Learn about the Amazing People in our ZLMC Community
Member Profile: Christian Solorzano
Tell me a little about yourself - where you were born, your family, your education, your career?
Hi—My name is Christian Solorzano, I was born in Dallas, Texas and I moved with my mom to Chicago when I was 7 years old. My family is small—I am closest to my younger brother (11 years my junior) and my mom. Growing up, I was a troublemaker, always questioning authority and trying to find my own voice. When I was a teenager, I discovered rock & roll, and this opened a new world for me. Suddenly, I was introduced to a new way of thinking and school and family became secondary. I longed for the day where I'd have the autonomy to live my own life under my own rules and pursue my dreams. I found solace in reading the words to my favorite songs and writing words of my own.
After a dreadful high school experience, I enrolled in a visual design program at DePaul University in Chicago. My college years were important and provided me with the opportunity to connect with others outside the small world I had inhabited up until then. Throughout school, I was fortunate enough to intern at various places that exposed me to the design industry; this helped me determine the type of work I wanted to do, which was help organizations meet the needs of people through digital experiences.
I've worked with clients of all sizes, from small local Chicago organizations to large national corporations. I enjoy the work I do and feel the most fulfilled when I am connecting with others on a personal level and using my skills for good. I truly believe that design should inspire and improve the human condition. My passions outside of work are Buddhism, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, cinema, writing, art, music, and photography. I'm fortunate that I get to do what I love every single day.
What is your spiritual path?
My spiritual path is patience, kindness, understanding, love, and gratitude. Simple as that. My spiritual practice informs my actions and the way I interact with the world. Over the years, I realized that I need a spiritual compass to turn to. Life is hectic and there is chaos in this world and it's easy to get tangled up in our emotions. Zen Buddhism encourages me to engage in conversations with myself and removes the desire to feel as if I always need to be in control of my situation. It's liberating to be able to detach from things that cause suffering and focus on that which I can change. There's still much work to do on my part but I look forward to the work every single day, rain or shine.
What brought you to ZLMC? Has it helped?
I joined ZLMC because I wanted to create a stronger meditation practice. It has helped tremendously and continues to do so. I find the community welcoming and peaceful. I'm nothing but thankful.
Anything else youʻd like to say?
I am glad that I am here and a part of this wonderful community. Thank you for reading.
Profile: Cuong Lu - Visiting Teacher
Cuong Lu is a Plum Village monk currently teaching with his Sangha in Holland. His new book - ‘The Buddha in Jail’ - contains Cuong’s recollections of his time as a Prison Chaplain. Cuong spoke at Sunday Morning Zen, which can be found on our YouTube channel.
Ok, let’s get right into it.
Through technology we can communicate from Holland to the United States.
Yes, it’s amazing! You live in Amsterdam currently?
I live in Gouda. You know Gouda Cheese?
Yes, it’s delicious. Is that where Gouda cheese is from?
Yes, we make lots of cheese here. Every weekend we have a cheese market where we sell all the cheese the traditional way.
You grew up in Vietnam?
What were your parents like?
My father passed away in 1983, and my mother passed away in 2004. My father almost lost everything in the Vietnam War, so we moved to a new country. It was quite hard for him. He became sick and passed away very quickly, one week after we discovered he was sick. It was quite a difficult time for me, very difficult. I was 14 or 15 years old, and I lost someone who guided me through life. I couldn’t accept that. I kept looking for my father. When I saw Thich Naht Hahn, I saw my father. I saw my teacher, and at the same time I saw my father. He told me ‘You are your father’, but I didn’t see that, I didn’t understand that. Something like that, you cannot understand by the clarity of your mind. You need to go deeper. I was too young, and I couldn’t understand my teacher, but now I do, now I do. If you asked where is your father now, I would say ‘I am my father.’ I can say ‘I am my mother’. It’s wonderful because it means I am much more than a man, I am also a woman. I am a man and at the same time I am a woman. Sometimes we cannot understand this with our consciousness, we need to go deeper. To our true nature. When we talk about true nature, we talk about the nature of everything. You cannot grasp this through an idea, through our consciousness.
Yes, it’s a kind of connection. I make a distinction between contact and connection. When we make contact with something, there is subject and object, there is me and the other person. But when we make a connection, there is no subject and no object, there is no me and no other person. In that way, you make a deep connection with the other person, and there is no separation. In this way, I can make a connection with my father, and there is no son and no father, there is no separation between me and my father. I call that connection. We often don’t make connection, we only make contact. In contact there is separation, in connection there is no separation.
The connection that you are talking about, is that a part of Buddhist practice, or is that available to anybody? How do you practice it?
I don’t see that as a practice. When I see a prisoner as a chaplain, normally I see someone who doesn’t have any practice. But I can make connection with a prisoner, it means there is no separation between the chaplain and the prisoner. In this case, there is no separation between a prisoner and the Buddha. There is also no difference between an offender and a victim. You may think I am helping the offender, but in fact I am helping the victim. It is a very different way of looking at things. The prisoner, that moment, he can feel that connection. When you are connected, you don’t judge. The way we normally see things and judge each other is absent in real connection. What we then have is only love. Compassion. In this moment. Only compassion is there. In the West we often say, ‘I think therefore I am’. This is the way we develop our knowledge, our understanding. In connection we need to say ‘I love, therefore we are.’ That’s another dimension. “I love therefore we are.’ I love you, I have compassion for you, I can feel your pain, therefore your pain is also my pain. I love you in such a way that I can feel your pain.
The word ‘Passion’ means suffering, and the word ‘Com’ is together, we suffer together, there is no separation, that’s compassion. I can see your pain as my pain, and in that way, pain is seen by me, but also by you. Suffering is only terrible when it is not visible. When it is visible, suffering becomes what we call in Buddhism the First Noble Truth. And then when I look at a prisoner, I can connect with the prisoner. This happened - we can see suffering together - ‘Wow, there is suffering’. For the prisoners, this is the first time he can see his own suffering. Because someone who has caused so much suffering to other people and to himself, he must know what it is? No! Normally a prisoner when you put him a prison, you say ‘You sit here because you have caused suffering’, but normally that is a person who does not know anything about suffering. So you understand it doesn’t work when you put him in this way. That doesn’t mean the law is incorrect, I always stand behind the law. Because when you have done something you need to go to prison, that’s correct. The problem is the prisoner doesn’t understand anything about suffering, so he doesn’t understand the punishment. Unless he can understand compassion. If you can’t show him love, he cannot understand the suffering he is causing to himself and causing to other people. That’s very funny. It means after being in prison, he will repeat the same mistake, he will cause the same suffering. So punishment has only value if we can show compassion.
If you could redesign the prison system to show more compassion, what would you change?
Most of all, we are prisoners too. We are prisoners of our thinking, of our consciousness. When you say ‘I think, therefore I am’ you must be very lonely in your thinking. What you can reach, you can be ‘I am’. We need each other to live a deeper life. So we need ‘I am’, but also, ‘You are’. When we are free, we are free from our consciousness, from our own thinking, we can let go of the truth. That’s what I often share with my own students, the dharma does not teach you the truth. The dharma helps you to be free from the truth. Normally we think the dharma helps teach us the truth, but the dharma helps us to let go of the truth. That’s why the first noble truth, is happiness. When people are able to get in touch with the truth, they can let go of the truth. When the prisoner is able to get in touch with suffering, he can let go of suffering. Nobody wants to hold on to suffering, there is only one reason why they can’t let go of suffering, they don’t see it. If I am in US, I want to share a practice, the practice where people can see the suffering of each other and let go of the judgement towards each other. So, in that way we can reduce the violence outside the prison and certainly inside the prison. And I can share that practice, and I don’t even call this a practice, it is a way of connecting. To Connect. A way to inter-be with each other. To be, and to inter-be. We are is a way of inter-being. When we talk about we are, it means ‘We Are’ with each other.
Every time I see on television about shooting at schools, I always cry. It’s terrible. There is too much violence. We can do something about that. We can stop judging each other. Because the prisoners often tell each other ‘You are a prisoner. You are!’ They are judging each other. And when I come in, I don’t judge. They say ‘Wow! It does exist. Someone who doesn’t judge you.’ There was a prisoner who came to me and said ‘I want to learn from you. I want to be your disciple.’ And I asked him, ‘Are you a buddhist?’ ‘No, I am not buddhist at all. But the way you look at me, at us, you really see us. You don’t judge. You don’t make any discrimination. The way you walk among us, it shows that you are free in your mind. And I want to be free, too.’ People are imprisoned and kept between the four walls, but most of all, they are imprisoned by their own mind, their own judgement.
How did you meet your wife, and how long have you known each other?
I decided to leave the monastery, I decided to leave that protected environment, and I decided to leave my teacher. Because I belonged to a different generation, and he belonged to a different generation. What he told me was amazing, the way he guided me is amazing. I am so grateful to my teacher, and I am still my teacher now, I am my teacher. But I am aware, I need to find the language for my own generation. I couldn’t do that in that environment. It was a very difficult decision for me. Very difficult. It looked like I didn’t want to be in the monastery - I loved to. It was a very protected environment, wonderful environment, but I left. I left with a lot of pain and suffering in me. And after I left that environment I had the feeling that I’ve lost everything. After 16 years as a monk, now you have nothing. And nobody believed in me anymore, because I left. But one person kept believing in me, and that person is my wife now. She said ‘Cuong, you will become a beautiful teacher. So I was not a very beautiful teacher yet, because I was a monk and in a certain way I didn’t complete my path yet, there was something I still didn’t understand. And in the midst of my deep suffering, one night in October, 2010, I woke up, and at that moment I experienced a deep silence, the complete absence of good and bad, right and wrong, you and me. Before, I thought as a monk you had to be good. And that was my obstacle. None of us are good or bad. Our nature is free from good or bad, you or me, right or wrong, our nature is complete - that’s our true root. Our true home. I left my home by my teacher, and after leaving that home I found my true home. I left my teacher and I found my teacher. Now, my teacher is me. My dear teacher is in me. My teacher is in there. Sometimes people say ‘Cuong, you are a continuation of your teacher’ and I say ‘No, I am not a continuation of my teacher, I am my teacher. There is no separation, there is no subject or object anymore. I am my teacher.
That is a lot of trust.
I was looking for my father, I was looking for my teacher, and I was looking for the Buddha, and I have found my father, my teacher, and I have found the Buddha. And in fact I found you. Yes? I found you and that is my trust. I trust you. I look at you and I know you are the image, your face, the face of the Buddha. Your voice is the voice of the Buddha. That is my trust. That’s why in my book I’ve said Buddhism is much more than a way of living, it is also a religion. Because I also believe. I believe in the Buddha in his wisdom, but I also believe in you. Because I have seen your nature, and your nature and the nature of the buddha is the same. Thats why I trust and believe and trust, and I’ve found you. It’s who I was looking for. I had an idea about the buddha, I was looking for the buddha, but I’ve found you. Since I’ve found you, I’ve found myself. Because there is no separation between you and me.
What were the challenges of transitioning from the life of a monastic to a lay teacher?
I feel like I am still a monk. I am a modern monk. I am a married monk. And that’s possible too. Having a wife is not an obstacle for you to be a monk. I am very happy to be able to have a normal life. So I have a wife, I have children, I have work. So I also share your difficulty of someone who has a family, who has children, and I share the same difficulty and the same happiness. As a monk I didn’t have that. For example, in the last interview for a Dutch magazine, I share about my experience of having sex with my wife. And in that moment we both share the same happiness. In that moment, it is my happiness and your happiness, so sex is a way we come together in body, feeling, in everything. And it’s a wonderful moment that we experience each other in this way. We become one. And that experience I didn’t have as a monk. And now I’m a married monk, I do have this experience. And people who do have some problem with this, they can come to me and I can listen, I understand. Because I live exactly the same life you do, therefore I know in your conditions, maybe you are married, you have children, you work, in your condition, you can be an enlightened person, you can be the Buddha.
If you are a monk, it’s harder to connect with lay people? So when you are a monk, you are practicing pure buddhism? You are not concerned with how ordinary people are living their lives? As a monk, what are you doing?
As a monk you have more time to read the sutras. As a monk you are in this protected environment, you have a teacher, you read the sutra, you listen more often to the dharma talks of your teacher. You have more time to do sitting meditation. And you, you can practice to make every step in peace. You have better conditions as a monk. I did have these conditions. I read, I studied a lot during my monkhood. I deeply practiced with my teacher. I noticed that I have discovered that a lay person can do everything a monk can do. That’s my discovery. Now I could do everything I could do before. I also read sutras, I read books, also practiced sitting meditation, can do everything, just in another way. I don’t have to sit in a meditation hall, practice meditation, but outside in a park, and sit, I’m there connected with everybody, everything, and that’s the true essence of sitting meditation. Connection, making connection. And I see that it is possible, and of course I appreciate the monastery, being with the monks, it has a very powerful energy. And we should have monasteries, we should have monks who can support us to a place we can go to get the support from people who have deep wisdom. In our early life, in our lay life, we can also live a deep life. Deep as a monk. We can and I see I can do that. That’s why I am a monk. A married monk.
So you are teaching right now, you have a Sangha in Holland. How did you become a chaplain? How did you decide to work with prisons?
Now, when I left the monastery, it was my girlfriend at the time. She encouraged me to help prisoners. I asked her why. And she said, because they suffer. They need the teaching and you have the teaching so you need to go there and help them. So I applied to come there, to work as a chaplain, and at first they said no, you cannot. We have enough people. I said, “Well then, I’ll volunteer to come and you don’t have to pay me, I’ll just come to help other people, the prisoners there.” And they were impressed by my energy so they said “Well, Cuong, we can accept you as the chaplain but you need to study for that and to get a Master’s degree to do this work.” I went to do that so I could do everything possible to help the prisoners, and they accepted me. And after a few months, the director of the prison said to me, “Cuong, I think the reduction of the violence in our prison has to do with your practice.” I said “Wow, that’s wonderful”. That was my feeling, that I think your work and your practice has to do with the reduction of violence in our prison.
And just by meditating with the prisoners, they opened up to you? Do you do interviews with them or just sit down and talk?
The first thing you need to do is to take out the separation between you and the prisoner. There’s no me, there’s no them. That’s the first thing. I think that’s the most easiest thing to do but the most difficult thing to do also. It’s a kind of non-fear because if you are judging them, and you have fear, they can feel that. You have to have the non-fear energy. A non-fear energy is an energy of compassion and of understanding. An energy of stability. And it is not my compassion, it is not my stability, it is not my non-fear. It is their compassion, their stability, their non-fear. They just don’t recognize it yet. No one has shown them that they have that energy. And when you come in and you can show them that you have this energy, along with your happiness. And what you receive from them is “Wow, I do feel that my own happiness”. And they believe you and trust you and they trust themselves. There was one prisoner that said to me “It’s funny you’re among us and the prisoners accept you, and can share everything with you, like their friend. And I know them, they are killers, they are hard criminals. They accept you, I have never seen this before. Just accept you, and you are a chaplain, and they are hard criminals and I don’t see any separation between them and you. You can say that is the secret if you want to help. If you really need to help, you have to be free from the role of being the helper. Otherwise you cannot help. If you think I am the helper, I am helping you, and you are helped by me, you cannot help. The only way you can help is to be free of being a helper. And that is what I did. I didn’t help, I came and I received a lot.
Could you talk a little bit more of the freedom and of the freedom that you mentioned? As a prisoner, how that may look. My concept of freedom is being able to go anywhere you want but obviously a prisoner, that’s not part of their understanding. As a prisoner, how can you be free?
Being free means being free of your consciousness. Because we are all prisoners of our consciousness. And consciousness here is a very small part of life. We don’t look deep enough into our consciousness. Consciousness is a very small part of yourself. You are much more than your consciousness. And right in the consciousness, you judge. You make discrimination, because the nature of consciousness is that it helps you be able to make discrimination in order to survive. To make distinction, you discriminate so you can survive. To find who is your friend and who is your enemy. That’s discrimination. That’s me, that’s you. Good & bad. And your consciousness helps you recognize, understand, you have knowledge. But at the same time, it is your prison. And the prisoners, they are prisoners of their consciousness. Of their pain, suffering, their hopelessness. And suffering because they have caused many suffering. Sometime during the night, it all comes back to them. And I help them to be free, which means I help them to be free from their consciousness. So that they can get in touch with their true nature. And true nature is not a kind of consciousness. True nature is much more than consciousness. The root of everything, the root of all of us is much more than consciousness. And when I can get in touch with my roots, I can get in touch with their roots. And in that way, I can help them get in touch with something deeper than only consciousness. And thanks to that connection, they can get rooted again. They can make peace with their parents, their ancestors, and with society. Society is also their roots. You know, you cannot fight against society. You need to make peace with society because society is your roots. You cannot be angry with yourself because you are your own roots. So I help them to be free to get in touch with their true roots. Home, true home. And I can feel that. And when they make peace with their true home, they can make peace with their wife and children. When they come out of the prison and they come home as a new person, a person who has found themselves. Who no longer is running, who no longer is suffering, and run away from suffering and who is looking for suffering. Someone who has found himself. That is freedom. Freedom means when you have found yourself. Freedom is when you have found yourself. No matter where you are you are, you have found yourself and you are free.
You talk about reframing the first Noble Truth - instead of life is suffering, or the truth of suffering, it’s the truth of happiness. And seeing suffering as maybe not as bad but as happiness, it’s a good thing to be able to see your suffering. What did you mean by that?
You know, the Buddha said suffering is the first Noble Truth. And when we listen to him, we hear him say ‘suffering’. But we forget that suffering is the first Noble Truth. Suffering as a noble truth is not exactly the same as suffering as an idea. Happiness, too. Happiness as the Noble Truth is not the same thing as happiness as an idea. You may look for happiness, I will be happy if I get what I want. That’s an idea. Suffering people might have an idea that they suffer, like the prisoners. ‘I suffer because you have done that,’ that’s an idea. I suffer because of you. That’s an idea. Suffering as a truth is not exactly the same. When you are able to get in touch with suffering as a truth you say ’Wow, this is suffering’ and you don’t even think this is my suffering or your suffering. Just see suffering as it is, as a truth. And you don’t recognize it with your consciousness anymore. You get in touch with it so deeply, that you are so happy to see it. Because it’s wonderful to be able to see your suffering. The moment you can see you’re suffering, you are free. That’s the noble truth, the Buddha said that. The person who understands suffering as the first truth, he will understand the second truth, the cause of suffering, the root of suffering, and he can understand the third truth is the cessation of suffering, and the fourth truth is the path. The one who sees the first truth will see the whole thing, the whole teaching about suffering, roots of suffering, ending of suffering, and the path. So suffering as a Noble Truth is something beautiful. Suffering is not the problem. Suffering is something to get in touch deeply with, and you are free. In a certain way, if you understand suffering deep enough as a reality and as a truth, you are touching happiness at the same. You are so happy that we all have that experience. You are angry and you can come back to that anger. We are carried away by our anger. And you can come back to it and say ‘Oh Hello, my anger’. And that is the moment of enlightenment, the moment of freedom, the moment of happiness. That’s why instead of saying suffering as the first Noble Truth, you can say happiness as the first Noble Truth. It’s not two different things. It’s one thing. You are talking about the level of roots of nature, but we often touch suffering and happiness on the level of concept. Conceptual level. And when suffering is being touched at the level of its nature, it is so wonderful. So wonderful that you can see ‘This is suffering’ and you understand that. If you don’t understand suffering, you cannot understand each other. If you can understand each other, you can be happy. If you are able to get in touch with happiness, as in the case with the prisoners, I come with the energy of happiness, the energy of non-judgement, the energy of no discrimination, and I bring the energy of happiness to them and thanks to that energy they can recognize suffering as a truth, not an idea. And they can stop it. ‘Oh this is suffering. So painful. I don’t want to do this to my self or other people. I can stop.’ And that is happiness. Suffering, the moment of discovering suffering, is always the moment of discovering happiness. So why don’t we call the first noble truth the truth of happiness?
Your experience as a chaplain, has that changed how you view the world at all? Has it confirmed what you learned as a monk?
You know, I have seen people who have caused so much suffering in their lives, to themselves and to other people. And I have discovered that in a very short time, these people can discover their true selves. They can be free, they can be happy, they can make use of the wisdom of the Buddha. They can be the Buddha. That is such a big gift for myself. To be able to witness that. I come to help, but I got so much out of it. Because I have seen and witnessed it not one time, two times, ten times, twenty times, every time, every day I’ve witnessed that. That is a big gift. And I never forget that anymore. No matter how deep you are falling, you can stand up, you can start again. You always do have that chance. And that is what I have seen.
That’s difficult. Especially around angry, hurt people. How do you maintain that sort of compassion? It’s hard not to be afraid. How does one not be afraid in the face of such suffering?
These people who are angry, who are suffering, if you look deeply in them you see that they have the best conditions to be enlightened. And I was always happy that I could see that, that they could express their anger to me, because they had trust. If you don’t have trust, you cannot express your anger, your suffering, your violence. And they could show that, the violence in their mind, the anger in their mind, the frustration, I was always happy to see that, I’d say “Wow, you trust me. You believe I can help you, and yes I can do it, I will help.” I was afraid to witness anger or frustration or fear, but I was quite happy. And I encourage people to show that, to show that to me, ‘It’s ok darling, it’s ok.’ It’s ok to suffer. Because someone who loves you will allow you to suffer. If you don’t love someone, you say ‘Your suffering, I don’t like it’, then you look for someone else who is happier. You have too much anger, too much suffering. Thats not true love. In true love there is always space for suffering. That’s why the prisoner’s suffering didn’t scare me. I wasn’t afraid of their suffering. I was happy that I could see that and I can see that, the way I received their suffering, I don’t judge. I am quite happy to, happiness is not an enemy of suffering, and suffering is not an enemy of happiness. If you suppress suffering, you never experience happiness in your life. So suffering, you do have a condition to be happy, and that is the suffering.
What are some of your passions?
