By Ann Meido

A time of contrasts, similar to the picture of the hills around St. Francis Retreat Center in San Juan Bautista that accompany these words where I spent last weekend.
Sesshin: a time of touching or collecting the heart-mind during a period of intensive meditation.

To look closely at the photograph, one sees trees, some bare and some with foliage. The background is less definite, hidden by the morning fog. Such was the experience of sitting in silence, with others, during sesshin…a retreat from the busy and demanding routine where my life finds itself so much of the time… Friday evening to Sunday afternoon, 48 hours, spent in 40-minute segments of zazen, followed by 10 minutes of kinhin, walking meditation….all in silence with only my individual inner self…to wrestle with, to celebrate, to appreciate, to abhor. All these awarenesses arose during the hours, much like the clear focus of the trees in the forefront of the photograph. And there was misty time, less clear of thoughts, hopes fears…..of doing something which I only knew was in accord with my heart-mind…. doing something that was calling me to do more, and of which I was also afraid…of letting go of plans, ideas, thoughts, feelings, and just being quiet and still…trusting in what I did not know or understand. And which at the end of Sunday evening, tired, I knew I was grateful for having been on that sesshin.

Intention & Expectation

In December, we usually start using heaters with windows closed. Today, we sat with windows open, no heaters. We could see our breath when we talked. Surprisingly, we all enjoyed it and decided to continue sitting with windows open as long as possible.

Sue talked about intention & expectation, and we discussed our intention and expectation for zazen.

What are your intention and expectation?

Rev Ito used to say, “Don’t expect to be enlightened.”

Why we were told not to step on the edge of tatami mat

So you were told not to step on the edge of tatami mat at our zendo and wondering why. Rev Ito told me that because the edge was more expensive to repair. I researched a bit more to find out the reasons why people were told not to step on the edge of the tatami mat.

  • Wear and tear: Tatami mat is delicate and especially the edge (tatami-fuchi) can easily get damaged.
  • Respect & honor: In Japan, there is an unspoken rule about where people should seat. For example, in our zendo, where rev Ito used to sit is considered as “seat of honor” or “top seat”. Usually these seats are offered to elders & guests to honor. The seat closest to the door/entrance is considered the “bottom seat”. Old days, the edge of tatami was used to determine top seat/section and stepping on the line was disrespectful.
  • Family crest: Some tatami mat has a family crest on the edge and it was disrespectful to step on the family crest.
  • Ninja assassination: Ninja used to hide under the house(crawl space)/below tatami to assassinate and they can determine where people were by looking at the light coming through the gap between tatami.  We don’t have ninja(s) hiding in our zendo so no worries.

Now we know.


We discussed what we are thankful for.

What are you thankful for?

Sue shared a poem “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver”

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean–
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down —
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver
The Summer Day

Mind is like a pond

I participated in Rinzai’s online zazen-kai with my son, which priest Yokoyama led from Tokoji in Shizuoka, Japan.

His story resonated with us, so I shared it during our zazen-kai at Hakone Gardens.

He told us a famous story.

One day, a young man asked a monk, ” I can’t sleep well as I am worried and anxious. Would you please help to get rid of them? “

Monk replied. ” Sure, let me help you. Can you bring it out and show me “anxiety” and “doubt”?

Young man, “I can’t. How can I show you?”

Monk, ” Right, those things don’t exist. You are creating them in your mind.”

Mind is like a pond. If you stir, water becomes muddy. However, when the water is quiet and still, you can see things clearly.

Zazen helps to keep our mind quiet and still.