Getting Started

First Step

If you’re interested in trying out the practice at Windhorse, simply send an email and/or give us a call. We’ll schedule your first sitting at the center in Alexander, NC, about a 20-minute drive from downtown Asheville. We ask everyone, whatever their background in meditation, to go through a basic orientation, which takes about 45 minutes.

The best time for new people to attend an orientation is usually on Sunday morning at 8:45, before the 9:30-11:30 program of zazen meditation, chanting, dharma talk, and general discussion. If Sunday doesn’t work for you, we can arrange to meet on a Wednesday or Thursday evening. The evening sittings begin at 7:00 pm, so an orientation would need to start by 6:15. Please reach out to Lani at to schedule an orientation.


Most people now use GPS to find their way, but if you need directions, feel free to call us at any point. There is a sign (built by sangha member, Mark Noble!), but GPS directions may tell you to turn off of Panther Branch Rd onto Sunberry Drive — but that’s one driveway down the hill from the entrance to Windhorse.

Clothing Protocols

Please wear clothing that is reasonably modest, loose-fitting (jeans not recommended), and subdued in color, free of distracting words or patterns. Also, we have brown sitting robes people may borrow if they wish, but outside of sesshin no one is required to wear a robe.

Cushions and Mats

We have many sitting cushions at the center, as well as benches and chairs. You are also welcome to bring your own cushions — ideally black or brown, if possible, to blend in.

Your First Six Months with Windhorse

Your first six months participating at Windhorse is considered an initial “trial membership” — a trial in the sense that you can feel out the place, the practice, the teachers, the community, and most importantly, to see if you have an affinity with our style of dharma work. During this time, you can attend dokusan with the roshis and participate as fully as you wish during weekly programs. Although no formal financial commitment is required, it is nonetheless appreciated and appropriate to offer regularly some kind of donation.

Becoming a Formal Member

After the six month trial period, we ask people to make the decision whether to apply to become a formal member of Windhorse. Anyone with questions or concerns about making this commitment should feel free to discuss those concerns with the teachers or staff. Membership does involve some kind of financial pledge, although there is no set amount. How much you chose to contribute financially depends on your situation and is up to you. All donations are used to support the programs at Windhorse, in addition to bills like mortgage, electricity, etc. Without any large endowment, such support is obviously essential for the center to continue. 

There are other ways to contribute to Windhorse. Those who wish to become members and are without financial resources can work out some kind of work exchange. Please feel free to communicate regarding individual needs and possibilities. What is vital in all this is the spirit of a person’s engagement and support, not only for the time in the zendo, but also for the well-being of the sangha as a whole.   

Formal Membership: Dokusan and Sesshin 

For all of the reasons mentioned above, and because of our larger numbers on Wednesday evenings, we have decided that dokusan (confidential one-on-one meetings about one’s practice with a teacher) outside of sesshin will be offered to formal members, and to newer people during the first six months of practicing at Windhorse. Those who have decided not to become members will still be welcome to participate in online and in-person sittings.

Further, we ask people to register with Lani for in-person dokusan prior to coming. With a limited number of spaces for each teacher, please keep in mind that we may not be able to accommodate everyone who wishes to have dokusan on any given evening. 

Formal members also have first priority for sesshin acceptance. Formal members also pay a reduced cost for sesshin. Non-members may also apply to sesshin; those who are accepted will of course be able to attend dokusan, since it is an element of sesshin participation. 

Becoming a Formal Student

Members who wish to become even more involved and to deepen their commitment may also explore in dokusan the possibility of becoming a formal student of one or both Windhorse teachers. If accepted as a formal student, one then participates in a ceremony with the teacher(s), involving mutual acknowledgement of commitment to Buddha (one’s own Original Nature as all dharma teachers who have brought forth and sustained this teaching), Dharma (the teaching and practice), and Sangha — which refers to the Windhorse community, as well as to the larger community of all who are working to awaken to their deepest nature, and in the largest sense, to all beings. 

This New Student ceremony affirms an already existing relationship between teacher and student, one established by working together over time. It honors a felt karmic affinity and trust, and encourages greater honesty and openness in the teacher-student connection. 

Jukai and Receiving a Rakusu

Those members who decide to formally “enter the Buddha’s family,” may participate in Jukai, the ceremony of taking the Buddhist precepts. After participating in Jukai (generally offered twice a year), and becoming a formal student, one may choose to take the step of sewing or, if necessary, ordering a rakusu — the abbreviated “buddha-robe” worn around the neck. It is up to the student to initiate the conversation with one’s formal teacher/s about receiving a rakusu in dokusan. 

The Process of Becoming Ordained at Windhorse

At the heart of ordination in our Zen lineage is the spirit for practice and commitment to the sangha which a person has demonstrated over a number of years. What we are offering at Windhorse is a three-year ordination commitment, with the possibility of extending that by renewing one’s vows. 

The first year is a novitiate period, after which a person may choose to withdraw, or to continue for two more years. Following this initial three-year period, one may make another three-year commitment or, in some instances, may then make an on-going lifetime commitment. 

At the center in Clearwater, for example, group leader Jeff George, having completed his initial three-year ordination, recently formally extended his commitment to another three-years in a special sangha ceremony with Lawson-roshi and the Clear Water sangha.

