First-Timers Group Process
A first-timer is anyone who has never completed a retreat with Shinzen, regardless of their meditation background. All first-timers need to attend the first-timers group process to acquaint themselves with the basic theory and technique of mindfulness (aka vipassana) as taught by Shinzen.
Individuals who have been to a retreat before but feel a need for a review of the basics may also attend the first-timers group. Occasionally, veteran students and facilitators are permitted to audit the first-timers group interview in order to learn how to explain meditation to others by observing.
As it is important that first-timers have an online session (see below) to insure that they get off to a good start. Online times will be pre-assigned and will likely be held on the first day of the retreat. If you have not done a residential retreat with Shinzen for many years, you may also be assigned an online time. Please check the sign-up sheet on the table outside the zendo to see what time and room you have been assigned. If you are unable to attend the assigned online session, please see the retreat manager immediately to re-schedule. First-timers will also have the opportunity to meet with the retreat manager or a facilitator in follow-up on a designated day.
First-Timers Online Session
Group process sessions are when Shinzen gives instructions in meditation techniques. During this time, Shinzen explains concepts and techniques, leads guided meditation, and answers questions. These are open to any retreatant who has theoretical or practical questions about meditation.
It is important, however, to remember that the purpose of coming to a retreat is to develop a momentum of continuous silent practice. Before coming to a group process, one should carefully consider if one has a strong need for encouragement and clarification and not use the session as a diversion from practice.
Please arrive on time and leave at the appropriate breaks. Do not just wander in and out.
Online support, often just referred to as onlines, are designed to use the teacher's time efficiently by providing personal and confidential guidance for three students at a time, but each is private. This is done using cordless telephones in three separate rooms, but linked to a teacher-controlled base station.
Online sessions are three times a day and are usually scheduled at:
Arrive at the room a few minutes before the online is scheduled to start. When you’re settled in, begin meditating as you would in the zendo and wait for the phone to ring. Shinzen will telephone each online participant in turn. You will periodically report what is occurring in your meditation and Shinzen will provide you with individualized instruction. A chair is provided, but please do not use the beds.
Once the retreat is full, you will be asked to host an online room or be on a wait list. Hosting an online room means vacating your room during the online times. This is a wonderful seva (service) to the community. Please consider offering to be an online host when you register.
Sign-up sheets will be on the sign-up table and instructions on how to use the telephones for a session are in each room. First-timers will be assigned a time for their first online. If you would like additional onlines after your first one, write your name in an empty time space with a “#2” (or “#3,” etc.) after it to indicate how many online sessions you have had. If you have not had an interview or online and all spaces are full, you may cross out any name with a higher number after it and write in your name.
Sometimes there is an opportunity to meet one-on-one with the teacher. Feel free to discuss any aspect of practice including how to apply it to specific issues and situations in your life. Put your name in one of the time slots on the interview sign-up sheet located on the sign-up table. Individual interviews typically last 10-15 minutes and are conducted in the teacher’s room. Sometimes the teacher runs somewhat behind. If you notice that someone is still with Shinzen, please wait away from the door to allow privacy for the student before you, and continue to meditate as though you were in the zendo. If you need an interview with Shinzen and no time slots are available, write your name at the bottom of that day’s sign-up sheet and Shinzen will try to arrange one for you. Please do not add times to the sheet.
Chanting is a good way to get energized in the morning, so the day is started by chanting the mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum” from 5:30 a.m. – 6 a.m. This mantra is dedicated to the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (Chinese – Kwan-Yin; Japanese – Kannon; Tibetan – Chenresi).
It is sometimes loosely translated as “Hail to the Jewel in the Lotus” and consists of six syllables (Om-Ma-Ni-Pad-Me-Hum) symbolizing the bodhisattva vow to save all beings in the six realms of existence.
Chanting is usually accompanied by rhythmic beats on a hollow gourd or stick, bell, or sometimes a drum. When the chant is complete, we pause in stillness for a while to savor the energy that has developed.
