June: Samish Sesshin

Every June we offer a full residential sesshin at the Community of Christ’s camp on beautiful Samish Island. Great Blue Herons fly overhead while swallows dance above the grass as we rise at 5am each day for sitting and walking meditation inside and outside, daily Dharma talks with our Founding Teacher, Zoketsu Norman Fischer, delicious vegetarian meals, simple outdoor work, and private interviews with Zoketsu and with the other local teachers. Additional activities, duration, and schedule vary each year, but this is always a wonderful opportunity to settle deeply into your practice and zen community.


by Nomon Tim Burnett, Guiding Teacher

Sesshin practice is a powerful opportunity for deep immersion in Dharma practice. Some consider it essential for understanding Zen, others approach Zen in a more flexible way and see benefit to the practice at all levels of engagement with in.

We now say explicitly that at least one full day of silent retreat practice is a prerequisite for attending Samish. And this is a good idea if you are going to do 7 days of such activity to have tasted it first to have a sense of it. But the practice of sesshin is not linear or predictable at all either. If one day felt difficult in some way that doesn’t mean that 7 days will require a heroic push through something 7 times harder. A longer immersion in steady practice will have a different flavor and include probably times that feel difficult but also a much broader spectrum of experience. Peaceful, settled, unsettled, difficult, easy, it’s all there and it’s all created largely by our own mind.

Sesshin is an incredible opportunity to study many things. The main thing for many people is the fiction that we maintain that our happiness depends on the external circumstances being just so and life can become an endless quest to rearrange the details of our lives to our liking. In sesshin we simplify experience radically – no talking, practically no decisions, no distraction activities – and see what happens. But the key factor is we do this in a situation with much support from community, tradition, and teachers.

Much like my remarks on jukai if you listen to those, one should not feel it a mark of failure or incomplete practice if you do not feel ready for sesshin. Each of us is different and in different circumstances. To sit steadily at home and with sangha when you can and never attend sesshin would also be a beneficial and complete way to interface with practice. But on the other hand, if you feel at all intimidated by sesshin you might also remind yourself that you’ll never feel ready for something you haven’t experienced (how could you? And what is this idea of “being ready” about exactly?). So if you’re curious and up for taking the plunge maybe this is the year. There is also an option to attend the first half if your schedule won’t allow a full week or you are the kind of person who slips slowly into the cold waters of the lake instead of just jumping into the whole thing.

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