Again, the primary consideration for ordination is the spirit and maturity of practice that someone has demonstrated over time. In making decisions regarding a person’s readiness to begin the ordination process, the Windhorse teachers will take into account the following criteria: 

  • One needs to have been a formal, active member of Windhorse for at least two years. This includes various offerings of sangha support and service, and consistent participation in weekly sittings (in-person and/or online) and dokusan.
  • One needs to be a seasoned participant of Windhorse sesshins and/or Zentensives.  Attendance in two 7-day sesshins per year are required — with full time participation. 
  • As an expression of one’s commitment to Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, one needs to have received Jukai. 
  • One needs to be a formal student of one or both teachers — for a specific amount of time, determined by the teacher(s). 

A Final Suggestion

We encourage anyone interested in practicing at Windhorse to read The Three Pillars of Zen, by Roshi Philip Kapleau — Lawson and Sunya’s Zen teacher. Most libraries have at least one copy available.



Sesshin is a period of intensified Zen training, usually lasting from 4-7 days. The roots of this practice trace back to the time of the Buddha in India, when monks gathered during the rainy season for several months of secluded meditation. The primary inspiration for sesshin, in fact, lies in the example of the Buddha himself, sitting beneath the Bo tree for 7 days and nights, in his final great exertion to realize Full Enlightenment for the sake of all beings.

The Japanese word sesshin derives from two characters: setsu, meaning to unify, collect, or touch, and shin, meaning heart-mind. As these terms suggest, sesshin is a time dedicated to collecting and unifying the normally scattered mind in order to focus it inward, like a powerful laser beam, to discover the deepest truth of one’s own Self-nature, the source of all wisdom and compassion.

Traditionally the high point of Zen monasticism, sesshin has become a way for lay practitioners as well as monks to put aside all worldly concerns and dive straight into the depths of the Buddha Way. Japanese masters have stated that one can accomplish in a rigorous 7-day sesshin what would otherwise require many years of regular daily practice to accomplish. What makes such results possible is the heightened discipline of sesshin, along with a unique combination of elements that make up this mode of practice: many hours each day of zazen, or Zen meditation; daily teishos, or Dharma talks by the teacher; and dokusan (also known as sanzen), the private interviews with the teacher, taking place at least once a day.

Sesshin Cost and Dates:

The prices below include retreat fees as well as room and board for the duration of sesshin. Dana for our teachers and staying extra days before or after are not included. To find out more about staying at Windhorse outside of sesshin, click here.

The cost of sesshin for dues-paying Windhorse members is $70 per day ($490 for a 7-day sesshin).

For non-members, the sesshin price is $90 per day ($630 for a 7-day sesshin).

If you are unable to pay the full cost of sesshin, please contact the center directly and apply for a scholarship.

For those who are able to contribute more, we ask that you consider paying a “benefactor price” of an additional $100-$200. This portion of your sesshin fee is a tax-deductible donation to the center and it allows Windhorse to offer scholarships to those who cannot afford the full cost of sesshin.

*If applying after the deadline, a $5 per day fee will be added to the cost of sesshin.

*Please note: These prices do not include dana for our teachers, who are not paid a salary for their Dharma work.

Click here for a downloadable PDF detailing what you should bring to sesshin.

2024 Sesshins are scheduled for the following:

Fall 2024 7-day Sesshin: October 19-26   — Register Here

Rohatsu 2024 7-day Sesshin: December 7-14  — Register Here


Zentensive Workshop and Retreats®, held here at Windhorse, are for those who feel drawn to exploring the rich intersection of meditation and Western psychology. They offer advanced levels of training for mental health professionals interested in accessing deeper unconscious patterns, as well as for dharma practitioners who may wish to discover a greater understanding of the more hidden dimensions of the psyche.

These trainings take advantage of the natural deepening and openness that comes about as the mind quiets down – and merges this inner silence with a strong psychodynamic perspective. Intensive periods of meditation effectively mobilize the mind on both conscious and unconscious levels. This mobilization works broadly – bringing forth a complex mixture of our innate caring and compassion, along with what are often hidden layers of grief and guilt, love and anger.

As practice continues to deepen, we may see more clearly into those repression-based patterns of thinking and feeling that so often cycle through our lives, and inevitably exert a powerful impact on all that we do. Insights into these embedded energies can lead to significant change, which in turn fosters more focused and sustained meditation. This type of work can hold significance for all practitioners, and for psychotherapists, these insights and openings can have particular value in terms of their work with clients.

For a fuller exploration of Zentensives and this psychodynamic approach, click here.

 The date for the Fall (September) Zentensive is September 22-27. Register Here

Other Programs

Weekly Services

During the pandemic we have been isolating here at the center, with no in-person group sittings at all, other than with our four residents. We have also simplified our schedule of formal sittings:

Each week we have a Sunday morning program from 9:30 – 11:30, featuring zazen and an online teisho (dharma talk by a teacher) from Sunya or Lawson. We also hold Wednesday and Thursday evening sittings starting at 7:00 PM, often with dokusan (one-on-one interviews) by one or both of the roshis. Some of our morning sittings with chanting are also now being broadcast on Zoom for those who wish to join, generally from 6:30-7:45 AM.

If you are interested in participating in any of these practice periods, we strongly suggest that you subscribe to our e-newsletter, check our Facebook Page or Instagram Account, and/or check our calendar for any changes or updates.

Becoming a Formal Member

After the six month trial period, we ask people to make the decision whether to apply to to become a formal member of Windhorse. Anyone with questions or concerns about making this commitment should feel free to discuss those concerns with the teachers or staff. Membership does involve some kind of financial pledge, but there is no set amount. How much you chose to contribute financially depends on your situation and is up to you. All donations are used to support the programs at Windhorse, in addition to bills like mortgage, electricity, etc. Without any large endowment, such support is obviously critical for the center to continue.