zen students bowing

Retreat Information

Retreats are the backbone of our Zen training. Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree for six years and for nine years, Bodhidharma sat silently in Sorim. If we aspire to free our minds of accumulated habit energy (karma), then we must take what opportunities we can to devote ourselves to meditation with great faith, courage and inquiry. Retreats, varying from one to several days, provide that space, with the guidance of our teachers and support of the practicing sangha.

Registration and Fees

Please register prior to the retreat by completing our online registration form. Our upcoming retreats are listed here.

Retreat Fees:
Members: $30 plus dana* per day.
Non-members: $40 plus dana* per day.
*dana is a voluntary gratitude to our teacher. Learn more about dana.

The online registration form page includes a link that allows you to pay your retreat fee, and include dana, through PayPal.

Upon arrival, you will be asked to pay your retreat fee (if you haven’t already), fill out an emergency contact form and sign a waiver of liability releasing our teachers, Blue Heron Zen Community, its trustees, and its members from any liability for any harm incurred as a result of your participation in the retreat.

If you have any questions about retreat registration, contact us.


Most of our retreat participants live within driving distance of the Zen center and return home to sleep at the end of each retreat day. However, out-of-town guests are welcome to sleep at the Zen center. Please let us know if this is your preference by making note of it in the “Additional Notes” section of the registration form. Men sleep in the meditation room on meditation mats. Women sleep in the living room on meditation mats. Please bring your own sleeping bag and pad or other bedding.

Showers are limited; we encourage you to consider going without a shower during your time at the retreat. Please limit your time in the bathrooms so that others may use them.


Everyone participates fully in the retreat schedule. If you become ill or have some emergency that makes you miss any part of the schedule, please write a note to the Head Dharma Teacher. The Head Dharma Teacher is in charge of the dharma room, maintaining the schedule, and formal practice.

What to Bring

Retreats provide us with a rare opportunity to simplify our lives. For this reason, we encourage you to bring only basic necessities to the retreat. Please keep in mind that we will be walking and working outside. Consider bringing the following:

  • Comfortable clothing for meditation (loose pants, T-shirts, sweater, socks, slip-on shoes).
Clothing should be in darker shades and without bright patterns or logos.
    Work clothing for work practice (denims, work shoes); rain jacket; sturdy, dry shoes; gloves; coat; long-sleeve shirt; hat.
  • Sleeping bag or bedding; pillow and sleeping pad.
  • Toiletries, including towel, wash cloth, and soap.
  • Four bowls that nest into each other. Bowls should be about five-six inches across. Sturdy plastic bowls are best. One pair of chopsticks. One spoon.

We ask that you leave all forms of entertainment at home. This includes computers, iPods and books. You may bring your phone, but please turn the ringer off and use it only for emergency communication during break times.

Head Dharma Teacher

The Head Dharma Teacher is a senior student who is responsible for the smooth operation of the retreat. He or she will conduct an orientation when the retreat begins and during the retreat as new participants arrive. If you have questions or problems during the retreat, please write a note to the Head Dharma Teacher who will help (or set up a meeting with the teacher leading the retreat).


During retreats we keep silence at all times. Silence not only helps you maintain strong practice, it is a gift that helps others sustain their own practice. If you need to communicate about a personal issue, formal practice, or your work period assignment, please write a note to the Head Dharma Teacher.


Please bring four nesting bowls, a soup spoon and chopsticks with you to the retreat. However, if you don’t have any, we can provide them. Vegetarian meals are part of formal practice and are eaten silently in traditional temple style. The meal forms will be explained during the retreat but you should keep a few things in mind. First, at the beginning of a meal, food is offered twice. The initial time serve yourself a small portion of food, the second time you can take more food. Remember that you must eat everything that you take. After you have finished eating, hot tea will be served. This tea is used to clean your bowls (using your fingers to rub the sides of the bowls); after you have cleaned your bowls, drink the tea and the food particles in it. Then, clean water is used for a final rinse.  Watch this video for detailed information about the meal service.

Work Period

Work assignments are given each day after breakfast. Immediately after breakfast, everyone participates in work period. A bell signals the beginning and end of work period. Work period is part of formal practice—please do the job thoroughly and meticulously. If you finish your assignment before the hour is through, please see the work master for a new job. Most jobs are quite simple, but if you believe that your task is dangerous or you are not qualified to perform it, it is your responsibility to notify the work master and request another job.

The Dharma Room

Everyone helps maintain an atmosphere of quiet in the dharma room. Please don’t move during sitting periods. If you are sleepy or in a great deal of pain you may do a sitting bow and then stand up quietly behind your cushion, with your hands in hapchong. Before sitting back down again, do a standing bow and then settle quietly. (This will be demonstrated at the start of the retreat.)

Entering and Leaving

When entering or leaving the dharma room, stop just inside the door, face the Buddha, and do a standing bow. During sitting periods, please enter or leave the dharma room only during walking meditation or when leaving for and returning from an interview. Of course, if you experience an emergency, you may quietly leave the dharma room. If you are late to a sitting period, sit outside the dharma room until the chugpi is hit; then enter during walking meditation.

Walking Meditation

During walking meditation, you may leave to use the bathroom or get something to drink; walk in line until you come to the door, then bow and leave. When you re-enter, either return to your place when the line passes the door or wait until everyone is standing behind their cushions and enter quickly.


There will be private interviews with the teacher during the day. During an interview, the teacher can help you with your individual practice and answer specific questions about Zen meditation.

When you reach the interview room, open the door, step in, and do a standing bow facing the teacher. Close the door, then stand behind the cushion and do a standing bow, a full prostration, and a standing bow. Then sit. Follow this form in reverse when leaving.

When your interview is over, re-enter the dharma room immediately. (When returning from an interview, it’s not necessary to wait until the end of a sitting period or a chant to re-enter the room.)

The Stick

Many people have heard of the “Zen stick”. The stick is used during sitting meditation to help participants maintain their practice by releasing muscle tension in the back or shoulders, or to relieve sleepiness. In our tradition, no one is hit without specifically requesting it. The hit, while firm, is relatively painless.

End of Retreat

The retreat will end with a “circle talk,” during which participants are invited to share their thoughts about the retreat with the group.