Posted in zen center

Zen Regrets

I lived in Lawrence, Kansas from 2001 to 2004.

It’s about an hour away. I lived there because I went to college at KU. Some people say college was the best time of their lives. That is not true for me. But that’s okay. The best time of my life is now.

It was during that period that I became really interested in Buddhism. I started doing a lot of reading and study and I quickly learned that Zen was my favorite.

I’m telling you all this to tell you that I didn’t go to the Kansas Zen Center. It would have been simple for me to do when I lived in a place with a Zen Center and I didn’t go. But one day I almost did. It was 2003 ( I think) and I learned about it and I went there. But I didn’t go in. There are a few reasons for this.

One is that it was a house. I saw it was a house and for some reason that bothered me. I’ve learned that I’m not the only one, it’s actually pretty common that people are scared off when Buddhist temples are in houses. I don’t know why, really. Maybe something about a house is less welcoming. Also, it didn’t have a clear sign, or at least I didn’t see one. I know it has a big clear sign now.  I told myself it might not be the right place and I’d be really embarrassed if I went to the door and it wasn’t. I had so much social anxiety. We tell ourselves nonsense sometimes, to avoid taking steps we know we should take.

Another reason is that I was really anxious. Going by myself to a place like that was too much for me. I’ve always had some anxiety problems, but those first few years after my mother’s death…whew they were bad. Being in an unfamiliar place, meeting people…scary. It would be some time before I’d come out of my shell enough to meet other Buddhists.

That sounds very silly to reflect on now, but if you’ve been around a spiritual community you know that people rarely go alone, at least the first time.

I didn’t have anyone to go with and that was a powerful excuse.

I’m emphasizing that because that’s an excuse a lot of people use and something communities are always going to struggle with probably.

How can we be so welcoming that people will be comfortable enough to come alone? I don’t have an answer fort hat.

Anyway, this is on my list of regrets. I should have gone in. I’ll never know how that would have played out. By the time I was ready, I didn’t live in a city with a Zen Center anymore, so I had to go somewhere else.

I met a lot of nice people at the Rime Buddhist Center. I even met my partner Alicia there. I’m building a life with her and that’s wonderful. I ran the Sunday School program for four years. I went through the Meditation Instructor Training Program. I even had the opportunity to teach a class there once (but only once). I got a lot out of my time there, so I could never regret it.

I made a lot of friends there, but maybe it was never really a good fit for me.

I don’t believe in magic and spirits. I don’t judge people that do, but that is simply not me. I’m not into offerings and I’m really not into visualization meditation either.

I tried to make the Rime Center fit for a long time. But ultimately a situation came where I didn’t feel welcome anymore. I wasn’t forced out but I was pushed just enough to make my days as the only zen guy at the Tibetan temple come to an end.

I don’t miss the Rime Center much but I do sort of wish my teaching efforts had the support and encouragement of some community in the city. And I think there is something to having a place to go and people to encourage you in your practice. I do wish I still had that.

But the truth is I’m a Zen Buddhist, not a Tibetan Buddhist. What I really want is to practice with people who are interested in the same teachings and teachers that I’m interested in.

This wasn’t hidden in the time that I went to the Rime Center. People knew I was a Zen Buddhist. Sometimes people would ask me really specific questions about Zen. Once in a while people from those days when I went to the Rime Center still do.

Sometimes people ask me what they should do if they live in Kansas City and they’re interested in Zen.

I don’t really have a good answer. I think the Kansas Zen Center is a good place, it’s just an hour away. I didn’t know until recently they have a group that meets at Unity Temple weekly. If you’re free Tuesday nights, I think it’s probably a good group. But that’s not the same as Kansas City having our own local center. It’s part of a community that’s an hour away, not here.

I think the Columbia Zen Center is probably a good place too. It’s 2 hours away.

But I wish I had a good answer.

Do you want to study and practice in the Zen tradition with me in Kansas City?

Send me a message and let me know. Maybe we can figure something out together.