I love to renew the Dharma. You can say, our consciousness is in fact like a program, it is programmed in a certain way. And the Dharma is to deprogram you. To help you to be free from the program that you think is the truth. Your consciousness does not contain the truth. It contains the programming and the dharma is a kind of deprogramming program. It is also a program that helps you be free of your programmed consciousness so that you can get in touch with a deeper reality of yourself. You can understand yourself in a much deeper way. And the Buddha did that. He offered a kind of program to deprogram your consciousness. And every time a teacher offers some renewing of the dharma, to help people of his time to be free from their consciousness, from the misunderstanding of themselves. And my teacher did that in a beautiful way, with mindfulness. When you talk about Thich Naht Hahn you talk about mindfulness. And I also wanted to renew the Dharma, to fuel my task a teacher to renew, so I want to, every day I think about how to help people tp have more freedom, more happiness in their life. Thats why I talk about happiness as the first noble truth. The concept of, the teaching of suffering as the first Noble Truth, I renew that, and I offer happiness as the first Noble Truth, and I love to do that. And I do that in my teaching, so every time I give a talk, I give a teaching, there is always something new I am sharing. You cannot repeat the Dharma, you need to renew the Dharma. That is what we call the living Dharma.
Do you have any final words as we leave the interview, would you like to share anything about the book, or that we haven’t touched on?
I am very happy that the book is published in the US. Next month in July I will come to the US, and I want to make friends. I don’t come for my book. The book is a condition to come and make friends. And I believe together we can do something. Please come to me, hold my hand. And we can do something. There is too much violence. We need to do something. And we can do something. We have the path, we have the wisdom. We have the buddha in each of us. We need to do something. And that is what I want to share with everybody. I want to say ‘Let’s just be friends.’ It’s beautiful if we have 7 billion people who are friends with each other. So I come to US with that deep wish, I want to make friends. Come and hold my hand, and let’s do something together. To reduce the violence of our society.
Profile: Susan Myoyu Andersen Roshi
Susan Myoyu Andersen, the spiritual director of Great Plains Zen Center (GPZC) studied for over twenty years with Taizan Maezumi Roshi at the Zen Center of Los Angeles. In 1978, she was ordained as a Buddhist monk and in 1995 Maezumi Roshi gave her shiho (Dharma transmission), authorizing her to become a Zen teacher. In May of 2005, Myoyu received the title of Roshi from the White Plum Asanga, an organization consisting of Dharma heirs of Maezumi Roshi and their successors.
Could you tell me a bit about yourself – Where were you born, what were your parents like? Where did you grow up and what was your education like?
I was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1950. When I was 3, we moved to Lutherville, Maryland, a (then) rural area just north of Baltimore city. We lived next door to my paternal grandmother, who had 14 acres of woods and pastures with two streams called “Little Run” and “Deep Run.” She had sheep and chickens and we often pastured other peoples' ponies over the summer. One of my chores was to feed the chickens and gather the eggs. I loved to play in the woods and so enjoyed the company of the many trees – especially the old oaks and maples.
My dad was a mechanical engineer, at one time helping to design the underground library at Johns Hopkins University. He absolutely loved to sail on the Chesapeake Bay. My mother volunteered for Meals on Wheels for many years. She had a huge vegetable garden, which she tended with organic practices and she also grew many flowers, especially daffodils. My uncle’s family lived on the other side of my grandmother’s property. He was a physics professor at Johns Hopkins and I spent many nights with him observing stars through his telescope.
I went to public school. I was smart, but very shy. Started playing the piano at about 8 and music became a passion for me. I eventually went on to music school with a major in music composition. It was actually during my time as a graduate student at U.C. San Diego that I came into contact with students of Maezumi Roshi and began to practice at Zen Center of Los Angeles.
Tell me about your spiritual journey.
Several influences in early years... I became interested in the Autobiography of a Yogi (Paramahansa Yogananda) but thought Zen and emptiness sounded a little scary. So I wasn’t actually looking for Zen. But looking back, I can see how various experiences I had contributed to where I am today: a piano teacher who talked about only music, not thoughts going through your head while playing the piano; the sound of leaves filling the entire universe as I crunched along; sitting all afternoon watching the sun gradually sink below the horizon, essentially doing nothing. Then there were the messages on records my brother and sister brought back from college – records by people like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez – raising the voices of the underserved and unjustly treated. I feel like my experiences back in those days, the 60’s, formed the foundation for the strong belief in engaged Buddhist practice that I have today.
You studied with Taizan Maezumi Roshi. Could you tell us about him, and your time at ZCLA.
So I learned about the Zen Center of Los Angeles from Joan Jo-an George, who played clarinet in some music I wrote while at graduate school at U.C.S.D. We were all sitting with a monk named Ray Jordan at San Diego State University on Wednesday nights, but soon my curiosity overtook me to meet this Zen teacher, Maezumi Roshi, that Joan and others were talking about. I accompanied her to ZCLA one Saturday morning in 1973 and somehow, kept making the drive from San Diego to LA virtually every Saturday until I eventually moved to LA-- first to the neighborhood, then to become a resident. I finished my M.A. From U.C.S.D long distance, but at the same time, became more and more involved at ZCLA: taking jukai (receiving precepts as a lay person), then tokudo (ordination as a nun), and continuing in the steps toward becoming a Zen teacher.
I lived at ZCLA from the mid 70’s through 1987, moving shortly after my son was born. I am forever grateful for those years of plunging deeply into practice surrounded by others who were doing the same. And of course to Maezumi Roshi, who, for all of his personal difficulties and harm they caused, was direct, clear and uncompromising about what Zen could offer at it’s greatest depths. Although living in a large walk in closet and making $25 per month on staff seems a strange lifestyle now, it all fit into the picture then. My life was single-mindedly focussed.
To this day, I struggle as a teacher with the challenge of creating that kind of focussed environment for students who come already with families and responsibilities. That kind of environment was very effective for deep, sustained practice. But looking back, that single-minded focus came with a cost as well. I contributed very little to the well-being and comfort of my aging parents 3,000 miles away, that role falling primarily to my two brothers who remained on the East Coast. And I was not there as a support for my multi-racial nephew as he and my sister navigated their world and when his father died when he was a young child.
It really took getting married and having my first child to re-connect me significantly with my birth family. I went to Maezumi Roshi as I was reaching 30 years of age and told him that I really wanted to have children. Can you imagine - as one of the few nuns there (and for a long time, I was the only nun living there) who was living the traditional single life – and now I said that having children was so important to me? To his credit, he was understanding, especially because he was married with children himself as a monk. So, I did marry and soon had my son, Drake. I clearly remember sitting a 7-day sesshin in my robes, 9 months pregnant.
I was nearing the end of koan study at that time (which would allow me to become a teacher). So I actually moved to Chicago so that my mother-in-law, who was not well, could meet her grandson and also with plans eventually to start a Zen Center there. Moved to Baltimore area, to be nearer my relatives and had my daughter, Rose there.
Long story short, I moved back to the Chicago suburb of Des Plaines where we raised the children. Next few years were peppered with trips back to ZCLA or Zen Mountain Center and giving Dharma talks with quotations from Richard Scarry and other children’s book authors right alongside those of Dogen Zenji. I finished the last part of koan study by mail with Maezumi Roshi (this was long before internet) and had Dharma transmission from him at Zen Mountain Center in 1995, the year he died. For me, having children opened up my Zen practice in ways few other things could have. I have boundless respect for the Bodhisattva practice called parenting and endeavor to name and honor it as a valuable part of our path for those who choose it.
Could you tell me about your organization, Great Plains Zen Center, and your role as a Spiritual Director?
My formal Zen teaching began in 1993, with a One-Day Sitting in southern Indiana. A Sangha gradually formed in the Chicago metro area and became known as the Northwest Chicago Zen Group. At first, we rented space for sesshin, but in 2004, bought property near Monroe, WI, the present location of Great Plains Zen Center. We continue to have a presence in Palatine, IL as well as affiliated groups Logan Square Zendo (in Chicago) and Beloit Zen Community also in Wisconsin. I have one Dharma successor, Gendo Wolff, Roshi who leads the Great Wave Zen Sangha in Ludington, MI. We are also affiliated with Zen Peacemakers, International as well as Justice Overcoming Borders in Beloit (and its parent organization WISDOM serving all of Wisconsin). Our organizational structure uses stewardship circles to hear all voices in decision-making and to incorporate everyone’s gifts. I see my role as a teacher to create an atmosphere of spaciousness and trust that allows students to plunge deeply into their spiritual journey from whatever their vantage point.
Could you talk about your occupation as a therapist for children with developmental disabilities?
I actually went back to school for occupational therapy when my children were young because I recognized that it would be hard for our relatively small Zen Group to support my family and my salary would have to contribute. I was fortunate enough to start my career at Marklund Children’s Home, a facility for those with profound physical and intellectual disabilities. These clients, mostly non-verbal and with extremely limited movement capacity taught me volumes about everything from abnormal muscle tone at its extreme to the ability to embody compassion even without words or actions. Their lives are as different from mine as imaginable, yet they would smile at my bad jokes and offer me unconditional acceptance and regard, qualities I still work toward giving others. At this time, I am able to devote myself full time to the Zen Center, without outside work. However, I still deeply appreciate those years of being a working, Zen-teaching soccer mom, as they help me to have more appreciation for what people’s multi-faceted lives are like.
Anything else you would like to add?
I am very excited about teaching this class with June at ZLMC about the Four Radiant Abodes. As Zen practitioners, we need to develop all aspects of our human-ness and there are many avenues to this. The Four Radiant Abodes help us open our heart, let down our guard, become more genuine and spacious with ourselves and others. And also more honest and allowing about all of the different clouds of emotion that drift through our mind and the persistent stories we tell ourselves that make these clouds seem fixed and unmovable. When we work with the Four Radiant Abodes, we can become aware of and begin to release the obstacles that stand in the way of our true heart of compassion, kindness, happiness and well wishing for others, as well as our ability to recognize that we can be present with other’s suffering, but only they can experience and heal through it.
Member: Bob Dainei Lund
I was born in Evanston, Il. on 3/25/43. My father was a tool and die maker and handyman of many talents. He worked on the atomic bomb at Los Alamos during the war and my mother worked at an insurance agency. Later, my parents bought and fixed up houses on the North Shore area and did well enough to have a comfortable retirement. My mother had a high school education and my father went through 8th grade.
I have two brothers, one living out West at Sun City and another in Texas. I was the youngest child and rather sick growing up. I enjoyed reading and playing musical instruments in the band. I played a soprano horn in a drum and bugle corps during high school. My father sang in the Catholic Church and my mother played the piano as a hobby. My childhood was relatively easy, as Evanston had good schools and few issues to hold me back.
I was graduated from Loyola University in 1967 with a B.S., majoring in psychology. I was concerned about being drafted and was lucky enough to be accepted into the Peace Corps. I ended up teaching English in Iran in a small town along the Afghanistan border. It was the best thing that could have happened to me in those days.
Upon return,I worked as a social worker for the Illinois Children and Family Services Agency, where I got my masters degree in social work. I worked for the DCFS agency for the rest of my working years and retired early in 2002.
Upon my return from the Peace Corps, I knew that I had to learn how to meditate. I was living in Chicago and attended the Buddhist temple on Leland near Wilson and Broadway. I went there for seven years until I married and moved to Oak Park. Years later, while attending the Unitarian Universalist Church, I met Joshin Robert Althouse, who was giving meditation classes at the church. I soon followed him to the house on Humphrey and the rest is history.
One of my hobbies has been playing the sitar. I spent almost 30 years learning from two Indian teachers. This was a great education for me and though I no longer play for Hindu or Muslim weddings, I still play the sitar for personal enjoyment. My most recent hobby is becoming involved in local political groups. The Zen center has inspired me to learn about racial issues and how such issues are dealt with on the community level. I have learned much about myself and find that this goal is never-ending. I am grateful for having such a rewarding life and being associated with such a vibrant group of fellow travelers.
My thanks to Ian Davis for requesting this interview.
Member: Vivienne Lund
Almost 75 years ago, I was born in Rockford, Essex, England, during a German air raid. My mother, an English lass, and my father, an American GI, had been stationed at the same base during World War II, fell in love and here I am. At the conclusion of the war, in 1945, my father returned to his hometown in southeastern Iowa, in order to build a house for his new family who remained in England. In 1946, my mother and I took the month-long boat journey to New York City in order to rejoin my father. We did not enter through Ellis Island as this was considered a military reunification and also because I was suffering from severe pneumonia. We lingered another month in New York City as I was hospitalized and once given the OK, we traveled to New Sharon, Iowa, where we settled in with my paternal grandparents until my father finished building our home. I was a very precocious child and was doted upon by my parents and family given my special birth status. However, this was not always the case. I was told by my mother that she and I were not made to feel welcome by everyone in this small farming community and considered as “foreigners.” My mother was able to link up with other war brides in the area which greatly helped. My childhood was rather unremarkable but I had loving parents and two siblings. My brother, Jim, continues to live in New Sharon. My sister, Linda, died at the age of 40 from complications of juvenile diabetes.
After high school, I attended a small Quaker college near my home by the name of William Penn. I was in the honor society and also worked as editor of the school newspaper and literary journal. I earned a BA degree in English and also got my teaching certification. I also met my first husband at Penn and together as teachers, taught in both Iowa and Michigan. I taught high school English and also facilitated the extracurricular speech department and the school plays. This career was a short one and upon our move back to Iowa, I became interested in social work. I worked with Seniors needing financial assistance both in their homes and in nursing care. After 8 years, we moved to Illinois where I eventually became employed by the Department of Children and Family Services in Chicago. During my 30 year tenure with them, I worked as an investigator of child abuse,neglect and sexual abuse cases, working closely with Juvenile Court and other private agencies. As a supervisor, I also worked with brand-new workers in the offering of services to intact families on the West side of Chicago and delivery of services to difficult to place teens who were about to age out of the department. I also acted as the department liaison to private agencies in efforts to improve communication and service delivery. I also received my Masters in Social Work degree while working at DCFS.
It was at DCFS that I met Robert Lund, my future husband and the love of my life. Our combined family consists of one daughter, Christina, who lives in St. Charles,Ill., a son, Jason, who resides currently in Janesville, Wisconsin, but who with his family, will be moving to London, in early 2019, and our youngest son, Erik, who lives in LaGrange, Il. We are blessed with 5 grandchildren and 1 great-granddaughter. They are Julian, aged 26, Jordan, 24, Brandon and Hunter, twins almost 9, Gillian, aged 6 and Aubrey, aged 3. One of our family’s highlights is an annual family retreat which has been happening now for 19 years.
I first became acquainted with ZLMC many years ago when Bob attended services at the house on Humphrey. I also attended his jukai there. I was quite attracted to the sense of serenity, inner peace and humility that I felt there and still do feel at ZLMC. Sharing with this community is very important as it has been difficult in the past for me to feel comfortable enough to talk about myself and feel safe. The concept of not-knowing has become important to me; the realization that I don’t have to have a set answer for everything is quite freeing. And I also feel so indebted to this community and its leadership, especially Robert and June, for giving me space to share my interests
in creative writing and rituals honoring the earth. ZLMC is a safe space to share what’s important to me. Meditation and koans are practices I hope to spend more time with. Will I be successful?
Success is just a word, a word with many interpretations and limits attached. Now, I am thankful for the Three Jewels in my life and start from there.
Member: Susan Keijo Sensemann
As I approach 70, I am choosing to write a bit more about my background as a reflection of my artistic and philosophical roots. I am filled with gratitude for those teachers who have come my way to show me the path toward what has been a very satisfying and rich life of exploring ideas and expressing my responses to those meandering concepts through painting, drawing, photography and of recent years, poetry and fiction.
As the only child of two wonderful and supportive parents, I had the benefits of a middle-class upbringing in a community close to New York City. My childhood sensory associations are the smell of salt water, the squirmy feel of eels in Long Island Sound where I learned to swim, and the taste of popovers at a restaurant in Manhasset. My dad, Bob, commuted to Brooklyn where he worked as a designer of steel shelving for libraries and hospitals. He did not have the opportunity to practice as an architect after graduation with a master's degree from Columbia in 1939 as the war ramped up. My mom was a homemaker who grew up on a small ranch in Oklahoma. Flo was true grit.
Bob and Flo (bob and flow, as I have said at ZLMC on more than one occasion) had unique sensibilities: my dad's art-deco inspired simplicity and my mom's innate abilities to arrange flowers for our dining table, cane chairs, braid rugs from colorful wool strands, sew all my clothes to my specifications, and present healthy foods that she cooked from scratch. Steak on Saturdays, apple pie ala mode with a sliver of cheddar cheese on autumn Sundays.
My interest in art was clear to my parents from the start and my mom drove me on a fairly regular basis into Manhattan to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the new MOMA and other cultural venues including the holiday spectacles at Radio City Music Hall. I was an overweight child who was not destined to become a Rockette, so I delved further into art, specifically painting and drawing. My fantasies of exotic locales fueled the emotive content.
My step-grandmother, Marie, married my grandfather, Harley Leroy Sensemann in the early 20s. He was a professor of English at the University of Michigan, Amherst, and Columbia and had a strong desire to travel. He took teaching posts in Egypt, Turkey and Greece and they made their way through the middle east in a pop-up camper that he built from a kit and shipped to Egypt. After his death, she lived in an apartment in Manhattan that contained many objects from their travels that are now in my home: brass and copper tables, a hookah, a cloisonné lamp from China, and alabaster vases from Italy. I have very clear memories of touching, holding and fantasizing about each object, because I had no siblings to distract me from my mental adventures. My grandmother talked with me about opera, art, philosophy and religion with the active curiosity of a good atheist and self-taught intellectual.
We moved to New Jersey when I was ten, and I was taken under the wing of a marvelous art teacher who took me to nine art galleries in Manhattan to see concurrent Picasso exhibitions. I was hooked on cubism as well as the moody works from his blue years in Paris - I was going to be a painter and travel. It seemed to me putting my ideas into visual form was a way to combine my parents' aesthetics and my grandparents' wanderlust and intellectual drive. Two high school art teachers inspired the rest of my art story: one taught courses in Tibetan Buddhism at the New School on Saturdays and taught me new ways to think, and the other saw my potential as a painter. I was slightly conflicted: majorette or beatnik, straight-A student or artist, pep rally enthusiast or painter of tortured souls and tattered old Jersey shore houses. I thought I could do it all.
Fast track: degree in printmaking from Syracuse; Tyler School of Art Rome where I fell in love with a young man and with Italy; grad school in painting at Tyler, Temple University Philadelphia; a marriage to a young Unitarian seminarian; a teaching job in at the U of I in Champaign at age 23 as "the woman;" tenure at 30; a move to Chicago with my second husband in 1979; a child, a late term miscarriage and a high-risk pregnancy; two kids; more art, exhibitions and lectures in many countries; and a raging twenty-year case of debilitating ulcerative colitis.
But, art prevailed. In 40 years of daily art practice I have explored thirty-three distinctively different bodies of paintings and drawings - various exoticisms, romanticisms, feminism, as well as gothic melodrama and baroque sensibilities. Italy and Japan have figured prominently in my research. Japan. Buddhism. Zen and questions about Japanese culture, architecture, 19th century ukiyo-e prints, ikebana, kabuki and ritual. My overriding question has been how to combine my tendency to complicate visual fields within the simplicity of Zen. My series of some thirty drawings and twenty paintings titled "Indra's Net" are a visualization of the Buddhist meditation on interconnectedness - woven complexity as both the Relative and the Absolute.
My practice and the Dharma inform every aspect of my art now. I will exhibit a new series of small paintings on paper at ZLMC in December: simple rocks floating in space that I have painted with as much patience, discipline and focused energy as three of the Six Paramitas can inspire. Life is a rich exploration of possibility.
Member: Karolis KenKai Zukauskas
1. Tell me a bit about yourself - where were you born? What was your childhood like? Where did you get your education, what is your profession?
I was born in Cicero to WWII refugees. My childhood was rather typical for a boy who grew up in Cicero in the 70’s and 80’s. You know...lots of time spent outdoors. Some occasional vice in between church visits.
I’m a community college instructor, and I have degrees from Columbia University and The University of Illinois.
2. What brought you to ZLMC?
I was diagnosed with PTSD in 2010. As I searched through treatment options, I discovered meditation, and my evolving relationship to the practice led me to the zen center. Zen practice completely changed my life.
3. You have published two books so far. Can you talk about the experience of writing them? How long did each book take to finish? Did publishing your first book change your process for writing?
Yes, and I have a third due for release in October of 2019!
Writing is a consuming, perception-altering experience for me. It’s when I safely and compassionately release my greatest fears and demons, and where I transform darkness into something else, sometimes beauty, other times just inane nothingness. My process wasn’t changed by publishing as much as it was changed by having children. I now sit down to write with a lot less “preparation” (getting in the mood with music or art) or procrastination.
4. Do you view writing as a spiritual process?
It’s enormously spiritual. It can be calming and easy as a spring day, or violent as an atom bomb. Stories and ideas just show up, sometimes as if from the ether. A writer is a sensitive creature, intuitive, attuned in ways others aren’t, and in my writing, I’m deeply concerned with the communion with a reader whom I’m letting into my mind. That’s spiritual.
5. What does success look like to you?
If you have the courage to be vulnerable enough to love and be loved, you’re successful. Everybody suffers, feels pain and dies, including those who find and nurture love. One of the most poisonous ideas in our culture is that we should avoid love and intimacy because of its risk of pain and betrayal, which is like standing in the rain to tell swimmers they shouldn’t jump in the beautiful lake for fear of getting wet. Not everybody gets to swim in that lake, but all of us get wet. So jump. It’s nice.
Member: Robin Sheerer
1. Could you tell me a bit about yourself - Where were you born, what were your parents like? Where did you grow up, and what was your education like? What is your profession?
I grew up in Endicott, NY. The fall seasons there were spectacular; I still miss them! My mother was the oldest of 6, with 5 brothers. My grandparents made sure my mother went to college, which was unusual in her day. She attended Wellesley and then got a degree as a nurse. She was a stay-at-home mom until her late 40s, when my father died. Then she went to work as a nurse and later as a social worker. My father never finished high school. He worked with mortgages for a real estate firm. My father started the first symphony orchestra in Endicott, and as far as I know it's still going. He didn't even play a musical instrument but loved classical music. He was an avid bird watcher, as well.
