Thursday, June 7, 2012

One Year Older

In a conversation the other day, I referred to Zen Center as a tribe. I have the sense that since human beings lived for a long time as tribal animals, something of that still abides in our mental make-up, and we feel comfortable when we are in situations which enable us to feel part of a somewhat stable grouping of people with similarly invested interests.
Or we could just say that people crave community. This is something I have heard many times over the years here, and nowhere more so than in Young Urban Zen, which is celebrating its first birthday - well officially it was yesterday, but I didn't get to shape these thoughts in time.
From the start this group has exceeded our expectations, and it continues to do so, as I am sure you will know if you read this regularly (or else just click on the Young Urban Zen label, below right). Being involved in setting it up and getting it underway will rank as one of my proudest achievements at Zen Center, and it continues to be an inspiring and energising activity each week (Monday was not untypical, in that despite having felt horribly tired during the day, come the end of the meeting, I felt completely alive).
There are probably many reasons why the group has worked as well as it has. San Francisco is a magnet city, drawing in a lot of young people from elsewhere, who then sometimes struggle to find social activities that don't primarily involve work or drinking. Some people are interested in practice but have found Zen Center a little too formal or forbidding at first; others have practised in other places and are looking for a group in this city. Some have come because their friends recommend it; others are brought to us by Google. We are focused on practice, and start each meeting by sitting zazen, but we have branched out into so many other ways of being together: retreats at Green Gulch (another one coming next weekend); work period at Tassajara; games nights; book clubs and study groups; a women's group; birthday parties and a dessert party; hiking trips; outings to ball games, yoga classes and ecstatic dance ...
Most of all, I think people enjoy having the opportunity to thrive when they get to be a part of a mindful community where the intention is for non-judgmental and beneficial interactions. Of course not everybody takes to it: we have about two hundred people on our email list, which includes most of the people who have passed through at one time or other in the last year; our largest meeting has been around fifty-strong, but then we would have a hard time fitting more into our space. I hope everyone who has been to one or more meetings has found it a worthwhile thing to have done, and that their lives have been touched by it. Perhaps some regulars who read this might want to add a comment about what the group means to them - which we may get to discuss next Monday as well. I want to acknowledge and thank Tim, Simon and Peter for their leadership of the group as well.
Perhaps here I can haul in that old expression 'imitation is the sincerest form of flattery' - just recently Kosho came to talk to me about the group, and now Austin Zen Center is launching their own version (and I like the format of that page - maybe we can borrow that from them...), which is very gratifying to hear, and I hope their experience is as rich as ours.
I have posted a few pictures of group activities in the past, but this is the only picture I know of that shows a Monday night in the Conference Center, taken recently by a visiting Japanese monk just before the start of the meeting. It may be blurry, but it captures something of the energy of the room.


Anonymous said...

Our group or sangha, while it is a fairly new community for me, is a gift in my life. The community inspires me, encourages me to continue a sitting practice and right effort. The meetings and events are moments that remind me to continually open my heart and be compassionate with myself and others. In silence, I feel loved. Being in community, I am grateful to share and witness everyone's unfolding of Beauty. And this is why I look forward to Mondays than ever before. xoxox

Shundo said...

Thank you for expressing that.

Anonymous said...

Great work on this Shundo and happy anniversary! It is extremely intimidating to walk into a ZC. Ive done it three times in my life for a first time and due to the nature of a self reflective, reserved, quiet and slightly distance seeming culture of a ZC or even maybe similar personality traits for those who come to Zen...? I feel I have experienced at all ZCs; it is hard to show up if you dont have buddy to show you around, or join you so you are two as a first timers (which many dont have) it is tough to walk in the door more or less up to folks in robes, introduce yourself and try to be part of "it".

I practice between SFZC and another ZC and I think people need a friendly warm and engaging face to feel comfortable and safe and that has to happen several times in the early parts of attending a ZC. I think your an ideal person to be that friendly face for sure in this kind of program.

I know at Saturday talks it is expressed to just talk to folks as a newbie, but I feel like robed folks, residents and so on reaching out is a better path than asking the otehr way. I am trying to help this other ZC too do something as warm and inviting as your group sounds like, so a major kudos and happy first year to you and all who are part of this program!

Shundo said...

Thank you; it is always helpful to remember how it feels to people coming in for the first time, and we do try to make ourselves as welcoming as possible these days.