What to Expect

All who are interested in Zen meditation are welcome to attend GBZC practice periods and other programming, whether live (when possible) or over zoom. Activities are all free, with suggested donations encouraged.

If you have not previously meditated with a Zen group, please review our Schedule Summary and then Arrange an Orientation with the practice leader of the sit you would like to attend. For your orientation, plan to arrive early.

Sits (of over one hour duration) typically follow this outline:

  • A few minutes before the scheduled starting time, everyone will begin sitting quietly, on either a meditation cushion or in a chair.
  • At exactly the scheduled starting time, the practice will begin. Incense will be lit, and then everyone will join in three bows. In the physical zendo, these are standing bows or full bows (where one kneels and touches the forehead to the floor). Individuals uncomfortable with or unable to do full bows may do standing bows, or simply stand. Over zoom, one may do seated bows.
  • The Sutra Service follows, consisting of 10 to 20 minutes of chanting selections from our liturgy.  Newcomers generally just listen to the chanting until they get the sense of each chant's rhythm. (Do you wonder where these chants and readings come from? This podcast may answer some of your questions.)
  • The Sutra Service is followed by a five minutes of walking meditation. Individuals needing to go to the restroom or to leave are encouraged to do so during the walking meditation period so as to minimize disturbances during the sutra service or sitting meditation.
  • Next we will have one or more 25-minute periods of sitting meditation, alternating with 5 minutes of walking meditation.
  • During one or more of the sitting periods, there may be an opportunity to have a private interview (dokusan) with a Zen teacher. These are opportunities to ask questions about Zen practice, most particularly focusing on your own experiences. (For more info about students, teachers, and these interviews, you might listen to this podcast.)
  • One sitting period (often the second) may be replaced by a Dharma Talk by one of our teachers, followed by a Dharma Discussion. 
  • The sit ends with a short chant and 3 standing or full bows and one more chant.
  • Often, a Closing Circle will give people a chance to introduce themselves and share a few words.

In your orientation you will be shown how to do seated and walking meditation, and how to follow along with the practice including full or standing bows.

In addition to the introduction of the sitting postures (on a chair, on a bench, cross-legged), newcomers will notice that there seems to be numerous rules for how to do everything—don't worry about this at all! It is true; there are a lot of rules. The purpose of these rules is so that during services people don't have to think about what to do—another way to help still the mind. Of course, for newcomers, these many rules don't have the same effect. Do not worry about them for now. Everything is done slowly. Just imitate the people who seem to know what they are doing.

If you have any questions, please get in touch.