I went to a small Liberal Arts school called Antioch College, in Yellow Springs OH, where everyone on campus participated in a work-study program. By the time I graduated, I had completed 2 full years of work experience. I worked in different jobs all across the United States. In one job I worked with a gang of girls who lived on the West side of Chicago. I fell in love with Chicago and returned after graduating. I received a Master's degree in Social Service Administration from the University of Chicago. I worked as a social worker for 13 years and then taught for the Ninth City College (it had no campus and I traveled to different locations to teach, including hospitals, businesses and the jail). After several years I left teaching and started my own business in training and development. I’m still working and for 37 years I’ve focused on offering career and professional development coaching.
I help people figure out what work they would most love to be doing, regardless of their age – and then how to blossom in that work. I help people step fully into leadership roles, develop their EQ (emotional intelligence) and improve their relationships, especially with difficult people. I've written two books. The first is titled, "No More Blue Mondays/Four Keys to Finding Fulfillment at Work." It was published in 1999 and won a national award. Years later I self-published a second book called, "Thrive/The Entrepreneurial Path to a Great Life." I work with people one-on-one and also lead two support groups: one for entrepreneurs and one for writers.
My husband of 30 years is Earl Lemberger. We married late; I was 48 and he was 50. We are great friends. I gained the wonderful gift of 2 stepsons, 2 daughters-in-law and 3 grandchildren in the marriage. Earl was a Chemical Engineer before he retired. We are very different but strike a good balance. I brought him to the Center. At first he was resistant but I told him that I wouldn't ask him again if he didn't like it. He liked it a lot and he came with me a second time to meditate and attend the Launch Party.
2. What hobbies do you have? Do you have an artistic practice?
Knitting is a hobby. And I’m hooked on crossword puzzles. I dabble a little with art. Reading is a passionate life-long hobby. The last book I read for our book club was "Exit West." Really interesting, everybody liked it. I also loved a book called "Less.” Both are best sellers.
3. What brought you to Zen Life & Meditation Center?
I think it’s been a circuitous route. I've been on a spiritual journey for a number of years. I've tried different Churches. I've explored different things. Then I found a spiritual advisor, who I love, and have been working with for three years. Through all my searching, I heard about the Zen Center. When I look back I remember that I had an interest in Zen and Buddhism early in my life but didn't pursue it. I met a new friend recently who had attended a few of the introductory classes at the Zen center and liked them so I went and liked them too. Since then I attended the 3-day silent retreat to deepen my understanding and my meditation practice. I loved it and want to continue growing my spiritual life.
Robin attended the Summer Three Day Retreat, and wrote about her experiences.
My First Three-Day Retreat
Uh oh, something might be wrong. I better not go, I said to myself staring in the mirror at a tiny red spot on my face. It was the morning of the first day of a three-day silent retreat I had signed up for at the Zen Life and Meditation Center. Next I felt a slight pain in my right knee. Clearly more evidence I should cancel attending. When a third physical concern surfaced I laughed. The jig was up. I realized I was just scared. I had never been to a silent retreat.
What if I couldn’t get up that early in the morning? What if I kept falling asleep while meditating? What if I couldn’t handle the two long days? What if I couldn’t stand the silence? What might come up? What if I didn’t get an A?
I’m so glad I went; it was a wonderful experience. I enjoy talking with people and do it as a chosen profession so I was surprised to discover that I also loved the silence. It was deeply relaxing to not have to interact. I had space just to take care of myself. I was able to go deep inside and focus on my own personal work.
The retreat was designed to support us as participants and my initial concerns melted away. (No grades were given, by the way). There was time for a nap or walk if needed. June and Robert gave thought-provoking Dharma talks. The people who assisted were committed to giving us a good experience and helped create a sacred space. The food was delicious and thoughtfully planned and prepared. I deepened my meditation practice and learned a lot about Buddhism.
For me, this retreat was a break from my daily routines, a quiet interlude, like a deep dive in a lovely pool. I’m grateful that I let my feelings and thoughts pass and instead honored my intention to attend.
Member: Ian Jokai Davis
Tell me a little about yourself - where you were born, your parents, your education, your profession.
I was born in Plymouth, MA ('88) and grew up in a nearby town, Duxbury. My parents are Beth and Rick, both live in New Zealand, along with my sister, Molly. I studied Communications at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate New York. After graduating, I served in the US Navy for 5 years as a Surface Warfare Officer.
You were in the military working on a Minesweeper. Tell us about that experience.
I was deployed overseas soon after joining. Our ships were based out of Bahrain, an island near Saudi Arabia. Between the remnants of Arab Spring protesters, and the Iranians threatening to mine the Straits of Hormuz (the nearby sea lane), there was never a dull moment. Our six-month deployment turned into one year, and we briefly returned home before being sent over again. The most enjoyable parts for me were the connections and relationships you make with enlisted Sailors. You see people from all walks of life and there is a sense of intimacy shared when you work so closely.
What brought you to Chicago?
My wife, Rina, accepted a promotion within her company. She is a Market Intelligence Analyst for Georg Fischer, a Swiss-based automotive manufacturing company. She plays the bass and loves to backpack. Our next backpacking trip is unplanned, if anyone knows any amazing nature nearby let us know!
What is your spiritual path?
I'm still exploring what it means to have a path whatsoever! Getting on the cushion as much as possible, spending time in nature when I can, and strengthening the bonds with my family and friends.
What brought you to ZLMC?
I had an amazing support network in California, who pointed me towards ZLMC. I studied with Annie Sensei and Jake Roshi, both wonderful teachers. Looking forward to practicing with everyone!
Member: Ben Rankin-Parker
Ben Rankin Parker has been a ZLMC Practicing Member for nearly two years. He has a genetic condition called Fragile X Syndrome, often compared to autism. Itʻs a condition that makes it hard for him to read, write or do math. He also finds social settings challenging and canʻt always communicate clearly.
It was a joy when his brother Teddy brought him to meditate at the center. Ben sat quietly, sometimes looking around, but always quiet. And then he started to come regularly with his brother or with his friend Mike Carmody or with his parents Ruth Rankin and Steven Parker.
I happened to be at Ruth Rankinʻs retirement party a week ago and Ben was there, telling people about the Zen Center and meditation in short, enthusiastic sentences. Ben Rankin Parker told us this about why he became a ZLMC practicing member and more.
Ben: I was going but not a member. It's close to our house. My mom and dad and brother go. I like Robert's talks.
June: Do you like to meditate and why?
Ben: Yes. I get calmer. I like to hear the gong. I like the walking. It's interesting for me to be there at the Zen Center because it's fun to be with people around there.
June: You work at the Jewel, what do you do there, what's the best part of the job for you?
Ben: I bag groceries for people. People smile every time I go there. There are so many people there I know.
June: You also work at Aspire coffee works, what's the best part of that job?
Ben: I grind coffee for people. I like the people there.
Hereʻs a video clip of Ben working at one of his jobs: Ben at Aspire
Teacher: Ann Phillips Seide
I count 22 places I have lived, 21 of those since the age of 17 and include Michigan, Chicago, Virginia, South Carolina, Washington state, and California! I certainly couldn’t have predicted that many moves from my first 17 years living in the small farming town of Parma, Michigan. However, when I was a child my father said I would be “a person of the world,” and whether he was prescient or I have simply decided to live out his declaration that has certainly become true! And though I did serve about 10 years in the US Navy (as a doctor), surprisingly the largest number of moves and places I’ve traveled have occurred outside of my military service.
The first on either side of my family to go to college, I started out at Michigan State where my love of science led to a degree in zoology and molecular biology. I then entered medical school at University of Michigan having the audacity to think that, if I could but understand all the inner workings of the human body, I might approach an understanding of God! It would take another 25 years before I realized that my teenage interest in becoming a Methodist minister and my ultimate profession as a doctor were not mutually exclusive endeavors. I’ve been thrilled to read the Mind Life symposiums and books written by Matthieu Ricard, which tell me that scientific curiosity married with spiritual seeking can make for a very fulfilling life.
This spiritual seeking had its beginnings in the Methodist church, where I loved the music and summer mission work camps in the Appalachian mountains. When I married for the first time, it was to another physician and Naval officer who was a “cradle” Catholic from Northlake, Illinois. Seven years into that marriage I decided to undergo the Rites of Catholic Initiation of Adults, and was confirmed in 1999. I took great interest in the liturgy, as well as in praying the divine hours (of the Benedictine rule)…which I somehow found time to do in between my practice as a physician as well as raising our 3 children. I became close friends with our parish priest, a dynamic Brit named Fr Paul Brenninkmeijer, who the Charleston diocese brought in to form a new parish. He was a bit of a maverick, insisting on daily mass in parishioners homes, family-centered teaching and mentoring of our children through the sacraments, as well as refusing to let a very wealthy parish begin a capital campaign to build a church before dedicating funds to build a Hospice. It was Paul who handed me a book by Thomas Merton, and encouraged me as I went on to read Old Path, White Clouds: I credit him with my being a Buddhist now.
As my marriage of 20 years fell apart in the late aughts, I turned to Pema Chodron, yoga, and a renewed commitment to praying the daily offices…which evolved into zazen a few years before hearing that term or anything about Zen. I attended the first GRACE training offered by Roshi Joan Halifax in September of 2013, and from there applied for the chaplaincy program, sitting my first sesshin at Upaya in January of 2014. Two months after that was when Jared and I met, he one year into the Upaya chaplaincy and I just beginning. I was keenly interested in council practice, and went away from the first chaplaincy intensive to devour Jack Zimmerman’s books. It is difficult to tease apart my journey into council from my relationship with Jared, which evolved apace. In April 2015 I made the bold move to California, moving away from my children and my medical practice in Washington and basically disrupting my whole family! I would say now that for me, the dharma has manifested through council practice and through my intimate relationship with Jared…and it is often said that one engages the dharma by becoming a home leaver!
July 1 of 2017, Jared and I were married in our back yard by Roshi Egyoku and Jack Zimmerman. As in our life together, our ceremony reflected the joining of streams of practice…many tributaries, which included Jared's Jewish roots, my Christian ones, the “red road” of Native teachings and the blood-line of Zen, the three tenets and their manifestation in intimate relationship, and the lived practice of council. Jared and I both engage in koan study with Roshi Egyoku, and have found that the sharing of this experience nourishes our intimate relationship as well.
The edges of my practice currently manifest in my practice as a physician, where no-fixed self and not-knowing show up more and more. Especially as I am extending my doctoring into palliative care, it really is essential to continually drop what I am sure of, which leaves space to discover with my patient or their family the emergent reality of life within sickness and death. I bring “stealth” council practice into encounters with nurses, families, and occasionally other physicians, and am asking the question of how to palliate the suffering inherent in the system of medicine.
Teacher: Maia Zenyu Duerr
June Ryushin Tanoue interviews author, consultant and coach Maia Zenyu Duerr. Maia has just come out with her book “Work that Matters: Create a Livelihood that Reflects Your Core Intention.” Maia will be leading a workshop on “Creating Work That Matters”, Sunday, March 4th from 1 - 4:30 pm. Maia told us this about herself.
I grew up in Southern California, on the outskirts of Los Angeles. I always felt like I got dropped there by mistake! LA’s image- and beach-obsessed culture is kind of the direct opposite of the way I move through the world. I had the interesting experience of growing up as a minority — the majority of kids in my school were Latino/a. My best friend was Mexican American, and I spent a lot of time at her house eating some great food (the best enchiladas!) and learning swear words in Spanish.
My mom and dad — who are still living, now in their late 80s — had come to California from Ohio a few years before I was born. My dad worked as a travel counselor at the Automobile Club, and my mom was a homemaker. I was their only child, and loved to play in my backyard and make up games with imaginary friends. I did have real friends! But I spent a lot of time alone as well, and during that time I learned a lot about how to be happy with solitude.
My bachelor’s degree was in music therapy, and for ten years I worked in a variety of mental health settings, including a state psychiatric hospital and a community outreach clinic. After a period of pretty severe job-related burnout (which I write about in my book, Work That Matters), I took a big leap and entered graduate school in 1993, attending the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. Eventually I earned an MA in cultural anthropology.
Tell me about your spiritual journey.
My mom and dad — who are still living, now in their late 80s — are practicing Catholics, so Catholicism was a big part of my upbringing. While I appreciated the beauty and rituals of the church, the spiritual teachings connected to it never resonated with me. For most of the first half of my life I was a spiritual seeker, trying out one religion after another to see what would feel true for me. I cycled through a number of Protestant denominations and Universalist Unitarian before I finally found a Buddhist meditation group to attend in my 30s, while living in the San Francisco Bay Area. I started sitting with a group affiliated with Thich Nhat Hanh and the Community of Mindful Living. Soon I found myself editing their journal, The Mindfulness Bell. This was a wonderful chance to do two things I loved — working with words and learning about Buddhism and meditation.
In 1994, I visited Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, NM, for the first time, and so much appreciated the teachings of Roshi Joan Halifax. Our friendship continues to this day, and in 2008, she invited me to help her get Upaya’s Buddhist Chaplaincy Training Program off the ground. In 2001, I moved into San Francisco Zen Center for about a year, with the intention to deepen my practice. I met Victoria Shosan Austin there, and she eventually became my Zen teacher and continues to be that. I will always be grateful that SFZC was my home on September 11, 2001. It was amazing to experience what a refuge a practice center can be during times of crisis.
Itʻs exciting that your book has come out - the fruition of many years of work helping others find their way. What can people learn from your book and the workshop youʻre doing here at ZLMC on March 4th?
My hope that if someone is feeling very stuck in their professional life, if work is a source of suffering for you, this book and the practices in it will support you to get out of that stuck place, to clarify what is most important, and provide you with practical steps to start moving in that direction.
Most of us are not independently wealthy, and we can’t afford to simply ‘do what we love and the money will follow.’ But we can be more intentional about how we bring in income, and do so in a way that is congruent with our deepest values, and our Core Intention – to use a concept that we’ll explore in the workshop.
Your “Core Intention” is the reason why you are here on this earth… it’s actually different than a passion (though there may be overlap). It’s more in the family of values… there are exercises in the book that help the reader to become more familiar with what’s truly important to them, how they can best contribute to our life on this planet together. My own Core Intention, to take as an example, is: “to open people’s hearts and minds through my writing, and through creating spaces for possibility.” Workshop participants will have a chance to explore and articulate their own Core Intention.
We’ll also look at the “3 Pathways to a Liberation-Based Livelihood” and see where you’re at on your journey right now, and some practices that can support you to create work that you love.
Anything else youʻd like to add? Do you recall when we met? Was it at Upaya?
As I recall, our paths have crossed back and forth a number of times! I believe I first met you and Joshin when you dropped by the Buddhist Peace Fellowship office in Berkeley years ago. You were working with Bernie Glassman back in those days. Then we had the great luck of living in the same region for a while, when we both lived and worked in Western Massachusetts back around 2002. I’m grateful for our dharma friendship and the many ways we’ve cheered each other on in our own right livelihood over the years!
Member: Barbara Ashum
I have lived in the city of Chicago my entire life. I grew up in the Back of the Yards neighborhood and spent most of my teenage years in the Mount Greenwood neighborhood in the city. After graduating High School, I moved to my own apartment on the north side of Chicago because I was now “Cool”. Yeah I was cool alright. I must say I survived some bizarre and probably unsafe experiences.
Although I did sort of settle down and bought a house back on the south side near Midway Airport. I was a bartender for more than 25 years and 13 of those years were working at Midway Airport. Back when Midway was just reinventing itself I worked in the few bars. The place was so run down in the beginning that when it rained they put giant garbage cans out in the terminals to catch the leaks from the roof. The employee parking lot was at the end of one of the 2 runways. The owners of the concessions at Midway had a tuition reimbursement program for employees. They wanted to help some of the younger workers get a higher education. Even though I was one of the older workers, I took advantage of it and went to St Xavier University and became an accountant. Thanks to their generosity, I am a successful Corporate Accountant at Hub Group, Inc. for the past 16 years.
One of my great passions is traveling. I have been to 23 different countries and some of them more than one time. I am not the tour bus type. I like to fly somewhere, stay at a B&B and “wing it” once I get there. Probably my most memorable trip was camping in the Sinai desert with just 2 Bedouins. A friend was supposed to go with but cancelled at the last minute so I went on my own. She missed a great trip.
I started coming to ZLMC almost 5 years ago. I started out taking the primer series and never stopped coming back. Buddhism and meditation have become such a big part of my life. I appreciate the comfort and guidance of the sangha and the many friends I have made at the center. The center has so much to offer. I have taken many classes, participated in circles, listened and learned from Sunday morning Zen speakers, and have eaten many a good meal at the center too. I hope to keep deepening my spiritual practice with many more years at ZLMC.
Member: Roberta Jannsen
Roberta Jannsen, a ZLMC Practicing Member, was key in obtaining a Lenz Foundation grant for $25,000 to help us hire our first staff person in 2018. She has a Masters in Education from DePaul University. She told us this about herself.
It’s always so humbling to write about one’s self, but also good to reflect, so I thank June for the opportunity.
I was born in LaPorte, Indiana, near our family farm. The farmland, growing food, animals and hard work has always been part of my life, and all of my family’s. We moved to Chicago that same year, so was raised urban, but land is never far from my heart.
My mother was emotionally fragile, and my father a strong and loving force. The juxtaposition of the two of them emotionally was confusing growing up, but they both provided beautiful and lasting gifts to me. I have two beautiful sons - Eric - 32, and Andrew - 29, both of whom live in Oak Park. Eric recently married Katy and they are expecting their first baby (and my first grandchild) in July of next year. They have a film company and Eric also works as a lead film producer in a healthcare organization. Andrew is a massage therapist and also does freelance painting and construction. I am engaged to Rocco and split my time between Oak Park and Ithaca, NY where he teaches law/mediation at Cornell University. Honoring both my home and family as well as my new (old love - as we met 40 years ago) seems like the right balance. Rocco and I will be full time in Oak Park in 2019 as he’ll be retiring.
My career was spent in education - primarily in academia and executive or continuing education. In that capacity, I designed and managed many education programs and wrote many grants, and am glad to have had that skill set as it has come in handy at ZLMC!
After retiring in 2016, I needed to find my “place” again in the world and have done so with the help of meditation. It’s amazing how little time I spent being conscious when I had the structure of work. Retirement is a very new country, new self-image, new opportunity to find how to return gifts accumulated over a lifetime. It will be a constantly evolving state, but am beginning to touch so many places in my heart and volunteer where my gifts can be used in deep and meaningful ways. ZLMC is one of those places.
My spiritual practice focuses on how to make every act and interaction focused on peace and mindfulness. It was in anticipation of my retirement (which also included selling my farm and house of 30 years), that I came to ZLMC. I was intentional about those changes, and yet experienced both grief and confusion. Sitting in meditation has brought me so much peace and opened my heart in ways I never would have imagined, but I have a long way to go. I am grateful for this loving community and people who are honestly searching. That, together with the sense that we are all creating this together, has had a powerful impact on me.
I hope to engage more and more in the coming weeks and months and years with you all and ZLMC so I can deepen my practice through the beauty of these teachings and this community.
Member: Lori Snyder
Tell me a little about yourself - where you were born, your parents, your family, your education, your work, something people may not know about you?
I was born in Niles, a small rural town in Southwestern Michigan, to Carolyn Snyder and James Snyder. I was the third child. The first child was born still, and then my brother Ash came a year later, and two years later I was born just before Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the moon. My Father was a pharmacist with a big heart for the Vietnam vets troubled by post traumatic stress and our house was always busy with guys in fatigue jackets.
My Mom was artistic and went back to school to find herself and then liberated herself from my Dad when I was six. This was a tricky segment in my childhood, and I had memorized the bar pay phone number. My Dad remarried a Thai doctor, Sirimas Sirisuth when I was twelve. She saved our lives in many ways as she brought stability. My first introduction to Buddha was from a necklace she always wore, that I wear one like now. A simple gold Buddha, that she never spoke of.
As a teen I was being groomed to become the fourth generation pharmacist, but to my familyʻs dismay I went off to college to study Fine Art. I wanted to become a scientific illustrator, but once in school I took a sculpture class to fill a credit. That class changed my course as I learned it was my passion and I loved making things. In the summer I would spend my time as a welder for an International artists B&B exchange in Lakeside, Michigan. Then my life took several jumps over several states and loves. I lived in New Mexico, Arizona, Wisconsin and then Illinois. I always moved for love, not career as I always found work I enjoyed as an artist or in a creative profession.
In 2004 my daughter Sophie was born. Such a gift and a blessing. I was able to stay at home with her as a toddler, while I was a metalsmith and sold my jewelry in galleries. Her dad had a good job, but then when the recession hit, we lost everything: our income, our house, and eventually each other.
I went back to school to become a librarian, since I had a long time passion for libraries, information, and books. I got into school and got a job at the same time. I was working for an architecture museum and going to school at night. After graduating, I suffered a breakdown. The person who triggered the catastrophic breakdown was a great teacher for my life as it led me to meditation, and becoming a practicing Buddhist.
Upon regaining my footing after several years, I met my husband, Colin, and still marvel at our parallel lives. His middle name is Neal, as he was born in Michigan just after Neal stepped on the moon. His mom remarried an Indian doctor. who saved him from an alcoholic parent. We both studied artistic professions and were divorced after 12 years to our child’s parent. We both were suicidal during that time, and then both were urged by coworkers to try online dating. We lived four blocks apart when we met.
What is your spiritual practice?
I meditate daily, but have learned not to hold tight to how long or when, as that becomes a hook. I find twenty minutes is the minimum necessary time for balance but I prefer 30-40 minutes for deep buffering. As soon as I start to get too attached to how things need to be, I change them up to keep it playful. Life does that for me sometimes too. I am a member of the ZMLC Liturgy Circle and enjoy learning about myself in our worship practices. I read Hinduism and Buddhist Dharma. Some days my main practice is to let go, try and stay present, and pray thatI am able to help someone in some way. I never know who that is until the day is over, or sometimes after months have passed. It keeps you curious and alert.
What drew you to ZLMC and how has it helped?
I had been practicing at home, and knew that I needed to find a teacher to help me past some obstacles. I tried out several other Buddhist traditions and practices. It was the goldilocks of spirituality, as I was searching for a community that was intelligent, meditated, and felt like family. One was too loose, one was too strict, and this one is just right now. Right now. Zen helps me to let go and focus on what is important with some guidance. Whenever I am having trouble meditating, I know that I can come sit with others and that collective calm eases the silence inside much easier. I have found the teachers and sangha community I was looking for to help guide my spiritual path. I am always learning and very grateful for this practice.
