Going To My First Retreat

On September 14th I’ll be attending my first retreat. It’s only a day long event, which I thought would be a good first retreat. It is going to be held by the Cape Cod Zen Center which follows the Kwan Um School of Zen, a Korean form of Zen founded by Zen master Seung Sahn. I am not necesarily a “member” or student of the school, it’s open to the public. I know the people that run the Cape Cod Zen Center, who are hosting the teacher that is coming. They used to host a small group of people I put together for bi-weekly sitting sessions.

Anyway, I guess there will be kong an interviews, etc. How many of you have any experiences with retreats? What should I expect? And upon meeting Zen Master Soeng Hyang (Barbara Rhodes), what is the proper “etiquette”?


  1. Ah! I’ve sat with Bobbi only once or twice down here in New York, but I’ve heard hear speak a lot. Listening to the dharma talks online, you might miss this one from her installation ceremony. It’s the whole ceremony, which includes several talks, but hers is by far the longest. She was being installed as the guiding teacher for the whole school, but her talk was mostly about her own shortcomings. It was so inspiring. She’s great.

  2. hiya Nate. i’ve been on bunch of retreats (Zen/vipassana) but not a Kwan Um one. i did start practice with that school, at the Cambridge Zen Center.

    so while i cant answer too specifically, here are some general things:
    1) you’ll sit a lot. your knees will hurt. it’s normal. dont worry!
    2) you’ll PROBABLY get some sort of orientation when you arrive. but if not, remember: you CANT screw up. just be there and try to follow the chants and bows and stuff. if you get it wrong, NOTHING to be embarrassed about. you would hardly be the first.
    3) Kwan Um seems to put a lot of emphasis on kong an/koans. They’re a tricky business — you’re not supposed to engage them intellectually, but you almost certainly will. Remember that they’re not riddles to be “solved” but a piece of verbal technology meant to help you RESOLVE something in how you’ve been conditioned to see things. But again, you cant go wrong. Robert Aitken (certainly one of the great modern Zen teachers) didnt “pass” his first koan until 6 years had passed.
    4) when meeting the Zen Master (if they dont cover this in orientation), do a gassho (at least; they might ask you to do full prostrations). be deferential, but also unafraid. this person is teaching you Dharma and wants to see the real you.
    5) the food (if there is any) will probably be RAD!

    retreats, to me, are all about taking things seriously but also having fun. but then, that’s life, right?

    congrats and enjoy, my man!

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