Things to do BEFORE the retreat:
- find out the start time for the day at the retreat. Do not be surprised if it is 5am or earlier.....really.....I am not kidding....... Then start getting up early to accustom youurself to being compos mentis at that hour. FYI, usually zazen starts 30 minutes after wake-up (just for a quick brush and getting dressed). If you don't get used to the getting up early, you may find that you spend all your time trying to stay awake (or, like me, you LEARN A NEW SKILL - sleeping while sitting zazen - really, I am now an expert in this arcane art). And of course great realizations can happen through severe exhaustion.
- The retreat will be strictly vegetarian, so if you are not a vegetarian now, especially if you are used to eating a lot of animal protein, start seeing how your body will do. Feeling exhausted, light-headed, spacey, depressed? In any event, I highly suggest bringing protein bars or other vegetarian snack food so you can maintain your blood sugar level. A side note, fyi, most cheese is not vegetarian, it is made with an enzyme from the stomache of a very young calf (called "rennet"). But you can find vegetarian cheeses (made with "vegetable rennet")
- Practice sitting ABSOLUTELY still for 40 minutes at a time. Really, I am serious about this. It is considerate to your other retreaters and required at most zen centers.
- What you will sit on- of course you will bring your special zafu or seiza bench which is just the perfect size for your body and you are perfectly comfortable sitting on it. However, TRUST ME ON THIS POINT (as it is many people's experience). The zafu/seiza that is great for one or two or even four sitting periods will suddenly become excruciatingly painful on the 5th zazen period. Why? No one knows. So, when you get to the zen center, scope out where the chairs/stools are so you can switch to one at the some convenient point (after lunch, whenever). And while it is considered ok, if you are in excruciating pain during a zazen period, to bow, stand up facing your zafu with your hands in gassho and stay that way for the rest of the period. It is however more polite to not have to move.