Member: Marco Maciel
Weʻre very happy to announce that Sensei Marco Maciel, 3rd Dan Black Belt with the Japan Karate Association (JKA), World Federation(WF), has begun teaching two Karate classes at ZLMC. One is for adults and one is for children. Both classes are on Fridays. Sensei Maciel was the USA JKA National Kumite (Sparring Champion) in 2009 as well as the the Pan American JKA runner up (Silver Medalist) in men's individual Kumite in 2011 in which he faced contestants from six countries: Mexico, Puerto Rico, USA, Guyana, Panama and Canada. Sensei Maciel has also placed 3rd in Kata (Forms) at the USA Nationals in Santa Fe and Arizona in 2013 and has been Illinois State Champion on several occasions. He has over 18 years experience teaching children and adults.
Tell me a little about you - your family, where you grew up and went to school. I am your ideal Chicagoan. From my accent and speech all the way down to my attitude. I was born in Cook County Hospital. Most of my childhood was spent in the Pilsen and Wicker Park neighborhoods in Chicago. I graduated from Morton East High School in Cicero. My family is a mixture of Iberian (Portuguese/Spanish) and Native American. The native side of my family is Seri from Sonoran Desert and Chiricahua Apache from Southeastern Arizona. My passion has been Karate-Dō since the age of 16.
I studied classical guitar but eventually discontinued my study to focus on Karate-Dō. My favorite books are The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli, The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi, The Art of War by Sun Tzu, Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche. My favorite movies are Platoon directed by Oliver Stone (1986) Deer Hunter co-written and directed by Michael Cimino (1978), Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure directed by Stephen Herek (1989), and Dersu Uzāla directed by Akita Kurosawa (1975). I love dogs but especially English Bull Terriers since they are the jokers of the canines. I also love Italian combination sandwiches Chicago style and of course, Chicago style pizza, not deep dish. My wife’s name is Olga and we’ve been married since April of 2015. My wife, Olga, is from Volgograd Russia and her family is from Omsk in Siberia.
You were the first person to step into our center when we opened our home to public meditation in May 2004. You were already deep into the study of Karate then. Why did you come to our center? I’m not exactly sure why I came to your center. I did read up on Zen Buddhism extensively, perhaps, I was just curious to learn more. At the time I came to your center I was living in Westchester. There were other Zen-Dōs in Chicago, however, they were too far for me to travel on a regular basis. I still can’t believe I was the first student there. The center gave me a very peaceful experience on my first day. I believe we became instant friends the day I met Rōshi and June. I did several sesshin at the center. It was what I expected. Quiet and busy, the sesshin that is.
Now you are teaching Karate Classes at ZLMC. What got you interested in this practice? I don’t really know what made me have interest in Karate-Dō. As a teen, I just wanted to do some form of martial art. I just wanted it to be Japanese. I was looking for a traditional Judo Dojo in Chicago as a teen. I ended up calling a Karate-Dō Instructor in Western Springs. The rest is history. I am very grateful that I found Karate-Dō. It is the greatest thing to ever happen to me.
You say that Karate is for all ages and conditions. Can you say more about that? Yes, Karate-Dō is for everyone. For children and adults. People with disabilities and limitations. For Karate, no equipment is necessary. You can train anywhere. The participant’s attitude determines their altitude. In the time I have studied Karate, I have seen the amazing transitions people have made. Karate is more than kicks and punches, huge knuckles and amazing feats of speed and strength. Karate teaches everyone humility and respect for all beings. It is a way of life and a path to a peaceful and purposeful existence. Anyone who trains diligently and with intelligence, will eventually be compelled to be a contributing and pro-active individual for his or her community/country. A student has to always have a beginner’s mind - to always approach study and training with sincerity and humility, and, of course, an open mind. Karate helps everyone to develop a healthy body and mind. No matter the participant’s origin. Karate for me has been special in that regard. Every day is a new day and a new beginning. There will be good days and bad ones, Karate is life. Pure and simple.
I find it a wonderful way to practice self-defense. Most participants do see it as an excellent way to study self-defense. In today’s world, it is necessary to be ready. Not only to defend ourselves from physical harm, but, even more so from offensive attacks on our psyche by individuals. The latter being more imposing. Today, we can’t tell who is our friend or foe, in some cases. Karate helps us differentiate between the two. Karate is the study of warfare, whether on the field or in the mind. It helps us make wiser decisions about accepting people and their agenda towards ourselves and the world around us. Study, learn and accept. All conflict begins in an individual’s mind. All good and noble acts start in the mind. So, Karate develops our bodies for conflicts. It also helps us to make friends, because, in the end, that is the only way to win any war. Once you make your enemies your friend, that is the most victorious win. When others can’t find reason, it is only a last resort, to defend ourselves from physical harm. There is no first attack in Karate-Dō and Karate always begins and ends with a bow. In Karate we become very strong and wise. It is very rare for any true student to use what he has learned on people. In the Dojo, we learn to deal with threat and danger in a safe way. However, we should approach training as if that moment is our last with the spirit of righteousness and a relentless desire to endure and succeed.
Anything else you want to add? I hope that I can share what I have learned with as many people as I can. I teach in many locations but, Oak Park is home. The people of Oak Park are warm people and open minded. I myself am constantly studying under my Sensei and trying to improve. It is a life of constant improvement. I too am a student of life and learning every day. Karate-Dō is an excellent discipline and an honorable way to live.
Member: Juri Sekiguchi
Juri Sekiguchi is a ZLMC practicing member. She used to bring her mother Yoshiko Sekiguchi to sitting during Sunday Morning Zen. Yoshiko was a beautiful Japanese woman (old school) who spoke Japanese to me. I loved to listen to her, even though I donʻt speak Japanese. It reminded me of my parents who spoke it when I was growing up. Weʻd bow and smile. Juri is pictured above in her "happy space" with her family. She told us a little about herself.
Tell me a little about yourself - where you were born, your parents, your family, your education, your work, something people may not know about you? I was born in the Bay Area, Northern California but grew up in the Chicago area. My parents are originally from Japan, and I have two amazing sisters who are my very best friends. I went to UC Berkeley to study Political Science and focused on women’s movements in foreign countries. I currently work at Allstate as an Organization Effectiveness Lead Consultant. My group operates as an internal consulting group specializing in business transformation, organization design, change management, and organization development (e.g., culture, leadership team effectiveness). In my non-work time, I enjoy every moment with my husband Tom, daughter Ellie (14), and son Aidan (11). We do everything together, but my favorite family activity is singletrack mountain biking, and our favorite spot to do this is in Traverse City, Michigan. It’s so difficult, even painful for me to pull myself away from my family, which is why you don’t see me around as much as I would if I could figure out a way to clone myself. ;)
I know you’re doing pro-bono work for ZLMC and we so appreciate it! Can you tell us a little about your skills? True membership is about belonging and contributing. We should all find ways to provide our time and talents to this wonderful community. In addition, some companies like mine (Allstate) will donate money when you volunteer! So, ZLMC will benefit from your time/ talents, and additional funds to invest in future programs! I help teams and organizations develop their purpose, vision, and strategy, and then translate it into an operating model (how the organization will work, including structure, process, rewards, capabilities, and people) that will best support their direction. I’m honored to be working with Robert, June, and the Board members on future state visioning and operationalizing the shared stewardship model. I help teams and organizations develop their purpose, vision, and strategy, and then translate it into an operating model (how the organization will work, including structure, process, rewards, capabilities, and people) that will best support their direction. I’m honored to be working with Robert, June, and the Board members on future state visioning and operationalizing the shared stewardship model.
I so appreciated you bringing your mother, Yoshiko, to meditation. We even got to taste her delicious sushi at a Zen Eats that she made. Any stories you’d like to share about your mom? My mom is smiling from above that you mentioned her sushi! Yoshiko was a beautiful and illuminated soul, always giving, giving, giving. She had the biggest heart of anyone I have ever met. She loved to entertain family and friends. The culmination of the year was New Year’s Day (Oshogatsu), where she would be cooking traditional Japanese dishes for days leading up to the event. Everyone looked forward to it all year! The funniest moments of all dinner parties was, once everyone was completely full and satisfied from amazing food and great company, inevitably my mom would call out from the kitchen, “OH! I forgot to serve the (fill in forgotten dish here)!!!” Everyone would groan and laugh, because we couldn’t eat another bite!
What drew you to ZLMC and how has it helped? I originally started coming to ZLMC for my mom. She had moved in with my family, and she didn’t know anyone in the area. She loved spending time with the community and at the center; Thank you all for welcoming her and always being so kind and helpful. How it helped me most was providing tools (e.g., regular meditation and Zen talks) to help me manage my crazy sandwich generation life, and also step back and see the beauty in it. Caring for and losing my mom was the most challenging experience I’ve had thus far in life, and it has helped me grow in ways I never imagined.
Member: Jeff Strauss
June: Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Jeff: Born in Buffalo, NY. Eldest of three. Dad a dentist, mom a very fine singer and music teacher. Both master gardeners. Religious Jewish upbringing (I was always in school—secular school like everyone else, and Hebrew school an additional 8 hours a week. Not to mention a 3-hour synagogue service on Saturday morning). Began piano studies at 6, and discovered I had a good voice at 12.
When I was a teenager my piano teacher told me I shouldn’t practice 6 hours a day: “If you ever have your name in lights, it will be as a singer, not a pianist.” (This, mind you, on the basis of my singing her the Tin Man’s song from the Wizard of Oz.) High school and summer stock plays and musicals (the most fun I ever had was performing in plays—to this day I love theater best).
College at the University of Chicago, where, within a year, I abandoned most of the strict rules of Jewish observance I was raised with. Studied in the New Collegiate Division, which allowed for combining different disciplines and substantial independent study. (A fancy way of saying I had no idea what I wanted to do. I flirted with medical school, until chemistry undid me. My first year “Great Books” teacher told me “A man does best what he loves most,” and that was that…..I chose humanities.)
Spent a lot of time with musicians outside Hyde Park, which led me to London in 1978 for a year of singing. Met the great French baritone Gérard Souzay in Evanston at a master class in 1977. Wasn’t allowed to sing in the class because I wasn’t a Northwestern student, but my teacher (Elsa Charlston)—who did not accept defeat—dragged me backstage to meet him. He gave me his address in Paris and told me to look him up if I was ever there. I bet he was shocked when I appeared at his doorstep the next year.
Before I got there, though, I was going to concerts and theatre in London and having a fine old time but not really applying myself. Hearing about this from mutual friends, Elsa sent me a one-sentence letter: “Get your act together and your ass to Paris.” So I did. Arriving at the Gare du Nord on a snowy January evening, I found my way to the home of Souzay’s rehearsal accompanist (I had met her in Chicago), whose husband had been the Dutch ambassador to Japan.
Her apartment in the 16th arrondissement was filled with Japanese art. I think this was the beginning of my love affair with Japanese culture. She threw a party for Souzay after his performance of Schubert’s Winterreise at the Salle Pleyel. It was like a 19th C salon. A room filled with Souzay’s admirers, hangers-on, and friends, eating exquisite French finger food, smoking, and speaking a mélange of 5 languages—French, Dutch, German, Japanese, English.
A number of people sang for Souzay, but I wasn’t one of them….until late in the night, smoke filling the room, when he said “sing something for me.” It was like a dare, but I was ready. I sang a Purcell air and a couple of Schumann Lieder, my eyes stinging from the smoke. I apologized for interrupting the evening. He said “You have no need to apologize.”
Later, as he left, he took me aside and said, “Can you come next week at 5 pm?” So I started studying with him in Paris. He offered me more lessons than I could take. (I was performing in London and couldn’t always get to Paris.) Meanwhile, I studied singing technique with Yvonne Rodd-Marling in London. Her lessons lasted all morning at her home in South Kensington. Students gathered at 10. Each of us sang for 20 minutes and then sat down and listened to the other lessons. Then we had tea. Sometimes we didn’t leave until 1.
It was idyllic, and in retrospect I wish I had stayed longer. But I returned to Chicago and went to law school. How could I do such a thing? Well, “smart Jewish boys,” at least those in my orbit at that time, did not—repeat, did not—attempt careers in the arts, Leonard Bernstein and Michael Tilson Thomas (my hero at the time) notwithstanding. Nor did they gallivant around Europe for years on end. They went to professional school.
For my part, I wasn’t confident, at 22, that I could have the kind of music career I wanted (that is, in the first tier). I thought studying law at the University of Chicago would be an interesting academic pursuit. Perhaps I could become the Jewish Rumpole. I figured I would eventually teach. And maybe I could sing a little, too. (Years later, when I complained to Elsa—the voice teacher who launched me to Paris—that I felt like I was doing two things half-assed, she said “this is exactly what you planned all along: to earn a living from the law so you could sing and not have to earn a living from music. You knew all along what you wanted. And you did it.”)
Law school was interesting, for a while, especially courses on jurisprudence and work in the legal clinic for the underrepresented, including the South Austin Community Coalition, a fair housing organization not far from where I live now. I got a job at a one of the major Chicago firms, filled with smart and interesting people who discussed modern art, the state of the world, travel, opera—all things that interested me. They were excellent lawyers, devoted to public interest work. They liked that I was a serious musician.
I did well. (I’m still there, 36 years later.) Following the path I started at the legal clinic, I did meaningful pro bono work, which has given me some of the greatest satisfaction as a lawyer. For several years I was involved in the Guantánamo cases, helping detainees challenge their detention in federal court. Recently I helped on an asylum case for a woman who was mutilated by al Shabaab. (Granted.) I also have worked on death penalty issues. I’ll never forget a meeting I had with a death row inmate in Tennessee. He had an appalling childhood (raped by his father, and that wasn’t all) and mental health issues, none of which were presented as mitigating factors at his sentencing by his incompetent lawyer. We talked for an hour at Riverbend, Nashville’s maximum security prison, just steps from the death house.
I was downcast for him, and for the prospects of abolishing the death penalty. I told him how I felt. So he gave me a pep talk. Said he is up every day at 5 to meditate. I told him I also meditate. He reads Thich Nhat Hanh. I told him I do, too. He hugged me hard when we said good-bye. “Never give up. Tell my story. Make sure it is heard.” He has excellent lawyers now. Last I heard he is still alive.
To become a partner at my firm, I had to work very hard. It was challenging and stressful, and I gave up singing for 5 or 6 years. I did make it, but in the early 90s I returned to singing with abandon. It was necessary for my soul and my mental health. I got some nice gigs in Toronto, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and other places (in addition to Chicago). One thing led to another (word of mouth is very important in the music business), and suddenly I had a career in music as well as in law.
Balancing two high level careers isn’t easy, and it caused a lot of stress. Sometimes I crashed and burned. But overall it seems to have worked. The firm has been very supportive of my artistic adventures. And many of my musician friends envy me having a steady job. Now, at 61 and approaching retirement, I’m glad I found the time (and the energy) to have a musical life as well as a legal career. I suppose I was never meant to be a full-time lawyer or a full-time singer. After all, I’m the fellow who couldn’t pick a major in college.
Here are a couple of links to performances I’ve done. (If you’re interested you can find other info by Googling “Jeffrey Strauss baritone.”) The first is a short recitative from Handel’s Messiah, which I have performed a lot. It was recorded live at the Harris Theater here in Chicago in 2005. The second is from a semi-staged dramatic presentation of Bach’s St. John Passion, which I did with my partner’s orchestra, Apollo’s Fire, in Cleveland and New York in 2016. And the last is from a 50th anniversary performance of Fiddler on the Roof at the Lancaster Opera House in Buffalo in 2014.
June: What is your spiritual practice?
Jeff: This is a tough one. I don’t know how to talk about it. I’ve tried a lot of different paths through the years: Hatha yoga. Devotional chant (kirtan). The Japanese tea ceremony (my sensei told me “you don’t need a guru, just making tea and cleaning up, that is practice”). Egalitarian Jewish renewal groups that focus on “Tikkun Olam”—repair of the world. On my 50th birthday I went to the Berkeley Zen Center to sit at 5:30 am and have an oryoki meal (I had no idea what I was doing, but a kind person helped me). I studied for a time with Joshin at the Zen Community of Oak Park when it was at the house on Humphrey.
I’ve certainly had “spiritual” experiences when, during a performance, I make a special connection with someone in the audience, or a fellow performer on stage. In that moment, there is a sense of intimacy, openness, and self-expression that I sometimes find difficult to achieve in daily life. In my Japanese garden, or in the mountains outside Boulder, I find some peace. Mud under the fingernails helps. (I once objected to someone tracking mud into the house, and she looked at me and said: “It’s earth. It’s where we live.”) I suppose my practice is trying to find those moments of spaciousness and openness every day. I’ve taken some emotional beatings in my life—many self-inflicted—and I need to learn to be kind to myself. That is my practice now, and it’s not easy.
June: What drew you to ZLMC and how has it helped?
Jeff: I met you and Joshin in 2004, I think, at a Japanese art fair in Evanston. I gave a little talk for a tea ceremony demonstration by my sensei, and you had a table downstairs. I could hardly believe that there was a Zen meditation group in Oak Park. I came for a time—maybe a year or two—but it didn’t stick. I don’t know why. It was hard to get up early to sit and then go to work. I wasn’t prepared for jukai. I’ll admit I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the change in format from a formal zendo to ZLMC. But I now see the wisdom, and courage, in making the change. You have built a wonderful community. I have kept up a meditation and yoga practice for years, but it has recently become very difficult for me to practice on my own. I need and want the support of a sangha that accepts me as I am, and lets me develop my practice—whatever it may be—at my own pace. I think ZLMC is that place.
Member: Jason Jensen
I was born in St. Paul, MN to a working class, single mother. For most of my young life I imagined myself to be some kind of counter-cultural artist type engaged in a psychic battle with the established order. In my early twenties, my friends and I started a collectively owned and operated café in Minneapolis that was home to hippies, gutter-punks, radicals and outlaws of all sorts. In those days, I did a weekly anti-establishmentarian radio show called “Nation of Chumps” wherein I’d mix punk rock, hip-hop, satirical social commentary and some kind of neo-dadaist audio-collage into a sort of nightmare soundtrack for paranoid bad acid trips.
Later I moved to Seattle where I played music, got some written pieces published in Adbusters magazine and elsewhere, and got involved in some guerilla art projects involving illegal parades through downtown with anarchist marching bands, nonsensical protest signs and burning effigies. Eventually, some friends and I developed a troupe of angry, drunken clowns that would disturb people in bars, strip clubs, dance clubs and on the street, for reasons none of us could fully explain. In an attempt to somehow justify this behavior, I wrote a monthly column in a local Seattle rag espousing a sort of clown-centered socio-political philosophy, while also MC-ing our troupe’s serialized vaudeville/burlesque show wherein we portrayed a horrifying, demented caricature of American life during the post-9-11 era.
Our schtick was so chaotic that, even when we tried to script it out, it ended up being mostly improvised, so I decided to move to Chicago to study the actual art of “improv.” I met my wife at around this time and, shockingly, she moved to Chicago with me. Improv was actually kind of a letdown after everything that had gone before, so rather than continue trying to remain interested in it, my wife and I decided to have kids and buy a house instead. After decades of living like a sex-crazed, psychedelic supervillain, I’ve spent the last several years trying my hand at being an ordinary, middle-aged, white, suburban dad.
Also, I meditate.
What is your spiritual practice?
Well, my goal is to meditate for twenty minutes twice a day, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually managed to do that, except on the days I come down to the center. But what’s happening when you meditate is that you’re just letting yourself be instead of getting all caught up in the melodrama of your personal narrative at any given moment. The melodrama still bubbles up in your mind, but you recognize it, you let it go, you breathe and you go back to just being. Rinse and repeat.
Even if you can’t carve twenty to forty minutes out of a day to sit, this is something you can do while walking your dog, or working, or rushing to get your kids ready for school. I think the chitter-chatter in our minds tends to dominate our awareness, and that cuts us off from each other and the universe at large, making us less compassionate, less efficient and less happy. So the ability to recognize it and let it go when that’s happening is a fantastic skill that benefits all areas of life. It doesn’t mean I no longer have melodrama; it just means I don’t take it so seriously.
How long have you been practicing with us? What drew you to ZLMC and how has it helped?
I took the Primer course in the summer of 2012, I believe, and then became an advanced member that fall, so nearly five years now.
When I was young, I had an experience that changed my life. Without going into detail about it, let’s just say that pretty much every description of a religious or enlightenment experience I’ve ever read sounds like someone describing something very similar to what happened to me. Most major religious texts, especially Buddhist, Taoist and Vedic texts, look to me like they must’ve been written by someone in much the same state of mind as I was, and to this day, when I read something like the Heart Sutra, it looks less like a philosophical perspective and more like someone describing that experience.
When it was over, I eventually went back to being a regular person with the same petty obsessions, fears and desires that make up the general human predicament. The problem this presented me with was that it set up a dichotomy between that one time when I had the pure, unmediated experience of union with the perfection of everything, and regular life where you have to work, and suffer, and get irritated about being stuck in traffic, and have fights with your girlfriend, and just generally be disturbed by the horror and monotony that occurs because things aren’t the way you imagine they should be.
I felt like I had been shown the view from the mountaintop, then stuffed back into a tiny mental prison, except that now I knew it was a prison, whereas before I’d been mostly oblivious. From then on, the mildly desperate desire to get back out of that cage was a form of constant psychic background noise for me. I now think that most of the art projects and other shenanigans I got up to in my younger life were an attempt to reconcile this schism by attacking what I perceived to be the borders between the mundane and the sublime in any way I could.
In the Zen tradition, it’s pretty normal for someone to experience kensho, and then seek out a master to ask if they’ve become Enlightened or what, only to have that master tell them that what happened to them is just the beginning of real practice. I didn’t know that at the time though, and I had no cultural frame of reference for such a thing, so it was about twenty-five years later that I, on what seemed to be a spontaneous whim, looked up local Zen centers on the internet, thinking that I might find someone who had at least a passing familiarity with my situation.
I’m happy to say that years of meditation and koan study at the ZLMC have helped me to recognize that the irritating dichotomy between being in the mental cage and being out of it is itself a mental construct that can be let go of, and that the desire to get out of the cage is, in a sense, what the cage is made of in the first place.
