to have gained useful personal insight from their participation in the retreat.
One last tidying of the dharma room, and we were saying our thank yous to Rev. Do’An and our goodbyes to our fellow sangha members for the day. The calm state of mindfulness cultivated during the retreat carried over into my everyday life when I returned home, thanks to the skills and practices we learned from Rev. Do’An. His insight and guidance are always infused and delivered with kindness, respect and compassion. This retreat was a wonderful and productive experience for me, and I am already looking forward to my next opportunity to sit retreat at Lotus Heart Zen.
-- Roseanne Amarose (Lotus Heart Zen sangha member)
photo credit: Sesame Peanut Noodles: littlebluehen.com/?p=1969
A blog by the Lotus Heart Zen Meditation and Study Group members