Watercolor and found poem by Sarah Fleming, inspired by “Body and Mind, Ocean and Waves” from the GBZC Sutra Book (downloadable here).
What I most appreciate about Zen practice and GBZC is the generous spirit of tolerance for inevitable error.
I remember one morning, I'd messed up and behaved in a way I regretted just a little later.
I came into the Zendo that evening, still a little upset, and Kate Hartland gave a Dharma talk. She discussed playing tennis (!). She spoke about horribly muffing an easy shot -- and then thinking that there will be a lot more balls to hit. Hugely helpful.
Two relevant quotes:
"The way is wide and forgiving" (James Ford)
"A Zen master's life is one continuous mistake" (Dogen Zenji)
... and a Zen student's life too.
I think the word that best captures my experience of coming to GBZC is “freedom.” Here I have discovered an open and accepting community where I have felt free to discover and manifest my deepest truth. GBZC has provided me with a strong but unselfconscious container that has safely held my practice, while giving it wings.
Simply put, this practice and the GBZC community keep my heart open. Here I learned that an opening of the heart is not always neat and convenient, like taking a lid off its matching container. The heart also opens via breaks and bursts - from love, loss, achievements, failures, and whatever the world sends our way. It might sound strange, but I'm so grateful to just sit somewhere with this understanding, and to know that every other beating heart in the zendo is opening too.
When I first came to Zen, the bowing, chanting, and incense seemed very foreign to me. But “The Five Remembrances” we recite during the sutra service hit home. “I am of the nature to grow old,” we say together; “I am of the nature to have ill health…to die.” My thought was, “Here’s a group of people who face the facts!” What’s more, I noticed, they didn't seem to be at all grim about it. I decided to stick around.
PERMEABLE—that was the word in my mind as I woke up. Isn’t it odd how dreams offer answers, if we’re quick enough to snatch them when our eyes flicker open? “Permeable” offered me an answer to a question I’d been asking myself: “How can I describe what it is, exactly, that I’m appreciating about GBZC?” The word brought back memories of seventh-grade science, of learning how the littlest living beings, cells, stay in relationship with their world. I liked this truth of permeability. It turns out Adrienne Rich liked it too. In an essay called “Permeable Membrane,” she described the relationship between art and society, poetry and politics, writing, “There is [a] continuous dialectical motion. Tides brining the estuary. River flowing into sea.” GBZC seeks out that continuous dialectical motion. It wants the world to come into the zendo, and for us to go out into the world. It wants to be permeable.
I appreciate that permeability in the formation of the POC and LGBTQ sitting groups, in the anti-racist work done in the Turning Toward circles, in the personal, political topics that get brought into the dharma dialogues, in the quick response the teachers give when someone points out some way that oppression or bias has shown up in the liturgy book. Now that GBZC has moved to Central Square, I think our challenge is to become even more permeable. GBZC must be even more like poetry, as Adrienne Rich describes it: “never merely unto-itself, free-floating, or self-enclosed,” but rather, “radical, meaning, root-tangled in the grit of human arrangements and relationships: how we are with each other.”
I’ve only been a member of GBZC a couple of years, but it seems far longer. As I’ve extended my understanding of what “sangha” means, I’ve been realizing that sangha includes a very large family, such as the trees near me that are now becoming familiar though I’ve walked by them for years. This fall I’ve occasionally found myself doing walking meditation without intending to—and when I’m paying attention, this has grown into walking by looking up rather than at the ground as I tend to do. I’ve been seeing the tops of trees, their whole bodies, how different each is, how each moves differently in the breeze. Some are becoming friends, especially the very old, massive ones, each with a distinctive personality, though I don’t know their species, or what tree-being is like. They support me in my walking practice just as I hope I support them in their treeing. Now I’ve begun seeing the tops of buildings, and the backs of houses with huge additions. So many things I didn’t know about my neighborhood are becoming present to me, adding to my increasing sense of sangha-richness and depth. I notice the mornings when I forget to be present, lost in what are often just thought-loops or memory tapes. Sometimes I wake up, sometimes not—but then zazen is like that.
GBZC invites us to bring our whole lives into practice (come as you are, in each moment), and invites us to bring practice out into the world in a way that cultivates porousness: nothing need be “outside” this path. Sometimes I think of the door as that which lets the sea in and out. I love the way we move from silence and stillness in Zazen, dropping away of illusory notions that “self” is the center of the universe which reveals something much more intimate, to voice in Dokusan and the closing circle—this interweaving of silence and voice, of noticing interconnectedness and speaking from “I,” creates more spaciousness in the heart for the universe. In this porousness, we see how things are both distinct with their own integrity, and how there is “just this one thing.” How paper is the ghost of trees, and yet paper is also the tree—everything imbued with presence. Perhaps what I love most about the GBZC community is emphasis placed on the heart’s holding in the midst of impermanence and mortality— honoring the heart’s openness and brokenness, and broke-openness— which I find ultimately permission giving, to drop armor. During one dharma talk, Josh spoke about how, in Zazen, thoughts arise and disperse like bubbles coming up from the bottom of the ocean. These bubbles vary in size, and they vary in how long they stay before dissolving, but thoughts are natural in this way— just rising and falling as bubbles. When they spoke this, I recalled how sometimes in life I have felt like I am holding my breath under water. Listening from the cushion, I pictured myself sitting at the bottom of the ocean. Then they said, “where we *are* the ocean,” and it was revelatory to me, suddenly to be the moving water. Living more as the ocean rather than as a being a separate enough to hold her breath beneath it has changed my life— now I breathe more fully, where the breath, too, is a door that sweeps the sea in and out.