A Feel for What We Do When We Gather in Person
There are two main kinds of residential retreats: 7-day Long Retreats and long weekend Open Mind Retreats. Both our Long Retreats and Open Mind Retreats offer silent meditation, koan work, dharma talks, good food, and time for walking, resting, and creative practice.
But they differ in important ways, and we encourage you to try both, or a little of everything.
When We Gather Online
We’re offering two main kinds of online retreats: 6-day Long Retreats (Sesshin) and weekend 1-Day and 2-Day Retreats.
Our weekend retreats generally begin with a morning session around 9-10 am, break for lunch, then resume and finish around 4-5 pm each day. There is koan meditation, a dharma talk, and small and large group conversation. Whether short or long, online retreat has surprised us by opening a new and effective way to share and practice the Dharma.
For information about upcoming retreats, visit our PZI Events Calendar or Retreat Planner.
A Little About Sesshin
Sesshin is a great gathering and provides a more traditional vessel for practice and exploration over a longer period of days and nights.
Days begin early and end late with meditation led by Heads of Practice. There are generous breaks for meals and rest times, morning and evening teacher dharma talks, afternoon sutra services, music for meditation, 1-on-1 dokusan meetings with at least 3 teachers during the week.
Sesshin is a deep dive, and whether online or in person, each sesshin has its own character, form and emptiness.
Retreats with PZI
Open Mind Retreats: In Person
A Zen meditation retreat native to US American culture
PZI Open Mind Retreats come out of John Tarrant’s impulse to make a Zen meditation retreat that is native to American culture, and that rests in creative process. When we take away the barriers to understanding, things just naturally shine. There’s not much apparatus or ritual required.
Silence is held during meditation periods and in the mornings until after breakfast, and even then loosely. We try to be gentle with ourselves, the way the coastal fog is gentle on our skin. We sit together, share koans, poetry, myth, conversation, and have time to write and walk on the beach and to find out what our lives might be like without our usual stories. We do exercises that help our attention to deepen. We make discoveries and our lives open. No particular background in spiritual practice is required.
John Tarrant leads these retreats, with a group of 25 or fewer. There is usually a mix of experienced meditators and complete beginners. We sit in a circle and meditate until it’s time to listen, or talk, until it’s time to take a walk and gaze at the ocean, put our faces to the wind, and feel our hearts shift in new and unexpected ways.
Commonweal is a beautiful place on the ocean with whales and gulls and weasels and wildflowers. It has a simple feel, and wonderful (local, organic, vegetarian) food. We occasionally offer an Open Mind Retreat in a location farther afield. But everywhere, they usually run from Thursday evening to Sunday noon.
Comments from Open Mind Retreat participants
Urban Retreats: On Hold
Low cost non-residential weekend day retreats
PZI Urban Retreats are designed with an eye toward the integration of our ordinary lives and meditation practice. They are local commuter retreat and offer a low-cost, non-residential opportunity to discover ordinary, amazing things inside your everyday self. As you move back and forth between the retreat space and your ordinary life, the transitions themselves provide occasions to become more intimate with what we assume to be the dividing line between “retreat” and “life.”
During lunch and dinner breaks, participants are free to explore local neighborhood restaurants or to have a brown bag picnic in the meditation room or out on the deck, weather permitting. There are opportunities for both group and private conversation about meditation practice. Over the course of the Urban Retreat, you get to explore the way the ordinary can be as vast and boundless as outer space.
Long Retreats: In Person
Based on the traditional Zen sesshin, but with more lightness and ease
PZI Long Retreats last five to seven days, and are based on the traditional Zen sesshin, but with more lightness and ease than you might expect or have experienced in Zen practice. Retreats are often organized around a central koan or group of koans, which provide the frame for the week.
There is sitting meditation beginning before dawn each day and in regular periods throughout the day, into the evening (25-minutes periods of sitting are punctuated by 5-minutes of walking meditation).
There is a talk each morning from one of the several Pacific Zen teachers in attendance, and one each night, usually from John Tarrant. Talks are followed by conversation about the koan and the practice. You also have the opportunity to meet with a teacher one-on-one. There is also rest time, and lots of time for writing or reading or walking in the northern California hills.
At PZI long retreats there is more Zen ritual than at Open Mind retreats, including silence, some bowing, bells, an altar. You are encouraged to take care of yourself in the retreat environment. Mornings begin early, but if you need more sleep, or to take breaks, that’s fine. You can journal, have a quiet conversation with a friend, take a walk.
The silence and the companionship of a long retreat deepen your experience of koan work, and of your life.
Our long retreats have been held in various locations across the SF Bay Area: Santa Rosa, San Rafael, the Santa Cruz Mountains. Due to Covid, we are currently offering one in-person sesshin in summer.
Long Retreats: Online in the PZI Digital Temple
A new form of Zen sesshin in an online vessel spanning continents
We were skeptical about the ability to translate the warmth and transformative qualities, present in a typical sesshin experience, to the online realm, but we have been more than pleasantly surprised and even found some practical improvements available in this new, intimate, retreat vessel.
Each home, each rectangle on-screen becomes a temple and opens out into a vast, worldwide gathering across continents and timezones. Your home is your sacred space.
Dokusan, traditional one on one meetings with a teachers offered at every sesshin, have provided the same intensity and intimacy we love so much about our in-person work. In short, we have adjusted out of necessity and found some unexpected treasure. We have learned to use the online environment for extended meditation sessions, sutra services, dharma talks and small groups.
Practice Intensives Accompany Long Retreats
Meditation in the Online Open Temple
Our Open Temple Meditation Pass becomes available for upcoming sesshins as a preliminary period of intense practice lasting about one month. When you register for a sesshin you will have a free pass to access two daily hour-long morning koan meditation sessions hosted by PZI Leaders. Plus, a night owl session for the wee hours.
Recently we’ve added weekday morning meditations between sesshins. These are FREE to PZI Members, and the sangha is enthusiastic about keeping this interim temple going throughout the year. If you are not a member, Open Temple Pass is one good reason to join.
Scholarship support is available for PZI Members
We are committed to making koan work and retreat experience available to everyone,
regardless of means. If you have means and wish to help others attend, DONATE here.