Relaxation: Pacific Zen—A Culture for Transformation


I have to confess I’m relatively new to zazen, the Zen Buddhist practice of group sitting meditation. My first experience was a bit of a lark; a friend of mine invited me to the Pacific Zen Institute, and I thought, “What the heck,” and parked my posterior on the zafu (cushion) with few expectations. A surprising thing happened.

I’d read before about the idea of a person’s identity existing independently of their thoughts and feelings, but during that forty-minute quiet time I actually got a taste of it. During that short span I sensed that this practice was my best shot at feeling at home inside my own head. I’ve been practicing zazen ever since.

  • Don’t meditate for health (though it will make you healthier).
  • Don’t meditate for peace (though it will help you find peace).
  • Meditate to get better at living your life.


A koan is a saying, often ambiguous in some way, that you can focus on during your meditation. Don’t mistake this for a riddle to answer; it’s more of a tool to short-circuit the intellect in order to function a different way. I myself think of it this way: if meditation is a still pond, a koan is a stone you toss into it to see what the ripples look like. Who knows, you might see something revealing or even beautiful in the water.


Koans are an important part of meditation practice at Pacific Zen. At the start of the session, the teacher recites a koan, and invites you to “sit with” it. Try it and see what happens!

Located right in the middle of downtown Santa Rosa, just off Sonoma Avenue, east of E Street, Pacific Zen’s main location is a hidden gem. The center sits beneath a small office building, with a spectacular, restful view of the Santa Rosa Creek.

To register for any events or programs check out their website at:

Offerings include: 

  • Weekly Monday Night Meditation (7-9pm)
    This is the core practice, and a great way to introduce yourself to meditation. The evening begins with a forty-minute meditation, followed by tea and a participatory talk. The evening finishes with chanting and singing.
  • First Monday of the Month, Meditation Class (6pm–7pm)
    Whether you’re new to meditation, or curious to explore and learn, this introduction to meditation is for you. Free and open to the public.
  • Sunday Mornings at the Creek (10:30am–noon)
    Meditation, conversation, and community to welcome the new day.
  • Koans and the 12 Steps (Every Second Friday of the Month, 7pm–8:30pm) A monthly meditation meeting discovering how 12-Step practice and Koans influence each other. No experience required in either 12 Steps, Koan practice or meditation.
  • Meditation for Anyone classes
  • One Day, Five day, and Seven Day Retreats both on and off site, including: Where Have you Been?, A Zen Seder: Eating and Drinking to Awakening, and Intensive Meditation and Koan. 

 For more information info contact, or call 707.544.0540.


Photo courtesy of Pacific Zen. Used with permission.

The tenth-century Zen master Yun-men said, “See how vast and wide the world is! Why do you put on your seven-piece robe at the sound of the bell?” (Yes, this is a koan we have reflected on.) I find that when not preoccupied by the fine details of my spiritual practice, I can better see what’s really important. I’ve found support for this point of view in the philosophy and community at Pacific Zen. I invite you to reflect, and see if the simplicity of this way moves you.

by Jim Marcolina