Through a regular practice of unclenching the mind, I’ve been able to be less attached to ideas about some exalted state in the past that I hope to achieve again in the future, and am instead more able to live in the here and now where The Experience is actually occurring. During one of the classes I’ve taken here, Robert asked if it was possible for us to say, “I’m on my way to Enlightenment, but for now I’m enjoying being an idiot.” I’m extremely grateful for the ZLMC’s role in helping me enjoy being an idiot.
Member: Mike Fujii
Michael Fujii is an advanced ZLMC member studying Zen with Sensei June. He was also recently elected to be on the ZLMC Board of Directors and is in the certified Zen Life Teacher Training program. He told us this about himself.
I was born in Chicago and grew up in the suburbs here. I'm the oldest of four and graduated from Lake Park High School. After college at Notre Dame I went off to New York for graduate school where I lived with my old college roommate, began my career in finance and met my wife with whom I had my first daughter. We moved back to Chicago in late 2010 and live in the Northwest suburbs with our two girls.
My interest in spirituality emerged at a very young age. The search through organized religion and western occult thought lead me eventually to eastern teachings which I read voraciously for a few years before taking up the technique of meditation which, initially, I undertook as Advaidic quest for the non-dual state. This continued for about ten or fifteen years and eventually morphed into Zazen, for the posture itself is most conducive to a more complete awakening. Eventually, I found a Rinzai group to practice with and I feel that the discipline helped my sitting to mature. These days, my practice is to see clearly that spiritual practice has never existed apart from anything else.
I am currently enjoying the teacher training program here at the center. There is a lot of material which I am unfamiliar with and the program takes a very secular approach to practice which is definitely a shift for me. It is a very well written and comprehensive curriculum which requires becoming familiar with a lot of background information from many sources. I'm grateful to have the opportunity to go through this material in a structured and organized program as I doubt it has been put together quite this elegantly anywhere else.
As for the Board, we are talking about many great plans which should be very exciting to our growing community, not the least of which is examining the feasibility of, and options for, finding a larger space. It is an honor to work with such a dedicated and competent team and I am learning more everyday about what it really takes to keep this fantastic center available for all of us. I am also really happy to learn about the history and the amazing progress ZLMC has made under the stewardship of Robert, June and the board.
Teacher: Jared Seide
Jared Seide is the director of the Center for Council based in Los Angeles. He and his partner Dr. Ann Murray will be teaching the Introduction to Council on June 2nd, 3rd and 4th, 2017. Jared will also give the Sunday Morning Zen talk on June 4th. I met Jared for the first time at the Native American Bearing Witness Retreat in the Black Hills of South Dakota where we all practiced council in a deep, heartfelt way. Heʻs done many trainings for the Zen Peacemakers in places of great suffering: Auschwitz, Rwanda, Bosnia and in U.S prisons. Council is a central practice at Zen Life & Meditation Center so we are thrilled that Jared is coming to Chicago. Jared told us this about himself.
I have such fond memories of my progressive, New York, secular-Jewish household growing up. Despite living in California for over 25 years I still consider myself a New Yorker at heart. I think it's in my DNA. My parents grew up in Brooklyn and my sense from them was that spirituality was indistinguishable from social justice.
I always understood that being a "good Jew" was to care for "the other" and speaking up for those less able to advocate for themselves was a righteous and important act. My parents held fund raisers for the Black Panthers and the Young Lords before settling into careers in advertising and mental health administration. They gave little attention to organized religion.
It was, in fact, at thirteen, that my father was given a Jewish prayer shawl that had been passed down in his family for his bar mitzvah -- and there, it seems, his religious identification peaked. Somehow, he never found another meaningful connection to religion for the rest of his life.
The prayer shawl found its way into a storage box and lived there until he presented it to me decades later. That gift seemed like a response to questions I was pondering as I prepared to sew my rakusu in preparation for Jukai. It felt deeply healing to cut, dye and then resew that tallis into a new form. The disowned lineage of Judaism became part of my Zen practice in a very tangible way, reemerging as the Robe of the Buddha.
What do you find so compelling about the practice of Council?
Originally, I met council when it came alive in my daughter Sophie and turned around a school community that was experiencing mounting tension and fear. Sophie attended a public elementary school which, after the Rodney King riots, had started to feel like a dangerous place, with factions descending into positions of "us and them."
Council transformed that school community -- and I was hooked. I also witnessed my daughter find her voice - and become a storyteller. What I have continued to observe is that people have such a longing to connect, to experience their true inter-dependence. Whether it's in schools, prisons, businesses, communities... it often feels like scratching an itch.
Council, when presented in an inviting and nonthreatening way, offers an opportunity to remember how much common ground we share, how connected we really are, how easy it is to ally and align. There is something about modern society that speeds us up and distracts us from the understanding and enacting of our connectedness. I think that council, and practices like it, give us an opportunity to take a backward step, to pay attention to what is alive, beyond our beliefs and biases, and to celebrate our collective wisdom, our resilience and our sense of connectedness.
You were just in Bosnia at the Bearing Witness Retreat - what were the highlights for you?
I find the Bearing Witness Retreat format to be extraordinarily generative and dynamic. In the Bosnia plunge, similar to my experiences in Auschwitz, and even more so in Rwanda, I found it so very important to enter with not knowing, not attached to agenda, or a picture of "how I can help," of how to fix or make things better. Those who have experienced great trauma are, of course, engaged in their own process of grieving, healing, repairing and sometimes reconciling.
Finding local partners, already deeply involved in this work, feels like a critical link in the BWRs. As we show up and bear witness, without agenda, we find we may be able to come alongside, to accompany those who are living into a post-traumatic world. And the care and support of those who show up, in addition to the tools and upayas which may emerge, can be very generative.
As planning began for the Bosnia Bearing Witness Retreat, it became clear that there was some support we could bring to our local partners there, the wonderful Center for Peacebuilding (CIM). Rather than moving forward with the retreat last year, it was decided that Zen Peacemakers would offer an intensive council workshop to CIM staff who are living this peacebuilding and reconciliation.
In the year since that training, the organization has built council into their work and the staff has been exploring the intentions, the practice and the contemplative work of sitting, bearing witness, and speaking what serves - along with their other activities. CIM staff were a big part of the retreat planning this year and they were extraordinarily generous in hosting the international participants and offering their version of council to us all, in small groups, every day.
I was able to support this group with an additional training workshop, as well as facilitator debriefing sessions every night of the retreat. They taught me so much as they articulated and shared how the work of bearing witness and the practice of council has benefited their peacebuilding. It was a very dynamic and rich time for me, and I believe for most participants.
The devastation and brutality of the genocide there remains almost inconceivable -- but the hopefulness, care and commitment of these young peacebuilders is incredibly inspiring. They are practicing compassion and creating opportunities for turning towards suffering, opening to healing, creating community amidst those who have been aggrieved, some of whom still unsure about their capacity to coexist. I was very moved by the young staff's insight and commitment and I'm very eager to continue to support their heroic work.
What is your spiritual practice?
I am a Zen practitioner and I've been a member of the Zen Center of Los Angeles for several years. I received precepts from Roshi Wendy Egyoku Nakao and completed the Chaplaincy Program at Upaya Zen Center, under the direction of Roshi Joan Halifax. My practice is to sit with a strong back and a soft front and breath.
My work with council has been an extraordinary journey into my Zen practice, and vice versa. Zazen is a great foundation for practicing "listening from the heart," perhaps the most fundamental of the four intentions of council. The stability and open heart that council facilitation demands is fostered and deepened through a practice like Zazen.
In some ways, "living the way of council" is a great path to taking one's practice off the cushion and into the world. And framing the work of council as an upaya for ending suffering becomes very relevant as we bring council programs to impacted communities, prison settings, post-genocide reconciliation efforts.
I'm careful not to characterize our work in places like prison and schools as particularly Buddhist, though, as it would be inaccurate to attribute the practice to any one spiritual context. For me, though, council is the embodiment of bearing witness and compassion. I once heard Roshi Bernie speak of enlightenment as "having the experience of interconnectedness." That, to me, is the invitation and promise of council.
Member: Skye Lavin
I grew up on a family farm in Racine County, Wisconsin with two younger sisters. We attended a
Catholic parish school on the weekdays and a Jewish temple for our spiritual education. We also
whirled with the Sufis, sang bhajans with followers of Sai Baba, and, later, encountered Tibetan
Buddhism as a family. This pluralistic approach to spirituality was a fundamental teaching for me on
the emptiness of forms and the universality of the path. My parents and sisters have helped me along
in my iconoclastic yet reverent approach to life by sharing many experiences of great love. As an
adult, discovering Zen has brought me back into the infinite embrace.
After college, I worked for two years in an orthodox Hindu village in the beautiful foothills of the
Nepalese Himalayas, where any preconceptions I had about eastern religions was knocked right out of
me. I read the Upanishads in the sun-dappled forests while spending time with itinerant yogis and
dodging the headmaster of my school, with whom I sparred fiercely over my rebellious feminist
I connected with Zen practice so deeply in 2010 in part because of the blazing warmth and wisdom of
Robert and June. Every meeting sets fire to my delusion of isolation. Now, 7 years later, having moved
to Cambridge, MA and then come back, I am grounded by the presence of the Center & the sangha,
and feel incredibly lucky to be studying wholeheartedly and with commitment at ZLMC.
I recently had the incredible good fortune to participate in the Street Retreat with Roshi Genro, Sensei
June, and others. I wanted to go on this retreat because the whole idea frightened me a lot. The
retreat spoke intimately to my greatest fear... of losing my comfortable life and falling out of society....
and perhaps because it engaged that deep fear, the retreat turned out to be one of the most profound
learning experiences I've ever had. One of my biggest obstacles to Zen practice is that I live too much
in my head. I read a lot and worry. This experience pushed me out into the world to have direct
experiences with people on the street, the wind, the sun, the generosity of others, and the wise circle
of friends. I have a powerful respect for the resourcefulness, strength, and ordinariness (the just like
you and me-ness) of people who live on the street. My aspiration to be of benefit is running high now.
Interview with Prajnatara Paula Hirschboeck
Sensei Prajnatara Paula Hirschboeck leads the Sophia Zen Sangha in Madison, Wisconsin. She will be co-leading the April 28 and 29, 2017 Womenʻs Retreat with Sensei June Ryushin Tanoue. She told us this about herself.
Paula: I grew up in a strong Catholic family just north of Milwaukee, the oldest of five children. Lots of baby sitting! The Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa, WI taught me in grade and high school. I was introduced to the mystical life by the sisters and to Zen by my mother. She loved Thomas Merton and was intrigued by how he brought Catholicism and Zen together. My father introduced me to Teillard de Chardin.
Knowing I wanted to be a teacher, I entered the Dominicans after high school. After college (Domincan University in nearby River Forest) came high school teaching-- first the inner city of Chicago (where I saw the city burningin ’68 and my students taught me about racial justice) –then the south side of Minneapolis (where I became a radical feminist), and Cheyenne, Wyoming, the wild west of nuclear missile silos. In Cheyenne I co-founded a Catholic Worker house and got involved in peace work. The sisters supported me as I got in trouble with Church authorities and moved beyond Christianitybut eventually, in 1989, I left the Dominican congregation. All this time I was practicing Zen informally.
After teaching at a Community College I received my Ph.D. in Philosophy, Religion and Womenʻs Studies and I was hired by Edgewood College in Madison, a liberal arts school sponsored bythe same Sinsinawa sisters. I began formal Zen study with Diane Martin, Roshi in 1998. Later I also trained to be a spiritual director. When I was ordained a Soto Zen priest in 2010 I retired from Edgewood and began Sophia Zen Sangha. We meet in Madison at Sophia Zen Temple (my home). A regional sanghasegment meets in various spots in South Central Wisconsin. We are a women’s sangha focusing on the teachings of Prajna Paramita for the liberation and evolution of humanity, all species and planet Earth.
June: What is it about zen practice that you are drawn to?
Paula: What draws me to Zen study and practice? Frankly, it works. Practice frees me from suffering moment by moment every day. The Wisdom beyond human wisdom, Prajna Paramita,(Sophia is her Western name) is transparent, opening Reality beyond my fears. Her luminous awarenessis empty of fear, of grasping or self criticism. My favorite line from the Heart Sutra sums up the gift of Zen practice for me: “With nothing to attain the bodhisattva depends on Prajna Paramita and the mind is no hindrance.” But none of this happens in isolation. The profound teaching of our inter-being affirms that as I wake up all beings are liberated with me.
June: Weʻre collaborating on the Womenʻs Retreat at the end of April. What is your hope for women coming to the retreat
Paula: To the women who join June and me for retreat: May we learn to trust the uniqueness and diversity of ourlives. Being true to our authentic selves is revolutionary. May we trust thatour personalliberation is radically changing the world. Our times need awake women courageous enough not to subvert our enlightenment. May we relax into the natural wisdom of our bodies where we are withoutanxiety. May we realize the bodhisattva vows are about being, not doing. This is why the vows are phrased so that our small selves cannot do them. My hope for our retreat is that together we discover the joy of what being natural women bodhisattvas offers. Thank you for inviting me.
Member: Steven Parker
Although I lived in New Jersey, Boston, and Chicago longer than I lived in New York, I still think of myself as a New Yorker. Not just any New Yorker, but a Brooklyn Jew. My Great Grandparents arrived via Ellis Island with much family around 1905 from Russia, now Lithuania. The Pogroms persecuting the Jews necessitated this move. Brooklyn became home. My grandmother was the oldest of 10 children and became one of the most influential people in my life. Visiting my great grandmother’s house was to be immersed in old country ethnicity with 50 people crowded into a small Brooklyn apartment talking Yiddish…Loudly! And eating…. A lot! And always being told, “My you’ve grown.” And there was always the laughter. My Great Aunts were bawdy, funny and many times outrageous. My Great Uncles were too. In the summer this tribe would gather at Coney Island, a magical place where there were bathhouses along the boardwalk that were ethnically defined. The Washington baths required that you came from Eastern Europe, spoke Yiddish, played Mah-Jong, and had a lot of loose hanging flesh that was very tan. As a large ethnic, not religious family, we were taught to be proud of our Jewish heritage while at the same time made aware that we lived in an anti-Semitic world that was capable of the holocaust.
My older brother and I couldn’t have been more fortunate to have had the parents we did. My mother and father moved us out to Long Island as part of the first wave to suburbia when I was a young child. They created a house that was predominantly filled with love and laughter. My older brother and I laugh hysterically to this day when we’re together. Usually we’re the only ones who think we’re funny. This experience of family is woven in me. So was coming of age in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Television, sputnik, nuclear testing, Elvis, air raid drills, assassinations, Dylan, the Vietnam War, and being a highly successful athlete were profound influences on me. In high school I became politicized as an anti – war protester. In June of 1969 I graduated high school, went to Woodstock in August and began college in September. That May most of the colleges across the country were out on strike with the shootings at Kent State capping off the month. During my four years of college, 1969-1973, the world changed dramatically. In addition to the Anti-War movement, the feminist movement, the gay and lesbian movement, the black power movement, the civil rights movement, the environmental movement and the sexual revolution all came to the forefront at the same time. They were exciting times to say the least.
Upon graduation from college I moved to Boston eventually taking a job as an assistant teacher for children and young adults who were institutionalized because of the severity of their emotional disturbances. It was this experience that led me to graduate school where I received my Masters degree and certification as a special ed teacher. It is at this time that I met Ruth, my best friend and wife. I found a job in a middle school in 1976 where I stayed for 11 years before becoming the principal of a day treatment center. Coinciding with my career in education was my training and work in the field of family therapy which I continue to do today in my private practice. In addition I have been a supervisor and trainer of therapists in mental health centers and I am periodically a guest lecturer at the Loyola School of Social Work. My passion is to help couples and families change their lives for the better believing that a peaceful world will be the result of peaceful families. The foundation of my work is deeply rooted in a mindfulness practice.
In 1989 along with my 3 and 5 year old boys, Ruth and I moved from Boston into her family home in Oak Park. My boys are the 5th generation living in the house that belonged to Ruth’s great grandmother. Nothing has had a more profound impact on my life than becoming a father. My boys are both adults now in their 30’s. Each in their own way are great teachers for me. I’ve learned much about joy and fun, living with appreciation and gratitude, the illusion of control, fear and worry, and letting go, to name a few.
My spiritual practice has different forms. From profound awareness using mind expanding drugs in the 70’s, to my annual backpacks which reveal to me Mother Nature’s glory, to the many years of participation in Sweat Lodge ceremonies. I have been a member of ZLMC for a couple of years and began a more consistent meditation practice 8 months ago. I am grateful for the center’s presence in my life.
Member: Robert Demaree
I was born right here in the Midwest – Muncie, Indiana and grew-up in New Jersey.
I was introduced to Buddhism in 1979 while I was a student at Denison University. I went to the Philadelphia Dharmadatu which was founded by Chogyam Trungpa, where I received my first meditation instruction. I experienced how I could actually work with my thoughts and feelings in a very pragmatic way. I also experienced how I could grow and develop intentionally. I’ve continued my practice to this day and have been a member at the ZLMC since 2011 and recently became a board member.
The ZLMC has become a “home-away-from-home” for me. The sangha is a great source of intimate friendship and inspiration. It’s been exciting to see how the center has grown over the years. Currently I’m an advanced student studying Koans with Roshi Robert Althouse. It’s been a extremely challenging course of study where there is no “answer” and there is an “answer” that requires me to go beyond my thinking mind for the “answer”.
Professionally, I’m an executive coach who helps leaders and their teams reach their full potential by uncovering the “hidden” source(s) of their resistance to realizing their full potential. I use the Immunity to Change(ITC) process to do this. It is a simple process that uncovers the “hidden” sources of resistance efficiently and pretty easily. I learned the ITC process from Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey of Harvard University who are the originators of it and have been refining the process over the past 20 years with individuals, teams and organizations.
I’ve also been certified as a Master Somatic Coach through the Strozzi Institute.
I received my Masters in Organization Development from Loyola University and received my BA in philosophy from Denison University.
Member: Vivienne Lund
Vivienne Lund is a ZLMC Practicing Member and co-stewards the Conscious Living/Conscious Dying Circle with her husband Robert Dainei Lund. She also leads our seasonal solstice and equinox rituals. Vivienne told us this about herself.
I was born 72 years ago in a little country town of Rochford located in Essex County, England. My mother, Evelyn Anderson, was a native of this town and also a member of the WAAF (the Women's Auxiliary Air Force) during the World War Two years. My father, Marvin Reed, was in the U. S. Army and they both were stationed at the same Air base in Duxford, England. According to my father's poetry (which he began writing at age 80), theirs was quite the love affair and she was his quiet and stately English rose.
I was born in 1944 in the upstairs bedroom of a family home during an air raid. The town of Rochford was on the direct route the German pilots took to get to London and complete their bombing missions. My father left England in 1945 and returned to New Sharon, Iowa, his home town, and built a home for his new family. In 1946, my mother and I (aged two), left England and all her large family to join him and begin a new adventure. My younger siblings, Jim and Linda, and myself grew up in this town and my parents remained in the same home all their lives.
I have been married to Robert Lund, the love of my life, for almost 34 years and we have three wonderful children. Christina (50) lives in St. Charles, Illinois, Jason (39) in Janesville, Wisconsin and Erik (37) in LaGrange, Illinois. Wehave five beautiful grandchildren, ages ranging from 25 down to 5 years and one great-granddaughter, 15 months old.
I received a B.A. degree in English from William Penn College in Oskaloosa, Iowa, and an MSW from the University of Illinois. I taught Junior and Senior High English and Speech in the states of Iowa and Michigan for 5 years. I have also worked some 35 years in Iowa and Illinois as a social worker and supervisor. I am currently retired after working for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services for over 25 years in the roles of investigating child abuse and neglect in Cook County, providing services to teens in group home settings aging out of the system and monitoring private agency contracts with the department.
Following my retirement some 14 years ago, I worked briefly investigating elder abuse cases. I also worked for the Literacy Volunteers of Cook County, assisting adults in learning to read.
I absolutely love my retirement! Not only do I enjoy spending as much time as I can with my family but I also continue exploring my interest in writing poetry and creating rituals honoring the cycles of the seasons and other special life occurrences, playing the piano and traveling. I revere the lyrics and music of Leonard Cohen, the simplicity and humility of Mary Oliver's poetry, the musical creativity of Rufus Wainwright and the wonderful offerings of all who show us the beauty of this world and the human beings in it.
I credit my husband in opening up the doors to the Zen Center to me. I have been a practicing member for some 6 years and feel so accepted and safe within the sangha. The power of meditation remains an open book of exploration for me and I find it very challenging. As I have always had difficulties in following through on plans and interests, it is my intention to keep at it and keep practicing on a daily basis, no matter how hard or sometimes insignificant it may seem.
It also makes me very happy that I can express myself and that my voice is heard through my poetry and ritual presentations at the Center. Of particular importance to me this last year has been the beautiful intimacy established within the circle of members of the Conscious Living/Conscious Dying circle. I am truly grateful for the Zen Center, the diversity of the sangha and all the rich potential it offers.
Member: Christine DuSell
I grew up about 45 miles southwest of Oak Park in a small town called Oswego – or at least it was small when I grew up. Now it is a burgeoning suburban community, but when I lived there it was 1900 people and Chicago was a world away. It was pretty much an idyllic town to grow up in – the sort where no one locks their doors, the neighborhood kids played “kick the can” on summer nights, and you knew not just the families on your block but several blocks over.
My parents and both sets of grandparents also grew up within 10 miles of Oswego, so I am definitely a Midwesterner through and through.
In my twenties (a long time ago!), due to family, school, and work, I lived in Charlotte, New Orleans, St. Louis, and Minneapolis. I really loved the excitement of acclimating to new places, but I’m also not a bit sorry that I ended up back near my home stomping grounds.
My degrees are in Social Work, but I’ve worked most of my career in the human resources area, first in the corporate sector and then in academia. I’ve been at the University of Chicago Law School for about two years and before that spent many years at Chapin Hall Center for Children, a policy research center affiliated with the University of Chicago. I enjoy working, but would be very pleased if teleporting were an option!
