Online Sesshin “Grube Louise”

Online Sesshin “Grube Louise” 14 – 16 May 2021

By Dietmar Steinbach



This year again we had to cancel the Spring Camp of Grube Louise due to the Corona pandemic, unfortunately. But then we have decided right away to organize our first online sesshin. Several dojos like Solingen, Bonn and Werne are already practicing online zazen since last year with good success, so it was a good time to go the next step and to offer it also in a larger format with more participants.

In order to create a good atmosphere, we decided to stream the various zazens directly out of one of the dojos. We took a time table very similar to what we are using normally during a sesshin, including 4 blocks of zazen/kinhin/zazen spread over the day.

We started first zazen on Friday morning at 7:00, led by Heinz-Juergen Metzger and streaming from the Solingen Dojo, followed by a brief morning ceremony and guen mai. Then we had blocks of zazen at 11:00, 16:30 and 19:00. During the afternoon, we had a discussion circle where everybody could share his current situation in this difficult time. During the whole day, Heinz-Juergen succeeded very well to harmonize all people and to create real interactions, although connected only via internet.

On Saturday we switched over to the Cologne dojo where Frauke succeeded to organize zazen for several more people as the dojo is big enough to keep distance. In such a way, we had many people online and some in the dojo, all at the same time. In the afternoon, Frauke held a profound Teisho which was well received.

Then on Sunday morning, we had zazen session at 7:00 and 11:00, streamed from the Bonn dojo and led by Patrick Damschen. The new dojo location in Blankenbach was very inspiring. Very quiet zazens were just interrupted by the singing of birds. At the end we had a nice closing ceremony.

In total, we had around 50 participants and during the zazen periods we were in average around 30 – 35. And as you can imagine, my screen was too small to show all participants at the same time without scrolling.

As the participants started to connect online around 20 minutes before zazen, there was enough time to welcome everyone and to exchange some words. Same after zazen. During and after the Sesshin we had very positive and encouraging comments of many participants. They were really happy on this opportunity to practice together. All of us are suffering from Corona lock down since many months, so we all enjoyed to see each other again and to talk, even if it was “only” online. Of course, we would have liked to meet each other in presence, but this was not possible.

For myself it was a great experience to organize this first sesshin online and my conclusion is that zazen online really works. It is very different compared to zazen in presence, but once you are used to it, you can discover the benefits. It can be a very energetic zazen, very different to practicing just alone. There is more responsibility for the individual person, which was well managed by everyone. And you can practice together in a small or big group, beyond geographical borders.
Some people are comparing an online sesshin with a sesshin in presence, which is in my view not a correct comparison. A sesshin in presence was not possible, the alternative option would only have been “to cancel and to do nothing together”, which is my view not a strong option. Zazen online is different, but nevertheless it can be a strong part of our practice. Currently we have several dojos in the German Sangha who are offering zazen online:

Dietmar Steinbach

Here some comments of participants:

„We were able to experience diversity in the unit, how the performing dojos designed their respective sesshin day. For example, instead of a teisho in the afternoon, we offered a round of talks with all participants, which made us all feel more personally connected. An exchange in this particularly stressful time, where everyone talks about themselves and their personal situation from the heart and listens to the others is very important and was felt to be very integrating and beneficial. The online format was a good opportunity for the Sangha to see each other after a long time and to practise together. However, we are looking forward again to upcoming sesshin in presence and the associated energy in a place of shared practice.“
-- Ines Steggewentze and Heinz-Jürgen Metzger
Robashin Dojo, Solingen

 „The first online sesshin Grube Louise, hosted by the dojos in Solingen, Cologne and Bonn (or Blankenbach) and wonderfully technically supported by Dietmar Steinbach, was a great experience. The joy of seeing each other again was great and the challenge of increased self-responsibility in zazen at home apparently accepted and mastered. At least there were more participants at each zazen than a computer screen can hold. Since the online sesshin was led by three different dojos, we could also experience them in their diversity. There were deep and long kusen as well as simple silent zazen, which was only sometimes enriched by the crowing of the rooster and the singing of birds."
-- Patrick Damschen
San Bo Dojo, Bonn

„It was my first experience of online Zen and I had gone along with the suggestion to broadcast the presence day in Cologne for the online participants. I wouldn't do that again because, as an organiser, it leads to "multi-tasking", which goes against the spirit of Zen to always focus on one thing at a time. Also, I felt torn between the online platform and being in the dojo, which was extremely exhausting, especially in the pandemic conditions. In conclusion, I would say that online Zen is a possible alternative when no presence sesshin can take place. Otherwise, there is no alternative to zazen in presence for me.“
-- Frauke Bleßmann
Zendo Cologne

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