Silence & Etiquette

Please observe the following to provide yourself and your fellow retreatants the best possible experience.

Noble Silence

Retreats are held in complete silence, i.e., no conversation, other than in the morning teaching meetings (called “group process”), the online sessions, or in any interviews - all with Shinzen, unless you also sign up to see a Facilitator.  If at all possible, please take care of all personal matters, including telephone calls, before the retreat so you can have an uninterrupted opportunity for meditation.

This helps conserve energy for the work of meditation – energy which is ordinarily dissipated through talking. There is an intimate link between the forces that drive conversation (“external dialogue”) and the forces that agitate the mind (“internal dialogue”). Maintaining silence at retreats aids in clarifying and working through these forces, thus helping to develop an abiding state of inner calm.

Silence also provides an optimal environment for internal work, a space for quieting the body-mind and creates an atmosphere to support and facilitate the inner unfolding of insight and deepening meditation.

Please observe noble silence meticulously and if approached by a retreatant about this, accept their reminder with loving-kindness. If you need to remind another retreatant about noble silence, please do so with loving-kindness.

Some people interpret noble silence to include avoiding eye contact. If you find this too impersonal, certainly feel free to make eye contact which radiates loving-kindness. Please be aware, however, that if some retreatants avert their gaze, they are not being unfriendly!

As part of the noble silence, retreatants may choose to refrain from writing and reading except for materials directly related to the practice of meditation, such as the handouts from the literature table.

Silence usually begins at wake up (5 am) on the first full day or after the first meal when leaving the dining hall. Although we can choose to talk during the talking circle on the last day, silence doesn’t officially end until entering the dining hall for lunch on the last day.

To aid in Noble Silence:

  1. Turn off beepers and alarms on digital watches. Do not bring watches, clocks, or phones that tick or make any other noise into the zendo.

  2. DO NOT use cell phones in the bedroom so as to not disturb your neighbors or roommate.

  3. We ask you to refrain from using the telephone, cell phones, or other forms of communication during the retreat. This includes communication with other retreatants, even by notes, unless it’s to correspond with a facilitator beyond signing up to meet them. In this way, you provide a beautiful gift that enables your fellow retreatants (and yourself!) to work on their practice. Although this may seem challenging, it will allow you to be in community with others in a supportive, respectful way.

  4. All questions regarding housekeeping, retreat protocol, and similar can be communicated by writing a note to the retreat manager and posting it on the bulletin board. Please remember to check the board for responses.

  5. All questions regarding the dharma, specific teachings, or similar may be asked during the Q&A portion of each morning Group Process.  A note to Shinzen may be written and posted on the bulletin board, but be aware that Shinzen is not always able to reply to notes immediately and does prefers a more 'interactive' method of communicating such as the Group Process.  Questions can also be asked during Online Sessions.

  6. If you must communicate with someone in an emergency, please tap them on the shoulder to get their attention and go out of earshot so as to not disturb another’s noble silence. Special needs or questions can be directed to the retreat manager.

Zendo (Meditation Hall) Protocol & Etiquette

An optimal environment for meditation:

  • On entering the zendo, please leave shoes outside.

  • Only enter the zendo when the light is green.

  • A red light means there is a sit in process. Except for emergencies, retreatants should not enter or leave the zendo when the light is red.

  • Sitting periods begin with three bells and end with one bell.

During the sit:

  • You may move, if necessary, but this should be done very slowly and silently so as to be virtually undetectable by other meditators. Therefore, please do not wear clothing made of noisy fabrics, such as nylon.

  • You are free to stand in place to help ward off sleepiness.
    Do not lie down in the zendo. This helps preserve an atmosphere of sacredness. Of course, individuals with medical conditions may lie down as necessary.

  • Please keep all food and drink out of the zendo, other than water bottles and throat lozenges (keeping their use to before or after a sit, as wrappers can be very noisy).

  • Do not wear perfumes/after shave and/or strong-smelling lotions or deodorants, as some people are particularly sensitive to odors or chemicals. Do not use candles or incense in the zendo.

  • Since external order can help in our quest for internal peace, we ask that all chairs be kept in the back (or along the sides) of the room. To preserve a sense of decorum, please keep your sitting area organized and tidy by folding blankets, fluffing cushions, etc., when you leave the zendo.