 

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want to come meditate with me?

7/1/19: 7:30pm

Monday Night Meditation

Nelson Atkins Museum – South Lawn

4525 Oak Street

Kansas City, MO

This is a public event. We’re meditating on the lawn of the Nelson Museum, just south of “The Thinker” statue. I’m going to give a short talk and a bit of guidance, then we will sit together. Tell all your friends.

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Posted in fountain city meditation, podcast

On Community

I didn’t intend to start a community and I’m not sure if I have.

I created Fountain City Meditation as a project because I was inspired to serve others by providing meditation instruction and encouragement. People need a lot of encouragement in meditation practice, I think. And if I can reach people that aren’t being reached right now, that’s even better. I think many meditation communities might not be as focused on encouragement as they could be. People need a support system for their practice and to me THAT is the central role of a meditation/spiritual community.

I was teaching in a Buddhist community here in Kansas City for a while and then one day I wasn’t anymore. That’s not something to get into here except to say that my inspiration to help and encourage others didn’t just go away, so I spent time thinking about what I can do.

I have considered asking some of the other wonderful communities here in town if they’d be willing to bring me on as a teacher, to work together. But so far I haven’t asked. I have a fear of rejection, I think. Teaching in an established community would be pretty great though. Insecurity is a weird thing.

I recorded an episode of my podcast Scharpening the Mind with my friend Daniel Symes on the subject of community because I think it’s an interesting subject. You can listen to that podcast here:

Spiritual Community, with guest Daniel Symes

Is Fountain City Meditation a community?

I tried to create a situation where people come meditate with a minimum of baggage. We’re outside, so some of the intimidation of entering a new place isn’t there. Some people just come once, and some people come over and over. Some people come alone and some people bring friends. Many of the people that come just do the sitting practice and leave, without talking to anyone. I think that’s really great because I’m happy to welcome the most introverted among us. I think a lot of really shy people stay away from spiritual communities because they’re nervous about meeting new people. I know that when I first became interested in meditation practice, I had some issues around being reluctant to go meet people.

You don’t have to meet anyone to come to Fountain City Meditation.

Also, there’s no religion or ritual attached to what we’re doing.

I call it meditation without baggage. My hope is that people who are devoutly religious (of whatever kind) and people who don’t like religion could be equally comfortable coming to one of these events. I’m hoping that by doing outdoor events I can attract people who, for various reasons, don’t really want to go to temples or yoga studios or other traditional settings. Going inside an unfamiliar place can intimidate people too.

There’s no membership, I’m not trying to sell anything and I don’t even ask for donations. The great thing about meeting in a public outdoor space is that it doesn’t cost me anything (there are downsides too, of course) so I don’t need to take donations. All I’m spending is my time.

That might not seem like a big deal, but I know some people stay away from communities because they feel guilty when donations are being accepted. I want to reach people that feel weird when they hear the word “donation”.

I wanted to create a situation where all the things that scare people off or make people reluctant aren’t present.

I’m not sure if I’m achieving that, but I do think there are people that are interested in meditation that aren’t being reached by traditional efforts.

 

If we’re a community, we’re a community full of non-joiners.

Non-joiners could use some encouragement too.

Is Fountain City Meditation a community? I think that’s not up to me.

It’s up to you. What do you think?

weird

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want to come meditate with me? You can here:

Upcoming Events

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A while back I wrote an article for Patheos on the subject of Buddhist communities. You can see it here:

Close Knit Sanghas? | Patheos.com

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I created an all new website for Fountain City Meditation.

If it’s going to grow and be a community, it deserves it’s own website. This is still very much a work in progress, but have a look:

https://fountaincitymeditation.com/

and click here for my newsletter:

Newsletter

Posted in zen

Zen Failure?

I ran a Zen sitting group at the Rime Buddhist Center for two years. At least I think it lasted two years…

Anyway, it started right after my divorce. I was a wreck and I asked for the opportunity.

