Street Retreat Helsinki – Finland, September 6-9, 2017




Street Retreat, Helsinki
September 6-9, 2017
Led by Roshi Frank De Waele
Retreat Coordinator:  Mikko Ijäs
To Sign up:  Please email Mikko Ijäs :





A street retreat is a plunge into the unknown. As a spiritual practice, it was designed by the American Zen teacher and social activist Bernie Glassman.
A street retreat is an opportunity to go beyond our imagined limits. We will live on the streets of Helsinki with no resources other than our true nature, experiencing being on the streets first-hand, having to beg for money, find places to get food, shelter, to use the bathroom, etc.  By bearing witness to living on the streets, we begin to see our prejudices and boundaries directly and to recognize our common humanness. It is a way to experience our interconnection and realize our responsibilities.
By taking ourselves out of the ordinary routine and plunging into the unknown, we are willing to go into a situation that provides us with in-depth practice. We enter into life situations without preconceived notions of what “should” be or what “might” happen. We open ourselves fully to whatever experience presents itself, to see what is really there without judgement or evaluation and to learn that whatever we need is right there and available to us. By bearing witness to the joys and the sufferings of the world, we can heal the alienation from ourselves and others we sometimes experience, inspiring us to the ‘right kind of action’. Past participants found living on the streets without money or certainty to be a deep and moving experience.

“When we go… to bear witness to life on the streets, we’re offering ourselves. Not blankets, not food, not clothes, just ourselves.”
– Bernie Glassman, Bearing Witness


Helsinki Street Retreat Preparation
Meeting Point: Exact location will be announced later.
Duration: The retreat starts on Wednesday September 6. at 11am and will end on Saturday September 9. at 1pm with a for-the-road lunch at a local restaurant.


Street Retreat Logistics: During our street time we will beg for food and money, we will visit some local homeless projects and go to breadlines, food pantries and cafes for homeless. We will practice council circle, liturgy and moments of silence every day. Our group will be together almost all of the time, breaking into packs for short times during the day and always secured by buddies. We will eat and sleep together.
At the beginning of the retreat, our contact person (a member outside the retreat) will collect everyone’s extra personal belongings (money, cell phone, etc.) in safe keeping. After that we will meet and discuss what to expect, but the unexpected will be our root teacher on the street.
During our time together we don’t do anything that is dangerous or illegal. The local police has already been briefed on our retreat.


Registration is absolutely necessary and closes on September 4th. Partial time participation is not an option. You can only join for the entire retreat.

Frank De Waele

Because a street retreat is an intense and demanding practice, participants need to be in a healthy bodily and mentally condition. At the start of the retreat Roshi Frank will have everyone fill in a confidential questionnaire regarding this and sign a declaration of personal responsibility and liability.
In case of urgency you can reach us during the street retreat, by leaving a text message on the mobile number of the coordinator.


Retreat Guidelines:
* Do not shave, nor wash your hair for three days prior to the retreat. This will also start your street experience prior to leaving home.
* Wear old clothes, as many layers as you feel appropriate for the time of year, and do not bring any change of clothes for the retreat duration, except, possibly, for an extra pair of socks. Be prepared for weather extremes.
* Wear good, but not new, walking shoes. We walk a great deal.
* Bring one piece of Photo ID only – your Driver’s License or a government issued I.D. with your picture on it.
* Bring a Poncho for rain. Mandatory.
* Do not bring any money, bank cards,  illegal drugs, alcohol, weapons, knives, or cell phones. Do not wear any jewelry including earrings, bracelets and watches.
* Besides the clothes you are wearing bring only an empty bag (shopping, plastic) or small (not new) day pack for collecting food from shelters, etc. Women may bring one change of underwear and intimate hygiene products.
* You should not bring any books, diaries, pens, conveniences, etc
* Necessary prescription medication of course is permitted.
* Bring a sleeping bag or a blanket.

It is possible that due to the situation these guidelines and agreements for the street retreat are adapted on the spot.


Raising Donations – a ‘Mala’
On this street retreat we will also be supported by social service agencies and public non-profit organizations. Since we are not truly homeless, we want to make donations to those who will be supporting us. On all the street retreats organized by the Zen Peacemakers, a donation has been requested of the participants in order to be able to offer donations to the social service agencies that support us.

Prior this retreat we ask that each participant begs for 250 euros from family, friends, associates or just on the street. This money will be distributed to those social service agencies that have helped us.
Once you have raised these funds, please contact Mikko Ijäs to receive details on transferring these funds into the safe holding account. Towards the end of the retreat we will, as a group, decide to which organization(s) most of the funds will be donated. Some of the money will cover the expenses and a small fee will be assigned to Roshi Frank De Waele.
It is extremely advisable for not to use your own funds for this purpose. We need to humble ourselves and explain to others our reasons for participating and beg for their support. This is a challenging experience. It is suggested that you ask at least five people, but more would be great.
In Zen Buddhist practice this is called ‘Assembling a Mala’ – which is a string of prayer beads. If you assemble a Mala of 18 or 108 beads, for example, you could beg proportionate donations for each bead. Your mala could also be, say, five or ten beads. Sincerely promise your donors that they will be traveling with you on the retreat and you will personally tell them about your experience when you return home. It is a lovely gesture to label the beads with your donors’ names and wear them during your time on the streets.
To give others the opportunity to give is a true gift. When we are truly and selflessly motivated, people will support us. Trust in this all your life.

Thank you for considering joining us on this retreat. There will be a group of about 15 in our group including Frank and Mikko, so please let us know if you intend to start raising the Donations necessary to register.

You can read more about street retreats in Bernie Glassman’s book ‘Bearing Witness’.

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