Getting Started


I’m new to Zen Practice. Can I try it out? 

Yes, visitors and newcomers are always welcome to join us. We invite you to attend any of our regularly scheduled meditation times; there is no need to make prior arrangements. If you are arriving for the first time, we suggest you arrive ten minutes early so that you can find your seat and get comfortable.

A good place for newcomers to start is by attending an Orientation to Zazen. Orientations are usually held once a month on Mondays at 4:30 pm; please check the calendar for dates. This is not a requirement, but we recommend it in order to give you a basic introduction to sitting and walking meditation, and to our customs. An orientation will give you the basic skills and help you find a comfortable meditation posture. If you are unable to attend a scheduled orientation session, please contact us to arrange a time that is convenient for you.

Is there anything I should do to prepare?

Cushions, chairs, and benches are provided for meditation. We avoid dressing in ways that are distracting to others. Please wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing in dark and muted colors, with knees and shoulders covered. Avoid wearing perfumes or scented products, as some are allergic to them. Please turn off phones and watches, and keep all personal items outside the zendo.

Know that after zazen we offer a formal service that includes bowing and chanting. You may participate or respectfully observe; those that are unable to bow all the way to the floor often choose to do a standing bow. During chanting, listen to the teaching being recited; add your own voice if you wish. [Note: Due to Covid safety protocols we follow along with the chant silently in the zendo.]

What do I need to know about Zen meditation?

Be as quiet as possible upon entering and during meditation. Zazen is traditionally done sitting on a cushion (zafu), but benches and chairs are also available. If you have physical limitations, please inquire about alternative postures. We sit facing the wall with a straight back, ears over the shoulders, and eyes are open and lowered. Do not worry about making mistakes.

What if I arrive late?

If zazen has already begun, please enter quietly, bow and go directly to an open seat. If there is someone at the altar or walking around with palms together, please stand at the door with your hands in gassho (palms together) and wait to take your seat after the three bells are rung.

Is there any cost to practice at Arcata Zen Group?

No, there is no charge to practice. We do charge fees for some activities such as classes and sesshins (retreats), but full and partial scholarships are available if needed. We gratefully accept donations, which provide support for us to continue our offerings.

Do I have to be a Buddhist?

No, you do not have to be a Buddhist to practice zazen. Our Soto Zen practice is compatible with other religions or faith traditions. Some of us identify ourselves as Buddhists, while others do not.

 I don’t know if I can sit still that long. What if I become uncomfortable while meditating?

Discomfort often arises while sitting zazen; we practice not tightening up or moving away from discomfort. If you are in considerable pain, please use your own judgment in deciding whether to move. Before moving or rearranging your cushions, please bow in your seat to let others know that you will be moving. Once having made yourself more comfortable, bow again to show you are finished.

I came to the Sunday Program and noticed people walking slowly around the room. What is that about?

This slow walking is called kinhin, or walking meditation. Just follow the person in front of you as we move to the left and form a line. We take very small half steps in rhythm with the breath.

Where are you located?

We have two locations. Our primary location and zendo is at 740 Park Avenue in Arcata. Our Sunday morning program is held at the Trillium Dance Studio, 855 8th Street in Arcata. [Note: Due to Covid safety protocols we are not at Trillium at this time. Please check the calendar for updates on our Sunday program.]

Where should I park?

We are located in a residential area. Please do not park on Park Avenue in consideration of our neighbors. You may park in front of the fence or zendo building, or on Fickle Hill Road.

My question remains unanswered, what do I do?

For more information, you can contact us by phone, email or in person during a visit. We are happy to help answer any questions you may have.