My husband and I are huge fans national parks and day hiking, especially of the parks west of the Mississippi. Over the years we’ve visited most of the western parks, and some of them more than once. It’s impossible to pick a favorite – but Death Valley holds a very special place in my heart. (Oh, wait, so do the Tetons….and Capitol Reef…and Big Bend…and, and, and….)
My introduction to the Zen Center was the Primer Course about 6 years, I think. I had always been interested in learning more about Buddhism, and Zen in particular, and so how fortunate could I be to have a Zen Center just a mile from where I live? I loved the Primer course and pretty quickly enrolled in a Gateway course and, as they say, the rest is history.
I’ve participated in several different volunteer opportunities, starting out with being a morning opener some years back, and I now sit on the Board of Directors and steward the Ethics Circle. Volunteering is a great way to be involved in the Center’s “well-being,” to get to know others, and to really feel like an integral member of the sangha. (And it truly is a wonderful sangha.)
Within the last year I completed the training that Robert offered to become a certified teacher of the Primer Course and the Focusing and Compassionate Communication classes. It’s definitely deepened my own practice, and it’s a lot of fun and very satisfying to share these teachings with students.
I have a regular sitting practice, some days at home, some days at the Center and my guideline for sitting is “more days than not.” My own experience is that at some point in the last few years the motivation for sitting shifted from being something that I had to be very disciplined about to now being something that I look forward to. It’s had a huge impact in my life. It may not be visible to those around me, but my mind is significantly quieter than it used to be and that is a huge relief. I’m also far more gentle and less judgmental with myself, and that extends to others much more easily than it did in the past.
There are many things that are great about the Zen Center, but something that I am so appreciative of is the inclusiveness that Robert and June have embedded at the core of the Center. You can be abuddhist, or a christian, jew, muslim, agnostic, atheist, humanist (and on) and you will be welcomed. What binds us is our desire to live an awakened life, and to reduce the suffering of all beings, including ourselves.
Grateful. That’s how I feel about being a member of the Zen Center.
Member: Teddy Rankin-Parker
ZLMC Practicing Member Teddy Rankin-Parker is an American cellist specializing in improvisation and avant-garde music. He performs extensively throughout the US and Europe, wearing the hats of composer and performance artist, and appearing in a variety of contexts including chamber orchestras, free improvised settings, performance art, and electro-acoustic music.
Teddy started sitting at the Zen Life & Meditation Center this past summer and has been steadfast ever since.
June Ryushin Tanoue: Tell me a little about yourself - where you were born, your parents, your family, your education, your work?
Teddy Rankin Parker: I am a 5th generation Oak Parker! Though I was born in Malden, Massachusetts, my family moved to Oak Park to take over the family home when I was 3 years old. My father is a Lithuanian Jew who grew up on Long Island, my mother a native Oak Park Baptist. They met in Boston while both studying Special Education in graduate school. After teaching Special Ed for many years my father became a Marriage and Family Therapist and my mother a Nurse. I have an older brother named Ben who also lives in Oak Park. Ben works at Jewel Grocery Store andAspire Coffeeworks. In 1995 while I was a student at Holmes Elementary School I started the Oak Park Yo-Yo Club at our local Kite Harbor Toy Store on Marion Street.
June: You have a passion for the cello - tell me about that.
Teddy: I began playing the cello when I was 8 years old. My mother Ruth also played the cello when she was young; her claim to fame being that she sat last chair on a European concert tour with the Oak Park and River Forest High School Orchestra in 1966 when she was a Sophomore. After she graduated from high school her cello sat in the corner for 20 years until I came along. I think it was the first musical instrument I ever played. I fell in love with the cello immediately. After my own go-round with the OPRF High School Orchestra I continued my musical studies at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and received a BM in Cello Performance. I joined the Chicago music community in 2009 and have been enjoying a dynamic career in music ever since, appearing in a variety of contexts including chamber orchestras, free-improvised settings, performance art, and electro-acoustic music. Avant-garde cellists make very little money, in case you were wondering.
June: What is your spiritual practice?
Teddy: My spiritual practice consists primarily of prayer and meditation. I sit between 20-45 minutes every day and practice one-pointed attention by way of counting my breath. I also have a daily yoga practice that I consider an integral part of my meditation practice. My prayer life consists of expressing gratitude for having been caused to live by the deep conditions of the universe. In prayer I also remind myself that my life is totally groundless by nature, and any attempts to secure and control it will lead me to feeling very uncomfortable.
June: What drew you to ZLMC and how has it helped?
Teddy: I was drawn to ZLMC in hopes of learning more about meditation, as well as to find motivation to be consistent with my practice. This is exactly what happened! I also found a totally welcoming and warm-hearted and diverse community that cares deeply about one another. Through the Core Primer Series, the Meditation Mentorship Program, and our Public Meditation and Sunday Morning Dharma Talks I feel like my spiritual life is being continually energized. I am very grateful to be a part of the ZLMC community.
Member: Michael Carmody
Michael Carmody is a ZLMC practicing member. He told us this about himself.
Michael: I was born and raised in Oak Park, along with my 4 brothers (I am the middle child). My dad was also born in Oak Park and my mom emigrated here all the way from Chicago. I grew up in a very athletic family and have always been proudly involved in the OPRF health/wellness and sports communities. I have a bachelor's degree in Elementary education and a Master's degree in special education.
My professional life started as a teacher at Oak Park and River Forest High School, before co-founding Opportunity Knocks, Inc. We are a non-profit that provides after school and day programs for individuals with developmental disabilities in Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park.
June: What is your spiritual practice?
Michael: I have a daily prayer and meditation practice. I strive to live a life of eating right, exercising regularly, and fostering positive human connection. I am gradually learning how to live a zen inspired life!
June: What drew you to ZLMC and how has it helped?
Michael: I feel very grateful to have had a lot of friends who kept recommending meditation to me. They claimed it was improving their lives! Being curious, I started to use cellphone apps such as 'Calm' and 'Headspace' in an effort to see what all the fuss was about. After 6 months of using these apps, certainly experiencing some benefits, and gradually encountering more and more people interested in Mindfulness Practice, I was referred to ZLMC by another practicing member. I was told that attending ZLMC might help take my practice to another level, which is exactly what it did! The ZLMC has helped me really understand the importance of living a zen-inspired life. The Primer Course helped me get a better understanding of the inner-workings of my mind, and ways I could actively befriend it. I truly enjoy the group meditations and appreciate the ways I feel encouraged by our community to maintain my own practice. I continue to be challenged by sitting still and quieting the storm that goes on in my head - but ZLMC has given me countless tools to help me embrace all that life throws my way!
Member: Diane Bejcek
June: Tell me a little about yourself - where you were born, your parents, your family, your education, your work, something people may not know about you?
Diane: I was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago and with the exception of living for a few years in Knoxville, TN and Rochester, NY, I have remained a Chicagoan. In spite of Midwestern weather we have enjoyed living close to the beautiful City of Chicago. Currently, I live in Melrose Park with my wife, Laura, our 2 big Golden Retrievers, Emma and Molly, and with my 97 year old mother who is in our care. I completed my Doctorate in Clinical Psychology many years ago and became a Licensed Clinical Psychologist. I have worked in many academic institutions but have really enjoyed cultivating my own private practice. Currently, I work with DCFS clients and agencies to provide psychological assessment, clinical supervision, and consultation. I particularly enjoy working with children and find their honest expression and spontaneity refreshing. It often reminds me of the Buddhist encouragement in our practice to be, “like a child at play.”
June: What is your spiritual practice?
Diane: I think I have always been a buddhist at heart, even when I didn’t really know what it was. I devoured books, techniques, whatever I could find as I grew up in the 70’s and tried to cultivate some kind of meditation practice. One of my early influences was through reading the book by Alan Watts, “The Wisdom of Insecurity.” It was mind blowing and ignited my search for some type of formal study, practice, teacher, whatever I could find. I really like a Sufi saying about spiritual practice, “There are two rules on the spiritual path; Begin and Continue.”
I continued to search and eventually found a path within a Tibetan Buddhist lineage and practiced for about 12 years, even ordaining as a Buddhist nun. It provided a certain kind of structure and profound teaching which helped me gain a deep foundation of Buddhist thought and practice. However, I began to realize that something was shifting, both externally and internally which sparked my need to continue the search for a teacher and spiritual community.
I think that one of my guiding principles throughout my spiritual life has been to seek refuge in the Three Jewels. I found refuge practice to be extraordinary in terms of living in the present moment and taking Buddha’s teachings to heart.
June: What drew you to ZLMC and how has it helped?
Diane: A friend of mine invited me to his Jukai ceremony about a year before I really became more involved at ZLMC. The simplicity, profundity, and beauty of the ceremony really struck a chord inside and I became curious about the Zen path, and this particular place to practice. I enrolled in the Primer classes and attended some of the workshops at ZLMC, and started coming to SMZ. I felt like everything was coming into alignment, the teachings, teachers, community, and zen path. There is something very authentic and meaningful at ZLMC and I’m very happy to be here now.
Member: Father Michal Lewon
1. Tell me a little about yourself - where you were born, your parents, your family, your education, your work, your passion?
I was born in Poland in 1981. Poland was still a socialistic democracy. I do remember this system and how it changed into a capitalistic democracy in 1989. It was a very fascinating time and very unique. What I learned from that time was that systems can change in a very peaceful way when the system and the people are ready to experience change.
Back in Poland, my parents were elementary school teachers. In Chicago, my dad is a construction job estimator.
I have two brothers and a sister on the other side of life.
I was educated in Poland and in the US. Most of my elementary and high school education was in Poland and some elementary and college in the US. I like schools. Schools and libraries are very fascinating places for me. They are the temples of knowledge.
I have been a Catholic priest for the last 8 years and have worked in the Chicago area. I like being a minister and working with different people and different age groups. My work entails creating personal relationships with people and helping them to go beyond themselves. I am very interested in knowing G-d* and experiencing him through imitating Jesus Christ and sharing that with others.
My passion is religion, spirituality and philosophy. I am interested in all the main five religions. I like to look at the similarities and differences in doctrine but especially in practice. Regarding spirituality, I am fascinated with monasticism and nature. I find solitude and the desert to be very spiritual experiences. Philosophically, I am a phenomenologist. I like to look at one described object from many different perspectives and learn about it.
2. What is your spiritual practice?
I am a Roman Catholic. So my Spirituality is Christ centered. However, I found Buddhism to help me understand what it means to be Christ and to go deeper into my own experience of self and the biblical notion of being an image of *G-d. Watching “The Living Buddha” and reading “Living Buddha, Living Christ” by Thich Nhat Hanh put me on the path of realizing that practices of other religions can help me in my own spiritual journey. So now I am trying to discover what it means to be Christos – another Christ and have a Buddha – awaken nature. As a Christian theologian, I am interested in Judeo-Christian Catholicism. Without Judaism, we cannot be Christians.
3. What drew you to ZLMC and how has it helped?
I have done some sitting meditation with different Buddhist monks. However, I found that I like the simplicity of Zen the most. Perhaps having family in Japan helped me to be more attracted to that school of Buddhism, too. Also, when I met Robert Althouse and he told me that as a teacher he looked at and taught Zen from the philosophical and psychological point of view, I knew I found the Zen Center to be for me. I like Zen non-dualism. I think this is a very healthy way of teaching the unity that I desire to experience. I find Buddhism to be a very practical way of life with a teaching that is more interested in life here on earth than life after this life. Besides, I believe Jesus was more interested in experiencing the Kingdom of *G-d here on earth than on the other side of life. On this level, Buddhism and Christianity teach the same. Buddhism and mindfulness have helped me with my prayer life and self understanding.
*G-d – Jewish way of writing the word for the Master of the Universe. Why this way? The goal is to respect the name of the One who is beyond our understanding and the only thing we can do is to participate in His reality. On some level, Zen helps me to experience and live in that reality.
Member: Brian Fugan Graham
Brian Fugan Graham has been practicing at ZLMC for the past ten years. He was born in Joliet, IL and has lived in the suburbs of Chicago for most of his life. Brian went to college in Wisconsin and is an Occupational Therapist at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center.
Brian remembers the center ten years ago and why he started coming to meditate.
Brian Fugan Graham: At that time Roshi Robert Joshin Althouse and Sensei June Ryushin Tanoue ran a small Zen center out of their house.
I had always been interested in world religions and took a few courses in comparative religion in college. Out of all of the spiritual traditions in the world Buddhism has always appealed to me the most.
After I graduated college I drifted around aimlessly for a few years before "deciding what to do with my life." I found the Zen Community of Oak Park early on during this period of my life. At the time, my life was devoid of a clear purpose; I had moved from the highly structured life of university learning and I was suddenly "free" from the constraints and stresses of higher education.
I remember thinking at the time that I had looked forward to graduating from college as some sort of liberation, but what I found was the same vague sense of unease and unhappiness I had felt during high school and college.
I have been with the Zen Center through its various incarnations to this day.
My spiritual practice has changed over the years. I can't speak for anybody else, but what I "wanted" out of Zen practice has changed over the years also.
When I first started practicing it was almost exclusively sitting meditation. At that time I wanted to deal with Zen from a purely experiential point of view and I didn't want Zen to be an analytical, intellectual process.
About a year into my Zen practice I read my first "official" Zen book, "The Mind of Clover" by Robert Aitken. A few years into the process I did start to read more about the philosophical and psychological aspects of Buddhism in general.
Currently the "research" I do into Buddhism is what, for lack of better terminology, could be considered "secular Buddhism." I, at least, think it is useful to "just sit" in meditation on the one hand, and also study the various teachings of Buddhist figures on the other hand.
What I want to focus on now is attending more Council Circles. I think many people who are considering becoming involved in Zen, traditional Buddhism or more secular forms of Buddhism don't realize how important communities (sanghas) of fellow practitioners are.
I think there is an assumption that meditation and mindfulness are lonely practices that draw you deeper into yourself. This couldn't be further from the truth. At least in my experience, the full knowledge of how self-absorbed I was directly led me to engage in the "outside world" with more honesty and compassion.
Bottom line: you don't have to do this alone.
Member: Pat Bloom, MD
Pat Bloom, MD is a ZLMC practicing member and a regular with her husband and advanced member Mark Gelula at our Sunday Morning Zen program. She and Mark will be offering an interesting workshop on GRACE on June 5th from 1 - 5 pm at the center. She told us this about her life and work.
Pat Bloom: I grew up in a small town in Iowa, Muscatine,right on the Mississippi River. My undergrad and med school were at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. Because I really liked outpatient medicine and getting to know my patients, I chose Family Medicine as a specialty.
For residency I went to Huntsville, Alabama. This was quite a shock for an Iowa farm girl! I did enjoy my time and met my husband Mark Gelula there. Since that time I have become a geriatrician and now a hospice and palliative care physician. Mark and I have moved to many places in the country but have lived in Park Ridge for over twenty years.
Three years ago I decided to retire from Rainbow Hospice and Palliative Care. I found that I missed my work very much and I now work part time doing home visits for patients enrolled in hospice.
The reality is I never thought of being anything but a physician. I loved science and had a wonderful "general practitioner" as a role model.The most inspiring part of being a physician has been being so intimately involved in the lives of my patients and helping them cope with life's challenges.
Mark and I began going to Upaya Zen center in Sante Fe, New Mexico five years ago to study with Roshi Joan Halifax. We initially were taking courses primarily on dealing with death and dying. This introduced us to the GRACE model and we have now taken this training twice.
The GRACE model has completely changed how I interact with my patients. I do home visits over the entire Chicagoland. Before I knock on the door I go through the GRACE steps in my head to get myself ready for whatever I will find. Many times the situations I find are much different than I expected and there again I go through GRACE to "ground" myself to meet the suffering I find.
Mark and I are blessed with three wonderful children who each have a wonderful spouse. No grandchildren yet but we are keeping our fingers crossed! We are also parents to two sweet cats. I love to travel, read and ride my bike.
For the past few years we had been looking for a sangha. We were so happy when a friend suggested we try ZLMC. The community is so nurturing and open. It has definitely become an important part of my life.
Member: Michael Shikan Brunner
ZLMC Advanced Member Michael Brunner grew up in Yardley, Pennsylvania - a small town on the banks of the Delaware River. He was the oldest of five children and spent most of his childhood caring for his younger brother David who suffered from a profound presentation of Autism that left him without faculties for speech, and with broad behavioral issues. Michael relates, "We would walk for hours every day, it was the only way he could sleep at night. I had a lot of time to think - we walked in silence. It was an interesting childhood."
Michael was raised a nominal Catholic - attending church very infrequently until he was exposed to evangelical Christianity in his mid-teens. "All at once, I felt like I had answers," he said of the experience. He surrendered his life to ministry and began studying at a conservative Bible college only to learn that his emerging spirituality began to diverge from the strict interpretation of his peers. This drove Michael to Philosophy, where he enjoyed the broad spectrum of thoughts and ideals - and he took a break from his spiritual practice to study in a secular setting. During this period, he was exposed to Eastern Philosphy through a comparative religions class. "We were studying a lot of Hegel and Heidegger at the time, it was very heavy reading. Then I was assigned to read "The Empty Mirror" by Janwillem van der Wetering - and I felt like something inside me woke up." said Michael. This was followed by works by D.T. Suzuki - and a long period of reading about Buddhism.
It was years later that Michael began to cultivate a spiritual practice around meditation as he was faced with some personal crises surrounding relationship and career setbacks. He continued to practice and study on his own for some time until he realized he needed to be a part of a community if he was going to get the support he needed to continue his practice. He visited ZLMC for a Primer class in 2009 and felt immediately at home. He then became an Advanced Member and began studying with Robert that same year. In 2010, Michael took the Buddhist precepts and was given the Dharma name "Shikan" (which means "aspiration - insight") by Robert. Michael says of his experience with the Center, "It's great to have a personal connection, and someone to help keep me on track. The community is always there to encourage and challenge me to deepen my practice. It has made a big difference in my life, it has been transformative." Michael has continued his studies since with Robert and has ambitions to teach, as well.
Michael resides in Johnsburg. He works as the Vice President of Sales Enablement for Vision, a marketing firm in Bolingbrook, Illinois.
ZLMC Practicing Member Shirley Neiman was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and grew up with her brother, Jim, in Wauwatosa, a suburb of Milwaukee.
She graduated from the University of Wisconsin where she met her husband Tom. They have been together for 39 years and currently share their home in Chicago with two cats, Miiko and Ruffy.
Currently, she is the Director of the Child Development Center for the University of Chicago. Education, especially of children in their early years, has been the focus of her career.
Shirley is a member of the new ZLMC Children's Dharma Circle and is helping to plan a program for children at the Center. She joined the Zen Life and Meditation Center in February of 2015 while taking the Primer Classes with Tom. Tom recently become an advanced member.
Shirley says this about her experience at ZLMC. "For me the Zen Center is a comfortable environment to meditate and learn. ZLMC offers a group of people with similar interests and concerns for the world we live in. I am most excited to be a part of the planning for the new children's dharma circle."
"Children need coping skills to deal with all the expectations, noise and even violence they face on a daily basis. What better way, then, to instill the ideas of mindfulness and meditation techniques at an early age."
Advanced ZLMC member Dan Doherty was born and raised in Chicago area. His wife and three cats call Riverside, Il their home for now. He told us this about himself:
I've been a musician in one way or another for nearly my whole life. In addition to being one of my greatest passions in life I find that music is a spiritual practice in its own right. Playing music teaches us a great deal about ourselves.
I have been interested in and dabbled with various aspects of Eastern Spirituality for all of my adult life. I suppose you could call me a seeker, though I think that label would apply to everyone one way or another. In the past year I have finally managed to establish a regular meditation practice. In addition, I am constantly trying to find ways to integrate mindfulness and other Zen practices into my daily life. Practicing "Not Knowing" is immensely beneficial in my line of work in local government data analytics.
I procrastinated for about a year after learning about ZLMC. I was convinced that what I was looking for couldn't be located in a store-front in Oak Park- 20 minutes from home. It all seemed too good to be true! When I finally got around to attending the Primer Series with Roshi and his compassionate yet easy to understand way of teaching it became clear that This was indeed what I was looking for all along. I found in our Sangha a place to experience The Dharma even if we don't really use either of those terms very often.
My meditation practice has already yielded several fruits to help sustain me in my daily life. The most obvious ones being an increased ability to focus on what is most important at any given moment and a (slightly) greater ability to spot my own nonsensical "stories" before they intervene to make a mess of things.
Shishin Mark Gelula is President of the ZLMC Board of Directors and a ZLMC advanced membr. He is married to Pat Bloom and both have raised a family of three wonderful children: Melisse, David and Josh. They also have two beloved cats. Shishin told us this about himself.
Shishin: I was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey. My childhood memories are of an idyllic town, not a gambling town. Atlantic City was a big summer vacation spot for East Coast families. In the winter it was a sleepy place of 8,000 people but in the summer it grew to a hundred thousand. That was very exciting for us kids who could meet lots of new people in the summer.
I have two brothers, neither living in Atlantic City any longer. I guess we all had education drift. I essentially left home as an undergraduate which I did at Syracuse University.
Following that I volunteered for the Peace Corps and was sent to Afghanistan where I taught English as a second language. That was 1966. After the Peace Corps I had a brief experience in sales and realized that work was not for me.
I started teaching in the inner city of Buffalo and got my masters in education during that time. From there I went on to receive a Ph.D. also at University of Buffalo. I was teaching educational administration at the academic level for several years.
But my real passion was working with people in education. Fortunately I was invited to join the faculty at the University of Alabama School of Primary Medical Care in its Family Medicine residency training program in 1979. That work -- medical education -- has been my focus and passion since then.
June: What is your spiritual practice?
Shishin: I was doing a lot of international consulting during my years at UIC College of Medicine. That work took me to Thailand for several long and intensive work experiences. While there I became curious about the wonderful nature of the Thai people I met. In my naivete, I generalized that their cultural nature must have been because they were a dominantly Buddhist population.
So, to me at that time, that meant meditating. I came home and told my wife Pat about my experience and we decided to meditate, starting, without any lessons, 2-3 minutes each day. Well, that grew and grew until we really began to feel that we were doing something important for ourselves.
