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

– from Bearing Witness by Bernie Glassman


A street retreat is a plunge into the unknown. It is an opportunity to go beyond imagined limits. It’s the barest poke at renunciation.  Participants live on the streets with no resources other than their true nature, begging for money, finding food, shelter, bathrooms.  By bearing witness to oneself on the street, prejudices and boundaries are seen more directly, and the opportunity arises to recognize our common humanity. It is a way to experience our interconnection and realize our responsibilities.


Street Retreat Logistics

Participants  will be together almost all the time, breaking into packs for short periods during the day, always secured by buddies. Participants meet twice a day for meditation, liturgy, and sharing circles. Nights are spent together as a group.  Partial time participation is not an option– all participants are expected to join for the entire retreat.


Retreat Guidelines

• Do not shave or wash your hair for five days before the retreat. You will begin your street experience before leaving home.
• 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. Wear old clothes, as many layers as you feel appropriate for the time of year. Bring a light blanket that will roll up–or you can wear it.
• Bring some kind of rain gear such as a poncho, preferably something old or makeshift.
• 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 state I.D.
• Do not bring any money, credit cards, illegal drugs, alcohol, weapons, or cellphones.
• Do not wear any jewelry, including earrings and watches.
• Bring no books or conveniences or personal items such as a toothbrush.
• Prescription medications are fine.
• You may bring a plastic water bottle if you like or you can grab one from a trash can.
We will sleep on the streets and avoid shelters, so as not to take beds away from those in need.

Before the retreat, we will conduct an orientation for all those attending. You will meet your street cohorts and facilitators. We will discuss what to expect, but the unexpected will be the main teacher on the street.


Mala Practice

You must ask friends, family, and associates to support you on this journey: we beg right from the beginning. You must explain to them your reasons for wanting to attend. You will be surprised at the results. We encourage you to report back to your donors after your experience, thus returning the gift.


Street Retreats are offered periodically by Zen Peacemakers teachers and affiliate groups.  Visit our members’ site for a list of all coming events.

To learn more about bearing witness to homelessness, read Bearing Witness: A Zen Master’s Lessons on Living a Life That Matters by Bernie Glassman. Available used and in a Kindle edition from Amazon.