Bay Area Open Buddhist Retreat

Sunday Morning Zazen Sept 2 2007.jpg

This is kind of a “Hey, I have a barn…Let’s put on a play!” kind of post.

I was thinking about retreats earlier today and how I either get to attend retreats run by various local groups (such as the Empty Gate Zen Center) or I travel, once or twice a year, to the other side of the country (or Las Vegas) in order to do a retreat with the Five Mountain Sangha. I went to a retreat this last March with my fellow sangha members but we had to bring people from all over.

I also thought about how I’d met a bunch of people at the Buddhist Geeks 2011 conference in July, some of whom turned out to be very local. I’ve also thought off and on about the Online Meditation Crew, who organizes sits via twitter, and my thoughts on “Open Source Buddhism” in allowing people to work with Buddhism in whatever way adds utility. Rebecca and I have visited the East Bay Healing Collective a couple of times recently. They organize an open meditation group that meets twice a week in Berkeley but which isn’t associated with any specific tradition of practice (some of them aren’t even Buddhists!!!).

This led me to the realization that I really don’t have to go to someone else’s retreat, travel, or even wait for someone to do things. I mean, I managed to help start a hackerspace and am used to herding people around to get things done from that experience. I could just organize a local retreat…and even combine it with the idea of an unconference in a way.

With that thought, I am going to give it a go. Right now, I’m going to propose either a two or three day meditation and practice retreat in Berkeley from November 19 (or 18) through 20, 2011. That’s either the Saturday and Sunday the week before Thanksgiving or Friday through Sunday. (This may turn out to be a not perfect weekend but I know from experience that there will be something wrong with all choices.) The two day retreat might wind up being the easier choice, given that most people work and would have to take a day off to go to some weird event with unknown people for the first time.

This would be non-residential, with people arriving every morning and leaving every evening. I don’t think it would make sense to even pretend to be keeping the “closed” container of a retreat (the typical retreat has one practicing austeries, agreeing not to talk to people outside, etc.) since it cannot be residential and people will be returning home at night.

I’d like to talk to some local meditators and Buddhist teachers so see who would like to participate and maybe even convince a few people to lead some talks or practicums there. This would not be a paying gig as I’d like to see the only fees charged be to cover costs (basically, the space rental and food).

This does not need to be a Zen style “let’s stare at the walls from the cushions” three day practice. I’d like to see a more diverse array of styles but it really depends on who I can get to attend.

A daily schedule could look like the following, with the caveat that this is a more “Zen” version and the actual schedule could be much more diverse than this:

The idea would be to alternate periods of meditation that occur for most of two hours with other practices or talks. I’d also love to see meditation methods, such as Vipassana techniques, explained and led for any of the larger block meditation sessions. I’d happily consider other alternatives as well.

I envision myself as a facilitator for this in that I’d arrange for the space and be the point of contact for people but this should not be a “top down” style of event. We can do what the people who arrive want to do with a schedule planned ahead of time, loosely, to frame things if people do not feel an urge to diverge.

I have no idea if there is enough interest locally to make this happen. It could easily wind up being me, Rebecca (my wife), and three acquaintances or maybe we could actually get 15 or 20 people to come.

If people do seem interested in this, I’ll need to start arranging to get a space. I think that I’ll aim for something that could comfortably hold 20 people (which is really just a 20’ by 20’ room with non-concrete floor and some light) and go from there. I’m going to aim small really though it would be cool if there was enough interest for some real attendance.

If you’re in the Bay Area (or will be passing through at the right time) and you would like to come to something like this, drop me a line at Even better, if you’d like to present a talk or a practicum of some sort (be it paired meditation practice, mindful yoga, or what-have-you), contact me. As things get organized, I’ll be adding content to when I have more to say but I will post here as well. (note: this may not resolve yet as I just registered the domain!)

Let’s see what happens.