Gift of No Fear by Nicolee Roshi
One of the fundamental aspects of Zen practice is sesshin
One of the fundamental aspects of Zen practice is sesshin, "taking the backward step and turning the light inward" in an intensive way, as Dogen Zenji defines it. In Japanese the "se" comes from "setsu," meaning to join or unite, and "shin" means the mind.
Sesshin means "unite the mind." So much of the time we are extremely focused, pulled in many directions, scattered, at times overwhelmed. Sesshin creates a time set apart in an environment that is simple and in community. It provides a container that enables us to deeply realize what our life is. From one perspective, when we sit on a cushion, do work practice, eat, do service, clean up, it is "my" practice. But fundamentally it is "our" practice; we create sesshin, just as we create the world and the world creates us-moment by moment-together.
Committed Zen practice can cultivate qualities which are especially apparent in sesshin: commitment, responsibility, honesty, integrity, self-discipline, service, willingness to reveal ourselves, compassion. As the group lives and sits together, all kinds of things-joy, anxiety, agitation, anger, resentment, gratitude, fear, boredom, doubt, peace-may come up. We may feel challenged to our depths, not just from without, but from within. How we bind ourselves becomes more and more apparent. The terrain we may walk through can be like a desert or a rugged mountain range or a beautiful Hawaiian seacoast. The key to sesshin is to not know, to let go of expectations, to open to the unfolding moment. Unifying the mind, we realize "the gift of no fear."
As the days of sesshin unfold, the thick shell with which we separate ourselves soften, eliminating the gap between self-other-the world. As we let go more and more deeply, the settling in and stillness of sesshin can bring forth spaciousness, joyfulness and gratitude. We see that pain is not apart from oneself, nor is joy. As we slow down, what often emerges is a deep appreciation of the sound of the bell, of the taste of food, of sleep, of movement, of creativity, of being with others, of the sunlight and clouds and trees and wind against the skin.
Sesshin offers an opportunity to experience life in its simplicity and everydayness in a very receptive, open way. Becoming more keenly aware of life, and how we are all in this together, we refine our ability to take care of ourselves, the lives of others, and our world.