The main reason I did this was so I’d have something to do Monday nights.

I love this old Zen story:

STUDENT: Master, I am feeling discouraged, what should I do?
MASTER: Encourage others.

I was feeling very discouraged.

But also I wanted to see if people in this Tibetan Buddhist community would be interested in something different. As it turned out, not very many of them were interested, but that’s okay.

I want to write now about my mistakes, about how I’d do things differently if I ran a sitting group now.

I’m not going to go into detail about what our practice was, except to say that there was some sitting, some walking, and just a little bit of chanting. And also, bells and banging the wooden fish. You know, regular Zen stuff.

But, what’s significant to me now is what I didn’t do. I led this practice for two years and I didn’t give any talks. I didn’t give any talks and I didn’t open up for questions. I just handed out instructions and introduced myself and we just did the practice and went home. Now it feels like I didn’t even really try.

And that is my regret. I could have been giving talks, sharpening my teaching skills and engaging people.

So why didn’t I?
It starts with confidence. Back then I didn’t have it. I didn’t know, in spite of all my training, if I was good enough. I didn’t know if I was capable. I didn’t have nearly the level of experience that I have now.  Now I’ve given over 100 talks. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true.

But there’s more, of course.

Two of the people that came to my sitting group are students of a Zen Priest that they travel to go retreat with. And I was glad to have them. They helped me design aspects of the practice and lead chants. They were so very helpful. And at some level I thought it wouldn’t be okay for me to be giving talks because they already had a teacher and it wasn’t me.

Sometimes our minds really lead us down weird paths and when try to follow what we were thinking it’s hard to understand.

Looking back it’s so weird to me that I felt that way because I think they would have liked seeing me give talks. I was just…well, timid, I guess.

And, of course, once I spent a few weeks not giving talks…well, inertia took over. It was too late to change what I was doing. Or at least it felt that way.

Anyway, people would come and not come back. Some of that is, of course, curiosity. But I often wonder if some of those one-time visitors might have come back if they had been able to hear a talk or I had been better in some other way.

Ultimately the group didn’t really grow. There were even some nights where I sat alone. Attendance was not good and it kept getting worse.

And really it’s because I was afraid to teach. I didn’t have the confidence that I have now.

 

So it feels like those two years were wasted. But maybe they helped me prepare in some way.


 

I’m not leading a sitting group anywhere now.

But if you want to see me, please look at my Events Page

 


and if you want me to come give a talk at your event or your temple…please, let me know.

 

Posted in buddhism

Retreats with Someone Else’s Hero

I’ve gone on a lot of weekend retreats over the years, with probably a dozen or so teachers.

These teachers come to visit the Rime Center in Kansas City. They come from a wide range of traditions and they have a wide range of teaching styles. This is a good thing because people can try to find what they’re looking for. (although I wish a Roshi or Shastri would come lead a retreat in Kansas City, but that’s a topic for another time.)

Weekend retreats are a good idea. That’s not what I’m writing about here. I’m writing about the teachers. And I hope everyone knows I’m not being critical…or if I am, the one I’m being critical of is myself.

You see, I went on numerous weekend retreats, I think I spent somewhere in the range of 50 days on retreat if you add it all up. It took me a long time to realize what was happening. Practicing with these teachers was almost always like meeting someone else’s personal hero. Is it any wonder I felt out of place?

(I said almost always because some of them were not quite that way. I’m talking about a majority of these experiences but not all of them.)

So many times I would hear about how great a teacher was and I would see people be really excited and…well they were fine. They weren’t bad, but just not what I’m looking for.

Although, as a really honest aside…I do sometimes have to wonder if other people are way better at understanding teachers with thick Tibetan accents than I am.

So, I stopped going on those weekend retreats. Rather, I stopped having the blanket view that I should go see ALL the visiting teachers. Because I don’t need to meet someone else’s personal hero. I’m glad your hero is here to lead a retreat for you. That is wonderful.