If you arrive at the zendo around 6 a.m., please wait until you see people moving to prepare for the next sit before entering.
Facilitators are experienced meditators who have been trained by Shinzen to support fellow meditators in their practice. Interviews with facilitators may be available during the retreat. You are encouraged to sign up for an interview to strengthen your practice, or if you encounter any difficulties or have questions about your meditation practice during the retreat. Value is guaranteed.
It is strongly encouraged that you make an appointment with one of the many facilitators, especially if you’ve been unable to schedule an online or interview with Shinzen. Sign-up sheets will be on the sign-up table. Meet your facilitator there at the appointment time and they will take you to a quiet area for the interview.
Walking is done outside on the grounds (weather permitting) or in the walkways by the bedrooms. During indicated walk/sit periods, we request that you refrain from exercising or taking extended tea breaks in areas that may interfere with walking meditators.
Try to make the meal a meditation from beginning to end. Meditate as you walk to the dining hall, as you wait in line and as you partake of your meal. After the last bite, you may want to sit for a while and savor the delicate after-energies that infuse the body following a satisfying meal.
Sometimes offered by a retreatant at a retreat – location and more details provided if this is an option.
Guided Mindful Eating
or Posture Adjustments
These are also considered meditation periods during which you should maintain a formal technique of body awareness. We are grateful and thank those volunteers who provide their gifts to lead these sessions to enhance our retreat experience.
If you would like to volunteer to lead yoga/qi gong/mindful movement, please see the sign-up sheets on the sign-up table.
Yoga, Qi Gong or Mindful Movement
Bodywork and massage sessions are usually available by our own sangha (community) members.
Bodywork sessions are also meditation sessions. While they certainly do help work out aches and pains, bodywork evokes deep and significant sensations over the whole body that can be a productive object of meditation.
During your bodywork session, try to maintain a formal strategy of body awareness such as noting by location – local or global sweeping, noting expansion and contraction, etc. Because you are lying down and relaxing, there may be a tendency to sink into sleepiness, thus defeating the mindfulness aspect of meditation. Make a “strong determination” to maintain a bright, clear state and fight against even the subtlest manifestations of drowsiness.
Also, be sure to maintain noble silence, talking to the body worker only as necessary. Locations for bodywork or massage and sign-up sheets with prices will be on the sign-up table. Body worker(s) are introduced in the Welcome/Orientation session.
If you are interested in offering bodywork during a retreat, please indicate on the registration form and someone will contact you to discuss this possibility or contact VSI prior to registering to discuss criteria to do so.
All-night sitting, known as yaza, is often scheduled for the Thursday of a weeklong retreat. If this is offered, details will be announced during the retreat.
This is an optional activity, but it does offer extraordinary opportunities to deepen your practice that are not available with daytime meditation.
There is a long rest period following lunch and somewhat shorter ones after breakfast and dinner. Although you may take walks, do exercise, continue formal practice, etc., during these periods, many retreatants find it helpful to take a “siesta” so as to be well rested for the work of meditation.
CDs of Shinzen’s teachings are available for purchase throughout the retreat. You may listen to these CDs during the retreat without purchasing them. You can bring your own CD player, and there will also be a few available to use in a common area. Please limit your time on the borrowed players to ensure others also have the opportunity to listen.
CDs are a great way to reinforce the deep and sometimes subtle ideas presented in the dharma talks and group process sessions, as these need time and repetition to sink in.Some CDs deal with the basic principles of the practice, others describe how to use the practice for specific life issues, and others are guided meditations. Also, when you pass through the inevitable periods of low energy and resistance in your daily practice, you can use guided CDs as a “skillful means” to maintain quality meditation.
The CD area is often taken down the night before the retreat ends, so please be sure to make your purchases by the last night and return any you may be have borrowed. These recordings are now available for sale online HERE.