IJI | not your ordinary retreat

image credit: angel Kyodo williams

Every year, CXC (Center for Transformative Change) sets aside 7 days for the annual IJI (Inner Justice Intensive).  Based on the 7-day sesshin format out of the Zen Buddhism tradition, the intensive is no ordinary retreat. For 7 days participants commit to a rigorous deep practice schedule that begins at 5am and ends at 10pm. There are even occasions when the day ends past midnight.
Each day is essentially the same schedule, with alternating periods of no less than 12 sitting meditation sessions (30-40 minutes) with walking meditation (10-20 minutes). There is daily work practice, social justice study session, 3|1 practice, morning yoga (sadhana), and rest practice. Meals were taken oryoki, or as a formal eating practice. New to the 2011 IJI schedule were the inclusion of art practice (calligraphy & sutra copying), mu-I taiji, and restorative yoga sessions.  This year senior deep practitioners also offered public talks for the first time, as a group.

Something happens when we remove ourselves from our daily lives, voluntarily submitting to a very strong practice container and strict schedule. The rigor of the schedule helped participants discover for themselves this year’s theme of “What Really Matters.”
Ironically, eliminating choice about what to do next frees up energy toward cultivating mindfulness and self-awareness. With healthy food available to the body (limited caffeine, meat-free, whole grains, limited dairy, local and organic food), participants got firsthand experience what ‘enough’ really means and what it feels like to eat nourishing food.

image credit: angel Kyodo williams

Participants got between 4-7 hours of sleep at night, depending on the day’s schedule. This mild sleep deprivation allows the body to rejuvenate enough, certainly with nothing extra to spare. After 7 days, any protective, personality, or extraneous masks that are worn day-in-day-out, were easier to put down if only because of fatigue and keen interest in energy conservation. After this experience, a good night’s rest takes on a whole different value.

In the seeming monotony, senses are sharpened. One can become more observant and is more apt to notice habit patterns. The IJI is conducted in silence, with minimal talking, if any; social silence is practiced, meaning the conventional social niceties are forgone–no need for eye contact, greetings, or small talk. Instead, folks channel that energy inward and get to know themselves better.

Choosing to place yourself in a strong practice container is an intense experience and is not for the faint of heart. Frequently, participants have emotional or physical breakdowns of some sort. The container includes those who are in service role positions, who help monitor and facilitate the breakdown process. Some form of breakdown is necessary for any transformative process.
What is helpful to know is that the intensity is designed to run its course for a limited amount of time, 7 days. As humans we learn best by contrast.  And so, it serves that after this period of intensity that a period of integration happens. Teachings and learnings can unfold on their own time during integration. And, once again, everything has changed…again.

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