Meditation Activities

Newcomer Session

A Newcomer is anyone who has never completed a retreat with Shinzen, regardless of their meditation background. All newcomers should attend the Newcomer Session to acquaint themselves with the basic theory and technique of 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 Newcomer Session. Occasionally, veteran students and facilitators are permitted to “audit” the Newcomer session in order to learn how to explain meditation to others by observing.

Technique Instruction Sessions

These are open to any retreatant who has theoretical or practical questions about meditation. During this time, Shinzen explains concepts and techniques, leads guided meditation and answers questions.

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 session one should carefully consider if one has a strong need for encouragement and clarification and not use the session as a diversion from practice.  Current students will meet with Shinzen each morning and newcomers will meet with a Support Teacher at the same time, but will join the Q&A session each morning with Shinzen following the newcomer session.

Online Sessions

During an online session, meditators meditate in their own room, using the telephone in the room. Arrive in your room a few minutes before the online is scheduled to start. Shinzen will telephone each on-line participant in turn.

Each meditator will periodically report what is occurring in his or her meditation and Shinzen will provide him or her with individualized instruction. Please bring anything you need to sit or lie comfortably.

Sign up sheets will be available in the Tea Room. 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.

Make sure you put your room number after your name on the sign-up sheet. This tells Shinzen what telephone number to use to reach you.

Individual Interviews

These are a chance 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. The teacher may also give you a personalized guided meditation.

Please note that if individual interviews are offered, they are usually designated at the end of the day instead of offering ‘Online Sessions’ (see below). Sign your name in one of the time slots on the interview sign-up sheet located in the tea room. Individual interviews typically last 10-15 minutes.

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 become 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 AM – 6:00 AM. 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 6 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 3-4 minutes to savour the energy which has developed.

If you arrive at the Zendo around 6:00 am, please wait until you see people moving to prepare for the next sit before entering.

Walking Meditation

Walking can be done in the corridors or outside. Please refrain from using these periods for exercise or extended tea breaks. Please see the separate handout on walking meditation for more detail.

Eating Meditation​

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 savour the delicate after energies that infuse the body following a satisfying meal. Please see the separate handout on eating meditation for more detail.

​Yoga & Stretching

These are also considered meditation periods during which you should maintain a formal technique of body awareness. We are grateful and thank those who are providing their gifts to lead these sessions to enhance our retreat experience. If you would like to volunteer to lead yoga/stretching, please sign up in Tea Room.

Body Work

​Body work and massage are available at this retreat. The reason for this is not primarily to work out aches and pains so as to make sitting easier (although this is certainly a desirable byproduct). Rather, this work evokes deep and significant sensations over the whole body which represent a productive object of meditation.

During your 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. If a sangha member is offering body work, locations for the body work or massage and sign-up sheets with prices will be on the literature tables or volunteer sign up table.

If you are interested in offering body work during the retreat, please leave a note for Marie Hope, body work coordinator, on the board in the Tea Room.

Rest Periods

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.

Copies of Talks & Teachings

CD’s of Shinzen’s teachings are available for purchase throughout the retreat. You may listen to these CD’s during the retreat without purchasing them. Please bring a CD player to listen to them. If you have a CD player to share, we appreciate you leaving it in the listening area. Extra batteries are available. Because the ideas presented are deep and sometimes subtle, they need time to “sink in” through repeated listening.

It is recommended that you take CD’s as a tangible review of this valuable material. Also, when you pass through periods of low energy and resistance in your daily practice you can use guided talks as a “skillful means” to maintain quality meditation. The CD area is taken down soon after the retreat ends, so please be sure to make your purchases by the last night.