Newcomers and lay retreat etiquette
To make your retreat beneficial and enjoyable, here are the basic, important things for you to know about our main retreats at Crosby.
What to bring
There are no big dinner parties on the retreat so formal clothes may be something you won’t need. Apart from the usual basic washing necessities, the main items needed are:
Sitting attire – this is the most important as sitting is the main reason you are here. Dark coloured loose clothing is the best. Those faithful old jeans can play havoc with your circulation and may make sitting painful. It’s not good to wear bright colours that may distract others either. Think baggy and loose!
Bring some sandals or similar that are easy to take on/off when entering the zendo. Clothes for working in (we do an hour of samu or working meditation each day).
Walking in the afternoon is popular so maybe some warm walking gear is needed together with boots or trainers.
The building is centrally heated and is quite warm. Jeans, joggers, shorts and tee shirts seem to be the order of the day for most people. Slippers/sandals are handy for use when in the building.
If you bring your mobile phone with you, please be sure to keep it on silent and be discreet if you have to use it.
Specialities – if there is something you really cannot do without then please bring it with you. All basic food and drink is supplied.
When you arrive, you will be greeted by a member of the group who will welcome you and show you to your allocated room. You will also be shown where the dining room, showers and toilets are. Be sure to ask if there is something you need to know.
We always have a newcomers class before the retreat starts to show newcomers about our routine and how-we-do-things. Even if you have sat before with other groups then it is still worth attending this as each group may do things slightly differently. Once you are familiar with the set up, ask if you can see your place in the zendo. If you have not been allocated a place, then simply choose one where you feel happy with. Put something on the zafu to show the position has been taken.
Please be aware however, that sometimes it is necessary to move people around so don’t be offended if you are asked to move later on. It could be that someone elderly or with a disability would be more suited to that position than you.
In the zendo/sitting
Once the retreat has started, it is your responsibility to be in the zendo on time. There is a schedule posted in a few places that show times and another listing people with particular roles. Please be aware of this and especially note the times you are required to be in the zendo. This will also help to keep you mindful through the day.
You should be in your place at least five minutes before the session is to start. It is regarded as disrespectful to the teachers and the group to be late. If you are very late and everyone is sitting, then you must wait outside until fast kinhin (walking meditation) when you may then join the group.
Please remember that this is a Buddhist retreat and there are services at the morning, lunch and tea time sittings. You are encouraged to participate fully in them. Ask for one of our booklets and have a good look at what happens and its relevance to you. Becoming familiar with our services and chanting means they will have a more meaning for you. Shunryu Suzuki Roshi’s advice to ‘chant with your ears’ is well worth heeding.
All meals are vegetarian, wholesome and nutritious. There is always plenty to eat and the meals are varied. Drinks such as tea, coffee, milk etc are always readily available and you can just help yourself at any time. Again, if there is a special drink that you want, simply bring it with you.
Around and about
When moving around the building, please do so quietly. Talking is not encouraged within the main building. If you feel the need for a chat, then the far side of the courtyard is for you. Try to always bear in mind that we are there to look inside ourselves, not to discuss the latest news. If you think ‘quiet and low profile’ then you will not go far wrong.
Members often go walking, especially in the afternoon. If you would like to join them or fancy exploring the extensive grounds, please feel free to ask if you can accompany them.
When forty or so people get together, some for the first time, there can be a few small niggles that may need sorting out. If you have any problems, please see one of the senior members who will no doubt be able to deal with the matter quietly and discreetly.
After a few days, interviews (Daisan) begin. This is an important part of zen practice and should be taken seriously. You can get advice on what to do and say when you go in to see the teacher from the teachers assistant (Jisha). Speak freely and honestly, this way you will get the most out of your interview.
Getting the most out of your retreat
It is generally accepted that there are two ways to get through a retreat. One is to concentrate on survival and the second is to focus on each moment as it comes up. Either way will get you through the week. The second way however, is the only one that will give you the most beneficial and effective retreat.
If you focus on survival then you will be disappointed after your retreat, because you will know that you have wasted your time just thinking about getting through it. Forget about getting through it, just focus on the moment – there is nothing else. I have never heard anyone say that they would not go back to a retreat again, it may be tough sometimes but if you stay with it, there are real benefits. You will want to return. Enjoy the time.
Don’t be sad it’s over – just be glad it happened.
Ron Anzan Bell