A friend told me about the Tibetan teacher Sogyal Rinpoche and I began following his teaching. He offers a large curriculum of online courses . I took many of them and developed my foundation in Buddhist theory and history. Through this study I was also able to really deepen my meditation practice.
Ultimately, attending some "work with the dying" courses at Upaya Zen Center caused me to realize the benefits of Zen for me. I've been an active Zen practitioner since 2012.
June: What drew you to ZLMC and how has it helped?
Shishin: I was searching for someone to help me in Zen here in Chicago. I had gotten to know Roshi Joan Halifax at Upaya Zen Center and she suggested that I contact our Roshi, Robert Althouse.
When we met I felt that he would be a good connection for me as I learned more about Zen. It is so different from the Tibetan approach to Buddhism. I really liked what I learned from Sogyal Rinpoche but I found that Zen was very immediate.
In fact I have found ways of marrying my Tibetan grounding and my Zen work and Zen life under Robert Althouse's teaching and guidance. His work with me in my Jukai studies of the precepts and my koan work has been extremely positive and helpful.
Also Pat and I have found a family at ZLMC. This feeling of family and community is very important to us. We have a strong sangha and I hope that we continue and thrive.
Julie Chisho Kase is a ZLMC Advanced Member who has attended many sesshins (silent meditation retreats). She majored in Environmental Science, minored in Philosophy, and then went back to get a teaching certification in Science for grades 6-12.
She's been a substitute teacher for 10 years and also volunteers with the Chicago Wisdom Project.
She recently attended the Zen Peacemakers Native American Bearing Witness Retreat. Julie began by telling me about her work as a substitute teacher and what she's passionate about.
Julie Chisho Kase: I like treating the students with respect and trying to make things interesting for them. I also try to teach them things that I think might be useful, like meditation. I listen to them, and try to correct them if they say negative things about themselves. I am really good at motivating students to do work. Sometimes I am the only white person around in a school.
My passion for the past couple years has been mindfulness. And Zen. I also like soft-serve ice cream from Karyn's Raw and jumping into Lake Michigan off the cement wall with the ladders. Sometimes I go in with my jogging clothes. The colors of the water are lush on my eyeballs. Lake Michigan to me is a being, like a very very old being who has seen it all. Ancient. I feel like an obnoxious puppy compared to that lake. June Ryushin Tanoue: What is your spiritual practice?
Julie: Lately my spiritual practice has been "don't give up". Like to keep trying. Keep doing things. Simple things like cleaning my room or some obvious thing that would help someone. I haven't been sitting that much. Normally I try to sit an hour or so a day. Sometimes focusing on counting my breathing, sometimes body sensations, or koans.
In general I would like to have a spiritual practice of doing good. I would like to do good for others. I'm still working on that.
So far, I have a superstitious fear about anger. I try to stop moving around if I get angry and wait until it changes before doing anything else like walking or making a decision. I would like to keep studying Zen and become an amazing warrior of good.
June: What drew you to ZLMC and how has it helped?
Julie: I was drawn to ZLMC for many reasons. First, I heard Robert (Roshi) on the radio. He was making sense. He was talking about politics in a very clear way that I liked, so I wrote down the name of the center and put it on my cork board.
I ended up going a few months later for help with my throat. I had been getting tightening sensations in my throat when I would meditate. I took the Primer class which was really great and started Zen therapy for my throat.
My throat was not the only problem. I was having trouble in my life in many ways. I had just survived a sexual assault at age 30, which left me with PTSD and suddenly living with my parents, unable to work. My life at my parents house became intolerable.
I tried Non-Violent Communication that we had just learned at ZLMC and also studied verbal abuse. I went to a few family therapy sessions with a therapist to try to explain verbal abuse to my family. It didn't help.
Things were so bad that I started living in my car, sleeping on my friend's couches here and there. I was jobless and homeless, exhausted and scared. I felt alienated in many ways. I couldn't relate to my friends anymore.
I found a job as a waitress part-time, and had some Zen counseling sessions that were very helpful. Robert's presence gave me great confidence in my ability to face my life.
I am drawn to ZLMC because it is full of incredible people that I love. I am blown away by them. They're kind and listen to each other. They have ways of dealing with feelings and situations that seem very clear and safe and sane.
Non-Violent Communication seems very clear to me. It opened up a whole new way of making sense of my emotions.
Council circles are very valuable. Good ways to share. I am also drawn to Robert and June as people. They have different priorities than some people I've met. They enjoy things and help people.
I continued to make improvements in my life, finding work with Chicago Public Schools. I started being a Zen student and took Jukai.
After all that, I encountered more chaos and challenges and ended up back at my parents' house, which was one of the scariest places I could think of. Which is where I am now. This time it's different. I know what to do. June has been there the whole time during all of it. A lot of times she has some wisdom to share. She is inspiring in many ways.
It is good to have people to look up to. Robert and June have shared food, shelter, Zen practice, wonderful retreats, and more with me. I want to be like them.
The Zen Center has helped me to have a lot of courage. It is my real home and my family. It's helped me to try to be of service as much as I can. I know there is more I can learn and do here.
It's hard to sum up something so important with words.
Tom Neiman is a ZLMC practicing member. If you've been to the Center recently you may have noticed his intriguing photographs and poetry on the walls. Tom will be giving the talk on the July 12th Sunday Morning Zen using his photographs to talk about his experience at the Center.
He is currently self-employed digitizing and coloring mostly 19th century pictures from the archive that he owns. The images are licensed by several international agencies for editorial, advertising, and other uses. Tom is married to Shirley Neiman, another ZLMC practicing member.
Tom wrote the following about himself:
I was born in Wisconsin and lived there until moving to Chicago in 1986.
My education was mostly public schools, except for 4th through 8th grade in a Catholic school. By 8th grade it seemed that the Catholic culture didn't fit me or my life goals.
I spent two years at New Mexico State University and completed an MA Fine Art degree at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
More recently I finished four art therapy courses at Northwestern University, Professional Continuing Studies, Evanston, IL.
Zen and ZLMC have changed my life in many good ways. Besides having a consistent meditation practice, drinking tea has changed to a more mindful activity that I now consider a practice.
The new Primer Series of classes at ZLMC significantly exceeded my expectations. Soon after finishing the eight classes and putting the ideas into practice, I noticed improvements in my everyday life. I'm calmer, more focused, and better in communicating with other people.
My current photographic project is Outside Inside: Zen, Art, and Window Washing (2015). It was inspired by transformative experiences at ZLMC, especially three days at a silent retreat.
The project is more process oriented than my past artwork. Focusing on mindful awareness in the immediate moment, rather than an object- oriented goal, has made this project especially meaningful for me.
The finished material product is secondary to the process. This way of working seems to have enhanced the quality and depth of my spiritual practice.
Mary Grace (MG) Bertulfo is a ZLMC Practicing Member. She was born in Virginia on a U.S. naval base. Her father was a navyman and mother was a nurse. Being in the military and serving as a nurse were ways for my parents to immigrate to the United States and become citizens. You'll often see her at Sunday Morning Zen. She shared this about herself.
MG Bertulfo: My parents are from the Philippines (Quezon and Pangasinan) and we have a large extended family on both sides. I grew up with mylolo and lolas(grandparents) living with us, my aunts and uncles nearby, and lots of cousins. We are very close and I owe my sense of family closeness (pakikisama), generosity, and the practice of feeding everyone from them. Now, I live in Oak Park with my husband, Alan Schwartz, our son Ari, and two fluffy dogs. We're all pretty scruffy and have long hair.
I have a BA in Anthropology with a minor in Women's Studies and a concentration in Asian American Studies from UCLA. I went on to do an MA in Cultural Anthropology at UC Berkeley.
Early during my academic career, I thought of becoming a professor, a journalist, or an activist. I wanted to do something that engaged my spirit in a whole-hearted way.
Deep down, I had known since I was a child that I was a writer. But the kind of writing I really wanted to do was creative: fiction and poetry.
I spent many years grappling with the question of whether artists should even make money from their art. Reading about right livelihood helped me understand my creative work in a way that was more compassionate and practical.
There is a spiritual value of artistic work, which I think is impossible to measure. And there is market value. I've learned that these valuations can co-exist side by side.
I was very fortunate to have known author N.V.M. Gonzalez, one of the founders of modern Philippine literature. He was a great mentor to all of us and challenged me to push myself as a writer.
My short stories, poetry, and essays have been published in anthologies like Growing Up Filipino II, Remembering Rizal, and City of the Big Shoulders.
I have written, as a journalist, conservation features and profiles for Chicago Wilderness Magazine and Sierra Club and a video script teaching kids about indigenous rainforest communities.
My short story, "The Community Builder" was recently awarded first place in the Oak Parker Magazine's 2015 Short Fiction Contest. I am adapting the story for a stage reading and collaboration with the band Nine Miles West and choreographer Gina Sigismondi of Momenta. (We'll be performing on Aug 22nd at Open Door Theater.)
I am currently working on a historical novel set in the sixteenth century Philippines about women shaman who resist Magellan's invasion of the islands in 1521.
Through my company, Taleblazers, I also teach creative writing to kids at Calypso Moon Studio in the Oak Park Arts District.
Writing is my passion. It is like breathing. I can't live well without it.
June Tanoue: What is your spiritual practice?
MG: This is a very tough question. I was raised as a Filipino Catholic. I married my best friend, who is Jewish. I dabbled in meditation off and on for a couple of years in graduate school and have been an ardent reader and admirer of Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama and have read some of the Buddha's teachings. I belonged to the OP Friends Meeting
(Quakers) for a few years.
I mentioned to you, June, that I once started a pretentious journal in college entitled, "My Spiritual Journey". It was a white journal with small violets on the covers. I thought I had something important to say. The pages remained blank for many years. LOL
I decided a couple of years ago to give up trying to label or categorize my spirituality because I am drawn to many practices: Filipino indigenous practices (like remembering our ancestors and revering nature), meditation, yoga, prayer, walking mindfully, dancing, singing, Shabbat dinners at our house and keeping kosher and celebrating Passover, labyrinths, and reading Buddhist stories.
Writing, when engaged whole-heartedly, is a deep spiritual practice for me. I have been much happier since I decided not to label my practice and to just do it.
June: What drew you to ZLMC?
MG: When your "practice" is so eclectic, it's difficult to find a spiritual community. ZLMC is so open, warm, and genuine. I first heard about it through you, June, when taking your hula class. I was impressed that hula and Hawai'ian traditions were celebrated and accepted as part of ZLMC.
Mark Gelula is a colleague of my husband's at UIC and he and Pat Bloom reached out to me and invited me to meditate and listen to a dharma talk. It was a very open-handed, light invitation. Everyone has been so welcoming.
I have long been searching for a community that can embrace eclectic practices, but also go deep and be grounded.
Meditating together every Sunday has been a blessing in my life. ZLMC has become that community for me and I am very grateful!
June: How has it helped you?
MG: I am finishing Robert's Primer Series and finally feel I am getting foundational teachings in how (and why) to meditate. This has been very helpful because I have wanted to become more consistent in my meditation practice.
Also, I want to not take everything so seriously! Not to be such a perfectionist about my spiritual practices, whatever they are. I find that you and Robert both have a very light touch when you teach...and this gives our community space to explore, make "mistakes", and just see for ourselves.
My spouse has told me on more than a few occasions that I am calmer in general, that my feathers don't get ruffled as easily. I find that the waves and disturbances that come at me are easier to wade, so my life feels more grounded.
I love that different traditions can co-exist side by side at the ZLMC. We are all learning from each other: through the dharma talks, aikido demonstrations, hula, reiki, Western psychology, Buddhist ceremonies, book discussions, circles, and retreats. The vibrance and inclusiveness are very nourishing.
Being able to meet with you in daisan on Sundays has been so helpful. Meeting with a sensei one on one about meditation has given me space to check-in on my sitting practice and is wonderful encouragement.
David Beleckis is a ZLMC practicing member and has been regularly opening Tuesday morning public meditation at the Center from 6 - 7 am for the last few years. He is a chaplain at West Suburban Hospital in Oak Park. He's married to another ZLMC practicing member, Joan Cantwell and has two boys - young men now in college.
Here's Dave Beleckis telling us a little about himself.
I'm a south-side Chicago guy -- from a thoroughly Catholic family who mandated a thoroughly Catholic education. I ended up with 10 years of Jesuit education for which I am actually grateful.
Due to karmic anomalies too bizarre and numerous to mention, I ended up as a drug counselor for 12 years; then a hospice and hospital chaplain since 2005...I currently work at West Sub. I like helping people.
I was initiated into Transcendental Meditation in 1970 along with my good friends, the Beatles. I knew immediately that meditation would be an integral part of my life-journey.
I meditate daily, and consider exercise and writing poetry necessary components of my practice. It is part of my professional mission to promote meditation.
I love the center. I have two unassailable reasons for always coming back to ZLMC: June and Robert. They and all of you continue to keep the light shining around this place.
So thanks for that...
Pat Farrell, a Dominican Sister for 22 years, moved from San Francisco to River Forest last August to take the position as the Executive Director of the Dominican Sisters Conference. The Chicago area is centrally located and ideal for bringing sisters together from across the country - the ideal place for the office.
Pat has two older brothers, one of whom lives in Southern California, the other, in Colorado. She enjoys seeing her nieces, nephews, and grand nieces and nephews when she goes home to California.
Although Pat was raised Catholic and attended Catholic elementary and high school, her spiritual journey took her many places before her return to the church of her youth.
Upon graduating from high school she started attending a Pentecostal church, where she was very active - enough so to consider becoming a missionary to Latin America. She attended Bible college and learned Spanish.
After becoming dis-enamored of the church's overly narrow perspective and theology, Pat investigated many spiritual paths including Self Realization Fellowship, where she first learned to meditate.
Upon her return to the Catholic Church, after nearly 20 years away, she incorporated that kind of daily sitting with a word along with a practice of reflecting on scripture. This is known as Centering Prayer.
Pat's interest in Buddhist meditation began after seeing the movie, Doing Time, Doing Vipassana. She has participated in a Catholic Vipassana retreat, as well as retreats at Spirit Rock in California.
She continues to include spiritual reading and reflection upon scriptures as part of her practice, and has found that Buddhist teaching helps her live better as a Christian. She has always found Buddhist teachings to be practical.
Pat wanted to find a community with whom to meditate, and found ZLMC online. She attended a few gatherings and a day of a sesshin. Upon taking the Primer classes and listening to Robert, she felt very strongly drawn to his teaching, and asked to study with him more formally. She is now an Advanced ZLMC member.
David Ferguson is a ZLMC Practicing Member. Heopens the Center every Thursday mornings for the 6-7 am meditation. Here's David Ferguson telling us a little about himself.
I was raised in the south suburbs of Chicago by parents who couldn't conceive but found it within themselves to adopt me and my twin sister (a rarity for the mid-sixties) and an older boy and girl.
We were a diverse group from different origins and different temperaments, but we managed to cobble together a family through years of camping (it was the 70's..) and tolerance.
All of us, I think, felt a peculiar dislocation due to our circumstance and we managed in our own unique way.
Naturally, I felt a powerful bond to my twin sister, my one blood relation, and the one with whom I shared some gifts in the visual arts.
This became our calling, our way of exploring who we are. It happened entirely organically, arising from within ourselves while we were living in a world bereft of the arts in many ways.
It lead us both to art school, to a serious questioning of the human experience, and for me especially, it lead to an appreciation of Buddhism.
I did not not follow my calling into the arts, however. I found art school a disorienting and rather toxic environment.
I left school and floundered for years trying to find my way, eventually becoming a carpenter, which I still continue to do, and a husband and a father. My sister had a very different experience, and has tenaciously continued to develop her art.
For me art making was a spiritual calling, and one that regrettably I had been unable to initiate in any active and coherent way. It has remained at the periphery of my active life, but still very much alive.
I had very few ideas on how I could change that and begin a life in service to these latent spiritual needs.
My discovery of ZLMC changed that. I knew after the first primer class that I was in the right place, that here was a way, and that Robert was the real deal.
I discovered a place that allowed me to explore an idea of myself and my potential with a coherency that had always seemed to elude me in the past.
A practice, rooted in meditation and compassion, that can offer a powerful tool to locate myself within the real world as it really is, not as how I would wish it to be.
What Robert and June's programs have to offer is a path to understanding oneself, but it demands one's active participation. It's a commitment, but one in which many invaluable things can be found.
Susan Sensemann is a ZLMC practicing member, steward of the ZLMC Writing Circle, an artist, professor emerita, and mother of two adult children.
She grew up on Long Island where her parents realized by the time she was 4 that she'd be an artist.
She went to Syracuse University and did graduate work at Tyler School of Art, Temple University. She was hired in 1973 to teach painting and drawing at the University of Illinois, Champaign. In 1981, she left that position and went to UIC at Chicago and taught there for 29 years and holding various administrative appointments.
She has exhibited work in numerous galleries in this country and abroad. As a member of a women's cooperative gallery in Chicago in the 90s, she co-authored grants that resulted in lectures and exhibitions in Italy, the Czech Republic, Italy, Germany, South Korea and China among other places.
Here's Susan Sensemann talking about her art.
"Although I am a painter, I have made extensive bodies of drawings, photographs, as well as sculpture, poetry, and recently, books of my photographs.
Because I have had opportunities to travel widely, my investigations of various cultures, religious sites and artifacts, foods, faces, markets, and all things different from my own experience have become subject matter for my art.
However, the crux of my art-making has always been a way of gaining some insight into my spiritual practice.
As a child, I attended Sunday school at a protestant church. Later, my search morphed into joining a Unitarian community, years of yoga, classes with a Buddhist nun, meditation and classes at a Tibetan center, and in April 2014, feeling very welcomed at ZLMC.
My son and his wife have opened a school for kids with autism in the Bay area. My daughter is a physician, - a resident in urology, each using inherent art abilities in unique ways.
My feminism, good childcare, and a solid work ethic have resulted in two kids who are making a difference.
Satisfaction and gratitude are abundant."
Robert Dainei Lund has been an Advanced Member of the Zen Life Center for four years and a member since we first began in Oak Park eleven years ago. He received jukai and given the name Dainei (Great Peace). Dainei tells us a little about himself.
I was born in Evanston, Illinois. The youngest of three boys, I had the advantage of avoiding the mistakes my brothers made and the convenience of breaking in my parents so that I could do my thing without much intervention.
Education was important in our family, as was music and religion. I received a B.S.
In Psychology at Loyola University In Chicago. By this time, I had left Catholicism and presented myself as an atheist.
After graduation, I joined the Peace Corps and spent two years in Iran. I taught English as a second language in a small town along the Afghan border. I traveled through India (Kashmir , New Deli, Agra, Mumbai and Hyderabad) and had a great Education.
Upon returning to Chicago, I joined a Buddhist Church on Leland near Broadway.
I wanted to learn to meditate and this seemed to be the cheapest way to do this. I stayed seven years until I moved to Oak Park and started a family.
I received an M.S.W. From University of Illinois and worked with DCFS for almost 30 years. I found the love of my life, Vivienne, and moved to Hinsdale where she and her daughter lived. I stayed close to my two sons.
My spiritual practice is supported by meditation, music, reading and my wife. The Zen Center is a perfect place to go within. The members, leaders and programming are exceptional.
The Zen Center inspires me to take control of my spiritual growth.
Music has kept me young, creative and in the moment. I have been most appreciative of the books available in the bookstore and those recommended by Roshi.
And, how special it is to have my wife, Vivienne, by my side!
Annie Myoshin Markovich, her three brothers, and a sister, grew up on the south side of Chicago near the U.S. Steel Mills. Her mother came from Lithuania and her father's parents were born in Croatia. Their baptized religion was Catholic - a strong tradition for Eastern European immigrants.
It was during her college years at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, while majoring in Fine Art, that she began to question Catholicism and explore Eastern philosophy and psychology.
Annie has been to Bernie Glassman's Auschwitz Bearing Witness Retreat four times and worked as a staff member last year. In October 2013, she sewed a rakusu and did the jukai ceremony with her teacher, Roshi Genro Gauntt, in New York. Annie is a ZLMC Practicing Member.
June: What drew you to Zen and then to ZLMC?
Annie: While studying the visual arts I would hear professors discussing the beauty of the Zen approach to painting and calligraphy. What was it? I discovered in further readings that it was a philosophy of living that encompassed every aspect of Art, life and death.
The importance of quieting my mind through meditation, well, at least working towards quieting the chatter, and just sitting still with my thoughts and body struck me as a journey - even though for me it was extremely difficult and sometimes physically painful - was worth the effort. And I wanted to see if I could incorporate a Zen approach to painting in this discipline.
Around 1986 I moved to New York, holding down several jobs and later many part time jobs - a few thankfully were Art related - to pay the rent and see what the Artworld was really like. One lucky evening two friends, Sheila and Luis suggested I accompany them to the Yonkers sangha where I met Roshi Genro Gauntt, who's in Bernie Glassman's Zen Peacemakers.
After exploring several different lineages, I decided to embrace the Zen Peacemaker practice as it was both a participation in the world and an inner practice. One looked inside for the wisdom and authenticity of compassion and went out into the streets where the Three Tenets - Bearing Witness, Not Knowing and Loving Action - could materialize through action.
In 2006 I returned to Chicago's South Side once more to look after my elderly mother after my father died. My mother died a little over two years ago. A particularly poignant memory that stands out during that period was when I practiced morning meditation, my mother used to sit nearby and pray her rosary. Need I say more?
It's one thing to sit alone and another to sit with a sangha and for me both are necessary. I began to look for sanghas in the Chicago area and found ZLMC. I was drawn to ZLMC because of June and Robert, the openness, down to earth and healing atmosphere. Soon ZLMC began to transform from a traditional Zen meditation center to a more "out there" approach, witness Roshi Althouse's Primer Series and June's hula classes! The shared stewardship is key in allowing every member to participate on whatever level she or he feels comfortable.
June: Why Auschwitz?
Annie: Bearing Witness is one of the three tenets of the Zen Peacemakers. It has many meanings, especially after going to Auschwitz in 2010.
Something in my heart and soul was drawn to visit and bear witness to the place where so much horror and love existed simultaneously.
Impossible as it may sound it is true. I learned about human nature in many more dimensions than I ever wanted to think about, including parts of my own nature I chose to ignore.
