The Zen of ACRL Immersion

people sitting in a circle

In Zen Buddhism a sesshin is a period of intense practice of Zen and meditation that typically last 5-7 days. This reminded me a lot of my Immersion experience this weekend. In Zen you are trying to maintain the utmost concentration on your practice, and the same is true with Immersion. Teaching librarians have the opportunity to concentrate on nothing but teaching and learning for 4.5 days.

Normally life consists of rushing from one thing to the next with little sustained focus, but at Immersion we got to concentrate solely on teaching. Even during the informal, social parts of Immersion we were jokingly refering to “teachable moments,” and “what lesson did we learn here?”

At sesshin there is also a significant amount of discomfort that occurs. Your legs and body can get very sore from doing extended sitting meditation, you can get completely exhausted doing all night meditation, and even get hit from monks using a flat wooden stick called a keisaku.

Now our amazing faculty members weren’t whacking us with sticks, but there is a certain amount of pain and dismofort at Immersion too. You can get really tired (I took a nap under my desk like George Constanza). You are required to prepare and deliver a short speech in front of your peers, which can make people very nervous. And you are constantly challenged in different types of less than confortable learning activities such as elevator pitches, skits, and even an addition of battledecks this year. But in both Zen and Immersion this discomfort is to serve a higher purpose. Getting out of your confort zone helps you improve and become a more successful person and teacher.

Finally in Zen there is sometimes an elightenment experience that occurs after all the intense practice and concentration and Immersion is similar. We discussed “Aha!” moments, and I know I had a couple of those. I also heard several people saying (me included) that there were points later in the week when things started to all come together. Different pieces like assessment and learning styles began to make sense as a more coherent whole and we could see information literacy in a new light.

I do feel that I am more info lit enlightened and I’d recommend ACRL Immersion to librarian who has to do teaching in the classroom. It wasn’t all work. We had time to go out and blow of some steam too. I also made a lot of new friendships. It might not be for everyone but it is a great program if you’re serious about information literacy and want to push yourself to become better.

Andy Burkhardt


  1. Great post, Andy. I recently started my practice (have not yet participated in a sesshin) and really like this analogy. Sounds like many of the same experiences in attending an offsite for work in the corporate world as well.

  2. Thanks noel! I’m glad you found the analogy helpful. I think both experiences are designed to push you to your limits to see what you can really do. We don’t often get those experiences and I think testing our limits is what helps us to grow. It’s at that fringes where true learning happens.

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