I'm going to be off the grid for the next two days, participating in my first multiple-day sit or sesshin. Things kick off at Black Mountain Center at noon tomorrow, with half a day of meditation on Friday, a full day on Saturday, again Sunday morning, and then a concluding shuso ceremony back at Russian River Zendo for Cynthia Kear.
Thus far, I have participated in four one-day sits. They are extremely challenging for me. I have a very hard time leaving the form world of clocks and to-do lists, and moving into the emptiness realm, where my only job is to respond to the bell, sitting, walking kinhin, or leaving the zendo for a meal. I have a tendency to try to memorize the schedule ahead of time, and count the number of zazen periods. Then I tick them off in my mind as I successfully complete each one.
But a one-day sit at Russian River Zendo is only from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with about seven or so periods of zazen. That's pretty easy to keep track of. This weekend, our long day will be from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., with, if I have counted correctly, 14 periods of zazen. There's no way I'll be able to keep track.
I have heard that this is why multiple-day sits are so powerful - one is forced to give up, let go, and simply sit. I am trying not to fret about how physically difficult it will be. I am also trying not to stew about how I am going to occupy myself mentally. In fact, my coping strategy up to this moment has been to not think about the sesshin at all, figuring that the only thing I'd do anyway is worry, so why bother?
I spoke to my mother on the phone tonight, and mentioned that I was going to the sesshin tomorrow. She is completely unfamiliar with Zen, and has never meditated. She asked me if it was a silent retreat. When I said yes, she said, "Well, can you read a book or something?" When I said no, that you're sitting looking at a wall, she said, "Oh, I could never do that!"
I had to laugh about the initial question. I can just imagine that scenario. I'll bring a good novel, and sit on my cushion all day flipping pages. While I'm at it, I might as well pack my iPod, so I can have some tunes!
Another challenge for me in the next three days is that Black Mountain Center doesn't allow smoking on the grounds, at all - and the grounds are huge, so I don't think there's any hope of walking out to the end of the driveway. I smoke a pack a day, which works out to roughly one cigarette every hour. Three days without a smoke is definitely going to stir up some usually-camouflaged emotion....I have purchased Nicorette lozenges as a discrete emergency measure.
So, wish me luck! On the sitting, the counting, and the nonsmoking marathon. Should be one interesting weekend!