Going back to my childhood I remember seeing on television the filmed liberation of the death camps, and I saw a mountain of bodies, or rather human bones piled high, with tractors loading bodies.
My mother called from the kitchen to my father, "don't let her see that," and all I remember is my father saying, "No, she should see this."
Since then it has haunted me and I knew so many Jewish friends who lost family members, and I lived next door to Jewish families on the Southside of Chicago and sensed some deep sorrow, even as a child. So going to Auschwitz pulled all these pictures together in one vast shroud. And I learned this too can happen again and yes, we must not let this happen again, even as it goes on today in this world.
Pearl Ratunil is a ZLMC practicing member and new Vice President of ZLMC's Board of Directors. Her parents immigrated in 1961 from the Philippines. Pearl was raised in a small town just south of Rochester, New York, where she watched mid-eighties MTV and played pick-up softball games with the neighbor kids. This accounts for nostalgia she has for small-town life, especially in the summer.
She went to undergraduate colleges in New York City, Ohio, and England, and received a Bachelors in Literature from Antioch College in southern Ohio. After a few years in fund-raising and marketing, she went to UIC to do a Masters, and then against the advice of her adviser, who said, "No one gets a job with a doctorate in English", Pearl did a Ph.D. in medieval literature. She teaches at Harper College in Palatine, Illinois.
June Tanoue: What is your spiritual practice?
Pearl Ratunil: Life is a spiritual practice: learning to notice the way the sky looks, listening to someone deeply, paying attention when I am distracted or irritated. I have not been a "natural" at this, so I have learned from a few teachers.
My first teachers were my family who were steeped in Bible, then in my adulthood, a few years with the Quakers, and then a few years learning clairvoyance at Invision in Chicago and working with clients.
More recently, I have studied in the Korean Zen tradition with the Vens. Samu Sunim and Haju Sunim at the Zen Buddhist Temple in Chicago.
After years of doing these kinds of "formal" trainings, my "spiritual practice" has become quite ordinary. Now, it's just noticing and being curious about what I notice.
In the Korean tradition, students learn to ask one question: What is it? This has been a great question for developing neutrality and non-judgment, which has spared me some of the suffering that comes from wanting/craving for people or situations to be different.
I used to ask: Why can't this be better? Then, would come anger, resentment, unhappiness. Now, I ask: what is it? This has helped cultivate curiosity and interest, and then motivates me towards positive change, if something needs to be changed. I am quite grateful to experience spirituality in this simple way.
June: What drew you to ZLMC?
Pearl: The Zen Garden! First, the Zen garden (behind Bob and June's house on Humphrey) and then serving the sangha, and now, as I meet people, the great commitment and passion of the individuals.
June: You're the VP of the Board. Any thoughts about that?
Pearl: It's a completely new experience for me -- and that's exciting. Being VP has also helped me with a question I have had for many years: how can Buddhism serve Americans in our unique culture? I'm not the first to wonder about this, and I have been fascinated to learn the challenges and the solutions. Overall, it's a great honor and privilege to be on the Board.
Carol Frischman moved to Oak Park in 2008. She describes herself as a proud liberal progressive, vegetarian, jock, feminist lesbian, spiritual jew-bu.
She was born at Wesley Memorial Hospital in Chicago and lived in Highland Park for the first six months of my life. Her mother, Nancy (deceased) and her father, Len, met in Miami. They fell in love with each other and Miami and that's where Carol was raised.
Carol majored in Political Science at the University of Denver and got a Masters in Education and minor in Kinesiology. She taught high school government and coached girls volleyball and soccer. She also coached the backup goalie for the US women's first World Cup Soccer Tournament.
Carol loves the outdoors and sports. She also loves to travel. She's been to all 50 states, Europe, Israel, Greece. Japan and China. S
She's a ZLMC practicing member, a member of the Board of Directors and member of the GEMS (Generosity and Membership) Circle. We asked Carol Frischman to tell us a little about herself.
"I had an opportunity (with the help of being in love) to move to Los Angeles. There for 25 years I planted roots, created a feminist lesbian community, opened a feminist coffeehouse, 'les beans,' and returned to education via three nonprofit programs.
I continued my outdoor playing with bike riding, hiking, completing the first Avon 3-Day walk for breast cancer from Santa Barbara to LA, and completing the first and second LifeCycle bike ride for AIDS from San Francisco to Los Angeles over 7 days.
What is my spiritual practice? Sit and meditate everyday, and if not, begin again. Practice loving-kindness to everyone, and if not, begin again. Be curious, not knowing. Laugh out loud. Share, be generous. Love from the heart. Listen deeply. Eat mindfully and local, organic whole plant based foods. Take responsibility, be accountable. Engage in and with community. Notice. Explore and do new things regularly. Be peace and gratitude.
How and why do I volunteer at the Center?
I don't know what was the turning point for me. I joined over two years ago as a practicing member after attending an orientation, similar to what we are planning for April 13 -'A Moment of Zen.' Dove into the Primer and Gateway series, occasionally came to evening and morning meditations, and loved Zen Eats.
Something opened up in me that allowed me to invest and take responsibility for this blossoming community. The circles and their approach spoke to a core belief in shared stewardship. I feel deep gratitude and blessing to be a part of the ZLMC community with a practice and intention to live an opened and compassionate life mindfully."
Lynn Leinartas is an Advanced Member, ZLMC Board secretary, and steward of the ZLMC Membership Circle. The oldest of six children, Lynn was raised in the northwest suburbs of Chicago where her brothers, sisters and 83 year old father still live.
Her father spent his career at People's Gas in Chicago and her mother was a secretary. She is married to Edward Leinartas and is the mother of four grown children. She also has two grandsons and works as a Librarian in a law firm downtown.
Lynn is a member of the Generosity Circle and cooked a delicious lasagna for our last November fundraising luncheon and spearheaded the most recent Zen Eats cooking the vegan chili and Mexican chocolate pudding.
Though quiet and unassuming, Lynn is a powerhouse in her own right, a very can-do person. Here's an interview we did to get to know her a little more.
ZLMC: What lead you to ZLMC and then to become an advanced member?
Lynn Leinartas: I actually found Robert through a Google search and he recommended I take the Primer series. I took those classes, the Gateway and then the Life Applications classes. I really liked being at the Center and learning about the Zen spiritual path. It feels very safe.
I've been trying to live a spiritual life for as long as I can remember but pretty much going it alone. I respect Robert and felt that I could deepen my understanding by studying with him.
ZLMC: What is your spiritual path?
LA: I believe in the unity of all of the religions and universal human values. All religions point to the same thing - that we have an essence inside of us that is good and wise and trustworthy. My path is really to try to find that space and to trust it. As part of trying to find that place, I've studied Christian mystics and Hindu philosophy. I've learned a lot from these teachings. Zen feels like a natural next step for me.
What I really appreciate about Buddhism is the practical methods given on how to work with your life just as it is now with kindness towards others AND towards yourself (that part is really hard).
ZLMC: You cooked for the first Zen Eats this year. Why do you like cooking?
LA: My Mom was a great cook and she believed that food is what kept families together. She worked the evening shift in a factory when I was a teenager. Before she went to work, she would always start the meal and leave instructions on how we should finish it. I always helped my Dad get the food on the table, so I learned to cook pretty young.
We still carry on her traditions and make her recipes. Cooking is a good way to honor my past and my Mother while enjoying the present. I always feel close to her when I'm cooking.
I was born in Cicero where I spent most of my childhood, but when I was about 15, my parents moved the family to Riverside, IL. My parents are war refugees---Lithuanian displaced persons---and
I was raised in the Lithuanian-American community in Chicago. I have a very strong affinity to this culture, speak the language fluently, have spent long periods of time in Lithuania, and I love Vilnius (Lithuania's capital) the way one loves a hometown.
Besides Lithuania, I've lived in New York and Linz, Austria where I met my wife, Maria, a Ukrainian violinist. We live with our two children in southeast Oak Park.
I'm a writer. My penname is Gint Aras (that's my middle name, Gintaras, spliced). I have a novel, Finding the Moon in Sugar, about a naïf from Berwyn who involves himself in the life of a horribly troubled internet bride, and follows her to Vilnius for a picaresque (and ribald) coming-of-age adventure.
I also write for The Good Men Project where I'm the Marriage Editor. My writing has appeared in a variety of magazines and journals, including Oak Park's Wednesday Journal.
Besides writing, I teach English and Humanities at Morton College in Cicero where I'm a member of the Language Arts faculty.
I also photograph puddles and walls. You can see them on my website, Liquid Ink.
I was diagnosed with PTSD in the summer of 2010. The condition incapacitated me for some time: I was unable to read or write for months, and leaving the house was similar to choosing to walk through a nightmare whose complexity and horror defied explanation.
I became desperate for relief and tried anything that might help. In the process, I discovered yoga, learned about meditation and explored the topic. I realized that I needed guidance from someone who knew about meditation. I stumbled on the Zen Center and made an appointment to speak with Roshi. One month later, I was studying the precepts as an advanced member.
Zen study and practice have helped me immeasurably. The easiest way to explain how is to use the words of my therapist, a woman with over 30 years of experience treating PTSD. I was the first of her clients to have ever tried to treat this condition with a combination of talk therapy, Zen practice and yoga.
My symptoms were extreme: I was hearing screaming, sleeping less than two hours each night, suffering inexplicable pain in my ribs and face, smelling things that weren't there, hearing pounding footsteps behind me, feeling nauseated and often disoriented in places I knew intimately---in short, my life was an evil nightmare.
After six months of zen practice, the symptoms went from being all-encompassing experiences to things I could observe happening to a part of me.
In another six months, most of the symptoms became little whispers. My therapist said that in all her years, she had rarely seen anyone make the kind of progress I made in such a short time. I never took a single pill. I only meditated, practiced yoga regularly and attended Roshi's lessons.
Daniel Giloth is a ZLMC advanced member. He grew up in South Bend, Indiana and now lives in Berwyn with his wife, Sara, and seven-year-old daughter, Shelby. For twenty years, he's done different kinds of organizing work, both union and day labor worker organizing. We asked him to tell us more about himself and why he practiced at ZLMC. Here is Dan Giloth.
"When I was four, for Christian solidarity reasons, my parents moved into a white-flight neighborhood that turned mostly African-American. So I grew up within the local civil rights movement-a very dynamic climate. My dad was from New York, and my mom from Los Angeles, worlds apart.
Because of where I grew up, I learned to code-switch, and became attuned to cultural difference, as well as social justice. Also, in 1985, when I was 20, I lived in western China for six months. Since an early age, I suspected that culture and beliefs, relative things, got projected as 'the Truth.' I was curious about how reality worked-beyond ideologies and language.
I love literature and fiction writing, and am part of several local writers group. Recently, I completed a first draft of a novel about a kid coming of age in the late sixties, set in circumstances much like my own. I also love to travel, though, as a father, I've cut back on that.
In 1999, I started meditating daily because I struggled to stay healthy as an organizer. For six years, I trained at the Shambhala Center in Rogers Park, which was great.
One Saturday, I heard Robert talking on a Zen radio program, so I checked out ZLMC. American Zen includes a tradition that merges meditation and social justice. In my opinion, the practice of solidarity and the Buddhist value of interconnection (really, indivisibility) are akin.
For me, ZLMC works because of its range. You can learn Zen applications to daily life, as well as the more traditional, hard-core Zen stuff like sesshin (retreats), sutra study, and koan study. Like the Dalai Lama, Robert includes the insights of other disciplines. Because he had several root teachers, Robert draws on different and rich Buddhist traditions. I would also recommendJune's Reiki practice to spur self-healing.
Robert and June are exemplary leaders, very real and warm. Also, the sangha (community) is very down-to-earth, like Chicago, which works for me because-ironically-I shy away from groups and hierarchies.
At ZLMC, there are many chances to take leadership, too, from simple things like timekeeping to giving dharma talks. This has benefited my practice greatly, by allowing me to practice generosity. With ZLMC, I always feel like I'm making spiritual progress."
Donata Boykin recently became a Practicing Member of the Zen Life & Meditation Center. June and Robert met her about five years years ago at the Tennis and Fitness Centre where she teaches yoga. She grew up in Lawnsdale on the westside of Chicago in a large family where she was the youngest of nine children. She attended Northeastern where she received a degree in Natural Health. She says Natural Health is about doing practices such as yoga for the purposes of gaining health by a natural means. She met her husband Charles while going to Northeastern, and they now live in Oak Park not far from the Zen Center.
Donata started doing yoga in 19 92. "At first", she said, "it was merely a physical practice", but within a few years it became increasing apparent to her that it was really a deeply spiritual practice. She has been influenced by Paramahansa Yogananda and the book about his life and teachings, "Autobiography of a Yogi". He brought yoga to the West in the 1920's. "Traditionally", she says, "yoga had very little to do with the physical, because it's primary purpose was to help one sit meditation for longer periods of time. While postures for yoga are relatively new", she says, "the seated postures are much older". So something of this original spiritual purpose was lost in the translation of yoga from East to West.
When she first started yoga she wanted to change things about herself, but now she finds that it's more about trusting and getting to know herself better. She does personal practices that she calls "fasts". They sometimes involve fasting from food. She likes to do this as a 21 day practice where she fasts from watching TV or any kind of media such as radio, computers or the newspapers. She might fast from complaining or taking stimulants such as alcohol, coffee, or sugar. Because the times are so uncertain, she recently started doing a Sufi practice of spinning because she says it disorients her and she wants to be more comfortable with being out of control.
Donata has taught yoga at the local Tennis and Fitness Centre here in Oak Park for seven years. She continues to teach yoga as a spiritual practice. She has lead yoga for us during our silent meditation retreats at the Zen Center. You can find her classes at "The Yoga Centre" which is located a few blocks from the Zen Center at 266 Lake Street on the corner of Lake St. and Cuyler Ave. To find out about the schedule of when she is teaching yoga there, call 708.386.2175 or visit their web site at www.tenandfit.com/yogacentre.html. June has been taking yoga classes from Donata for many years now and loves the gentle and deep way that she teaches.
Donata likes to come and sit meditation at the Zen Center in the mornings. She says it's a great way to start the day. It's a joy to have Donata as part of our community and we hope that if you do yoga or are considering doing so, you consider taking some of her classes.
If you've come to the Zen Life & Meditation Center recently, chances are you've seen the warm smile of Gina Bilotto. You can find her volunteering behind the registration desk, greeting people for classes, or sitting during public meditation on Tuesday or Thursday nights. Gina is a great asset for our community.
Gina first came to the ZLMC in November of 2010 as a student in the Primer Series of classes. She had been interested in Buddhism for some time prior to that, often reading books by The Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh. She had also attended a few informal sessions at various Tibetan Buddhist Centers in the Chicagoland area. It was during her research on Zen communities that she stumbled upon the ZLMC.
Immediately she had felt she had found the right community for her. She discovered a place where she was comfortable starting out and could meditate without feeling overwhelmed by formalities. Everyone at the Center was genuinely warm and welcoming and without pretense or pressure. According to Gina, "The ZLMC curriculum makes Zen and meditation very approachable." Six months later she knew she wanted to follow a Buddhist spiritual path and became and advanced member studying under Roshi.
Gina was born and raised in Chicago as an only child. She is very grateful that her parents are still with us and that she has a great extended family and many friends. Raised Roman Catholic, shewent to Catholic parochial school K-12 and received a Masters of Social Work from a Catholic University. Nowadays, she works at a law firm as an intellectual property paralegal focusing on trademarks and copyrights. She considers herself a life long learner.
Gina suggests that beginners should find themselves a good teacher who can provide simple instructions and guidance on technique. More importantly, she finds that a good teacher is very helpful as difficult thoughts and emotions pop up during sitting. It's essential to have guidance from an experienced teacher such as Robert Althouse.
Come celebrate this landmark event for Gina in this beautiful ceremony called Jukai in which Zen Master Robert Joshin Althouse, will act as her preceptor as she receives the precepts and a dharma name honoring and recognizing her commitment to living a Zen-inpsired life, this coming Sunday, January 20, 2013 at 11:00 am.
Brendon showed up at the Zen Center doorstep sometime around 2006. Wandering the neighborhood and sad over the loss of a friend, he noticed the center, and rung the front door bell. “In the beginning”, he says, “it was hard to meditate. I wanted to get up and leave.” But he stayed. Some members encouraged him to continue.
Brendon had a falling out with his younger sister, Leah. So he took an Inner Disarmament workshop at the Center taught by Robert Althouse. The Nonviolent Communication (NVC) skills he learned helped him to begin improving his relationship with her. He wanted his sister to forgive him, but found he first needed to forgive himself.
Brendon grew up in Oak Park, where his parents, John and Gail still live. He has found that NVC has also helped him improve his relationship with both his parents.
“There is a lot of chaos in my life “ he says, and “I never have enough time to get everything done.” He says meditation helps him see when he’s obsessing and it gives him a larger perspective on his life. He says it also helps him appreciate what is important.
Brendon is an Advanced Member at ZLMC. This year, Brendon is Head Trainee for the Zen Leadership Training (ZLT) at ZLMC. This six month program is offered free to all Advanced Members of the center. Brendon says he hopes the ZLT will provide support to Advanced Members by offering them numerous opportunities to practice together such as regular council circles, and work-practice-study groups. They are currently studying Dogen Zenji’s “Genjo Koan” from the “Shobogenzo”.
He already sees the ZLT helping to strengthen each person’s practice and commitment to living a Zen-inspired life. He is grateful people have been so accountable and continue to make themselves available to help the Zen Center.
Brendon works as a Project Supervisor for GreenCorps Chicago where he supervises people with felony backgrounds. GreenCorps does landscape projects for community gardens, schools and churches. He gets lots of opportunities on the job to practice being more mindful.
Brendon has always had a particular passion for composting and healing the environment. With GreenCorps Chicago he’s been able follow his passion through supervising crews that install and maintain native prairie landscapes found along trails of the North Branch of the Chicago River. He’s been able to plant many native grasses, trees and prairie plants along a stretch of the river that, just last year was filled with trash and litter.
If you come to the center, you’ll likely to run into Brendon. His tall, lanky frame and good-hearted nature are hard to miss. He’s a great example of how Zen practice can bring out the best in each of us.
Martha has spent much of her life helping others deal with losses in their lives. After losing her husband in 1982, she struggled with the difficulties and challenges of raising three children. After going to a retreat called "The Beginning Experience" which was designed to give people support who were going through divorce or the loss of a loved one, she decided to train to become a facilitator to help others deal with their personal loses.
Eventually, a Catholic priest offered her a job and for the next 13 years she worked at the Family Life Office of the Archdiocese. This office worked with people going through major changes in their families, often due to losses due to divorce or death of a loved one. She worked for another 8 years with Catholic Cemeteries doing bereavement ministry where she helped train people in Catholic parishes to be better listeners so they could serve in various roles at funerals and other community events.
While Martha has always found this work rewarding she says it can also be very stressful. She had made many attempts to meditate before she came to the Zen Life & Meditation Center, but without much success. "I took the Primer classes", she said, "and got more than I bargained for." The mindfulness meditation and the practice of living a Zen-inspired life have been extremely helpful to her. She doesn't get as stressed as she used to. She discovered that much of her stress resulted from being too attached to a particular outcome. Meditation helped her be more detached and to take things less personally.
Martha says "Zen Life & Meditation Center has so much to offer and the facility is so beautiful and peaceful. I've tried other meditations before, but now that I've taken the classes at ZLMC I'm getting better success and I enjoy being a member of the community."
We enjoy having Martha as a member too. Martha's two sons and one daughter are all grown up now. Her oldest son is an accountant in Chicago. Her youngest son also lives in Chicago and is a metal fabricator and her daughter is soon to be married and will moving out of Chicago for a warmer climate in a southern state.
If you've come to the Zen Life & Meditation Center (ZLMC) recently, chance are you've seen the bright, welcoming smile of Diana Conley. You'll find her volunteering in the kitchen, cleaning altars, or making flower arrangements. Diana is an Advanced Member and sits on our board of directors as our Treasurer. Not only does she give generously of her time at the Zen Center but she also volunteers once a week teaching women how to meditate at the Metropolitan Correctional Center.
She grew up in Chicago where she attended Catholic grade school. Drawn to philosophy and Japan, she read Alan Watt's book, "Man, Woman, Nature" and decided Zen was for her.
She tried meditating on her own, but it wasn't until she received some meditation instruction from a Tai Chi instructor that she realized how many misconceptions she had about the practice.
It wasn't long before she moved to Boulder and enrolled in Naropa. Three years later she received a BA in Traditional Eastern Arts with a concentration in Aikido. She spent several more years in Boulder working on the staff for Naropa University and Shambhala Mountain Center.
She began to feel homesick for Chicago, so she moved back here in 2008. She got a job at Gravity Tank, a consulting firm that helps businesses design new products. She began seeking out different Zen Centers in Chicago, but none really clicked.
When Diana attended her first Day of Mindfulness at ZLMC in late 2009, she was surprised and intrigued by the richness and variety of practices offered. The day included mindfulness meditation, a private session with the teacher, a Big Mind process and a closing Council Circle. After that she knew she had found a spiritual home.
She says both Big Mind, Council Circle, meditation and doing private koan study with Robert have been transformational in her life. She struggled with depression in high school and was always afraid of being taken over again by this "dark place". She was wary of Chicago because she knew how harsh it could be here. But the Zen practice has helped her make peace with herself. She doesn't have a heavy heart any more.
Diana feels the mindfulness practice taught at ZLMC has helped her clarify how her unexamined assumptions have driven a lot of her destructive habits. Her Zen spiritual path has helped her appreciate and enjoy her life and the world around her.
The practice has also had a big impact on the way she works. Raised in a working class family, she learned a strict work ethic. While this is good, it has also sometimes caused her to overwork in obsessive ways that created stress and unhappiness. Now she says, she is less compulsive about work. She is able to relax and enjoy each moment, to focus more clearly on the task at hand, and to let go of the work once she leaves the office.
She attributes much of this to the mindfulness practice she has learned in the Core Curriculum classes at ZLMC. The teachings on intention and mindfulness help her stay balanced. She can have a very busy day but it doesn't consume her like it used to.
She enjoys having much of her family close by. She has 3 brothers and a sister and her mother, Carol lives in Naperville. We are grateful and happy to have Diana as a member of our growing spiritual community.