I think we need to ask ourselves why we’re doing the things we’re doing all the time. I think this is especially true in our spiritual practice. And if you find yourself sitting with a teacher who doesn’t mean anything to you, ask yourself a simple question.

Am I doing this because I want to or because I’m supposed to?

If I can’t travel to teachers that I want to retreat with and they also aren’t coming here, well I can always just retreat on my own. That’s what the Buddha did. That was the beginning of Seung Sahn’s practice too. Retreating alone is powerful.

Not that I think all of that time was wasted. I don’t. But the sitting meant more than the teachings almost every time.

And maybe I should have known better from my personal experience.

Back in 2012 and 2013 I was a Zen Monk in the Five Mountain Zen Order. I left because I didn’t connect with my teacher at all. He was not the teacher for me. I could have stayed and tried to stick it out until I received inka, transmission to become a teacher myself, but I didn’t. I considered that and it didn’t feel right.  I also could have asked the Order to assign me another teacher, but I didn’t even think of that possibility until much later. I’ll never know if that would have worked. I left instead (I don’t think they’d let me go back if I tried). Thankfully I found some really patient teachers online who would supplement my monk training with other  teachings to complete my training as a Zen teacher…

Of course our training is never really complete, is it?

Anyway, I had that experience where I knew a teacher wasn’t right for me and I backed out.

But for years I went on weekend retreats with someone else’s personal hero. Because I felt like I was supposed to go on these retreats. I’m not doing that anymore.

I’m only going on the retreats that my practice requires, instead of all the retreats that are available.

I think a lot of people are like me and have spent a lot of time practicing with teachers who aren’t very meaningful to them.

Don’t look for any teacher you can find. Look for the right one.

And for a while, maybe we can just be our own heroes.

 

 

Posted in videos

I’m Trying to Be Openhearted. Don’t Bother Me. (video)

This teaching was recorded on 10/23/17 in my home in Kansas City Missouri. It’s about my experience volunteering with the Rime Center group and some visiting college students at Harvesters. But, really it’s about those experiences in life when we are closed off from the people around us for no reason. Let’s be open instead.

I’m Trying To Be Openhearted. Don’t Bother Me.

Posted in rime center

A Chapter Ends

I am no longer going to run the Dharma School at the Rime Center.

I have enjoyed running the children’s program at the Rime Center very much. I have met wonderful Buddhist teachers of many traditions (Maezen was my favorite). My association with the Rime Center Dharma School has also helped me become friends with other Buddhist parents.

I’ve heard that if you want to learn something, try teaching it to someone else. That has been my experience. Teaching in Dharma School has forced me to learn a lot more about Buddhism than I might have otherwise. Planning lessons, reading stories, thinking of new and innovative ways to present teachings; I’ve had to do these things a great deal and it’s really given me a better grasp of Buddhist teachings than I had before I started.

For three years I’ve been teaching children how to meditate. People that ran this program before me didn’t put as much effort into the meditation part as I have. Children CAN sit still and meditate. And some of them actually want to.

I’ve also been teaching them values. The six perfections: generosity, virtue, patience, diligence, concentration and wisdom, have been my road-map for teaching.

The kids have helped me develop those values in myself too. (especially patience). And a seventh one: Adaptability. I have had to learn to be so adaptable in this position because many things don’t go as planned.

SO,

I’m writing this because I am leaving this position.

I have been doing it for three years, which means I’ve been doing it longer than anyone else has.

It’s not because I don’t enjoy it. It’s not because my time is precious and I don’t want to volunteer anymore.

It’s because it feels like the right time. It’s because I need to get out on a high note, before I get burned out and start to be bad at this. It’s because my daughter Nissa has told me she’s had as much Buddhist education as she needs. And it’s because I’ve found a replacement that I think will do a better job than I have. I think that’s the goal of any leader or manager. To find someone better to take their place.

Her name is Leslie and I wish her the best of luck.

This has been a big part of my life.

What comes next for me?

I’ll let you know.