Spring Retreat 2021

Please read our impressions and memories of time together as a sangha at our April Sesshin, written by practitioners ☺️🙏

Quiet Practice time with several folks sewing rakusus, knitting or reading

When we practiced in the dojo we often said that we are sitting with all beings. But for the past year, we really have. The small room of practice has been transformed. During this Retreat we were sitting in Scotland, in Canada, in London, in Germany, all together. Our computer screens have been the metaphor and actuality of interdependence, sameness and difference. One heart turns another, even although there are mountains and rivers between us. Even when there are lifetimes between us.



A plump thrush lands on a thin branch
Pigeons flirt in the silver birch
A squirrel scuttles across the roof

Things are germinating
The greenhouse waits
Letting myriad things rest

The washing machine rumbles and hums
In the next room
The real way circulates everywhere

Feelings of words drift and dissolve
Shapeshifting kanji
Myriad things

Hailstones bounce off the gravel and settle in
Spike proteins fasten on to cells
My muscles ache and my body remembers

Evening sun slowly turns the woods to gold
Dusk softens and the candle glows
Turning the light inward

Resting in myriad things

Poem by Margaret

The spring sesshin with the Glasgow zen group was a very enjoyable few days for a number of reasons but the main ones were experiencing increased awareness (sometimes), calmness and sense of connection with the sangha and others.

Taking part in simple, and often, automatic tasks such as eating breakfast or house work became infused with awareness and an appreciation for the usually missed moments of the everyday experience. 

I can find it difficult to write about zen or experiences connected with it but I can say that after the 4 day sesshin the residual impact, filtering into my everyday experience, away from the cushion, the breakfast bowl and the hoover, has been profound.  I feel a bit calmer, my house is much calmer and our family interactions are much more creative rather than reactive.

I realise (a lot) how many times each day in all tasks i can be absent and not completely there.  I’m on the cushion but I’m on holiday, I’m out walking in the park but I’m having an argument with an old boss, I’m eating food but I’m thinking about work. 

I am however a little gentler with myself and these realizations.  As my thoughts come and go the volume and impact of them has been turned down (not off) and In general I feel a little softer around the edges and more connected. 

All this is subject to change so for now I’d like simply to enjoy this experience and hopefully I will continue to sit regularly and consistently. 

Thanks to everyone who took part and to John and Blair for all the organisation, talks and support throughout.

Gassho 🙏


 I loved every part of it having breakfast together was so intimate and special.

The samu and sewing group were great as well everything was so relaxed it really was great to be part of it , The discussions are also great its just so good to be able to take time out and be with with you in this way there’s nothing like it, its out of this world but not. ❤️🙏


The samu intention and attitude put an unexpected spring into some housework. I’d done this on retreat before but never at home. It was peaceful and productive. So, a winner all around. Thanks to Nick for setting us on our way so neatly.

Joining the sewing group session was a highlight of the spring sesshin. It was very interesting to see the various pieces of fabric being patiently and intricately sewn together and beginning to take shape with the group combining its collective expertise to help everyone with their work. Thank you for the warm welcome. It certainly got me interested into the sewing practice!

Elizabeth and Amer

At our spring sesshin we had eight zoom sections per day, with a break in between each, and the retreat lasted four days. We enjoyed an energetic start each morning with prostrations at 6am whilst one of us chanted the lineages, followed by dawn zazen (two sits and kinhin), and our chanting period including the Heart Sutra, Sandokai and short Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo.

We then had our meditative Zen eating practice with a silent breakfast together (practice of sitting, compassion, receiving and giving), a simplified Oryoki including the Gyohatsu Nenju 行鉢念誦 ‘practice of the bowl’ chants.

Next we met to practice samu, the first time we had done this on zoom, and it was very popular! It was so nice to have the time with each other silently doing samu work, with a gassho and bow at the start and end.

Then we had our morning talk, with John leading two days, and myself one. John discussed vitality and feelingness, noticing the aliveness of our body and the beauty and joy of practice which comes with that, which is often overlooked when folk talk of zazen or overplay consciousness.

I looked into the Chinese kanji characters za and zen of 座禅 Zazen (Ch: Zuochan) and talked about their rich visual history, calligraphic styles and meanings beyond our usual translation of sitting meditation, relating the initial use of the word in China and the development of zazen practice to particular sutras and Dhyana practice dating back to the Buddha and before, and how ideas of the practice developed in China before the formation of the Zen schools. Looking at each kanji helped open the variety of meanings and stories there, constantly evolving and alive, and express our experience of sitting and zen practice through them.

Za is more physical, containing two sitters and an altar, which morphed in the time of Buddhism to include a shelter rooftop – a space for sitting. Zen explores awareness and practice-enlightenment without being able to be pinned down. Seeing the shape of za itself as a sitting practitioner (interconnected with others and with a spaciousness through the legs, sit bones and spine) was fruitful and explored our sangha practice as well as our own dynamic grounded posture.

Za - sitting Shogen Blair Thomson

After the talks and discussion we sat again, then had a break from zoom for lunch and a rest, before the Quiet practice section in the early afternoon – which wasn’t totally quiet as we sewers were able to discuss stitching and the practical aspects, as well as explore more deeply the meanings of of the practice and the embodiment of the Buddha’s teachings in the piecing together and wearing of our robes.

We then had a longer zazen sit, with the walking meditation being flexible so we could walk outdoors peacefully and return to our cushions to sit together again. In the last section in the evening, after an open discussion period, we had zazen -kinhin -zazen. On the final day as dusk cooled into darkness we chanted the Fukanzazengi softly whilst sitting in zazen.


Sesshin is different. Different from everyday life, different each time you enter into it, and often very different to what you expect!

The surprise for me, in this second GZG retreat held online via Zoom, was how close we were able to feel as a group, as a Sangha, despite not being able to be physically together in the same space. The carefully woven timetable brought all the colours of different aspects of our practice together, and the whole held us securely, so that each of us could participate in as much or as little as we needed.

The backbone of it all is our regular practice: sitting Zazen, daily chanting, and the endless kindness of John’s Zen talks and discussions. Around that, the other aspects flourish. Taking breakfast together, the chants and rituals hold us in silent gratitude. Doing Samu, individually working at home whilst connected on a Zoom call, we come together in gassho at the beginning and the end, supporting each other to work with care and allow simple tasks to unfold into joyful practice. And in Quiet Practice, with some participants sewing rakusus and preparing to take precepts, a space opens for quiet reflection around our practice; an unhurried sharing.

ZA (after Blair’s talk 🙏 )

Two sitting figures
A brush-stroke for a roof, thus
Bodhisattvas sing


Old Mrs. Kawabata
Cuts down the tall spike weeds, more in two hours
Than I can get done in a day.

Out of a mountain
Of grass and thistle
She saved five dusty stalks
Of ragged wild blue flower
And puts them in my kitchen in a jar.

Nick quoting Gary Snyder before Samu

I thought the retreat was a great balance of sitting, discussion and mindful activities, such as samu and sewing, creating a real sense of shared experience. Thanks to everyone involved.


Image from Joan