Friday, July 07, 2006

BPF Gathering: Arrival

First of all, I loved the chance to experience the New York transit system. After a night in a hotel near the airport (6-21), I took the AirTrain and subway to Grand Central Station. Of course I got a late start because noon was my 9 am, but I didn't have to be anywhere until late afternoon. OK, it wasn't absolutely perfect...the hotel only supplied Folgers coffee. I made my first touristy purchase in a little shop at Grand Central when I realized how hot and muggy it was and I hadn't packed any hair sticks to get my thick long hair up off my neck. I put one of the two hairsticks immediately in my hair.

I went to New York to take part in the Buddhist Peace Fellowship's Member Gathering.

BPF booked the Garrison Institute in Garrison, about an hour from the city. It was really kind of funny, this place. It's very beautiful and seemingly serene, but there were little things that were like annoying little gnats: they supplied us with only one towel for 4 days; the dishes all seemed designed to spill; they had a rule about using fragrance-free soaps. I joked that it seemed they wanted to mess with our spiritual practice. (Really, the glasses were narrower at the bottom, and if you tilted your glass just a little the water sloshed like a mini water funnel up and over the side...I spilled more water that weekend....) It was hot and muggy and it was deer tick season and they put us on the third floor, the hottest and no elevator. On the other hand the meals they provided were great, except at the very last when the salad had one certain bitter leaf that made you scrunch up your face. That was pretty much symbolic of the Garrison Institute. Oh, and they also had hot tubs, that was a good thing. The others wouldn't believe me when I told them it helped a person cool off.

In spite of the bitter-leaf-in-the-salad, the 4 days were perfect. I'd helped to plan the schedule, and a couple days before Maia, the director, had given us responsibilities for pieces of the weekend. She asked me to take point on the ritual portions of the schedule. This member gathering, it wasn't exactly a conference, it wasn't exactly a Buddhist retreat, but it was somewhere in between. An Engaged Buddhist Middle Way, of sorts. We'd already established that since BPF is ecumenical and egalitarian in nature, we wanted the ritual portions to come from the attendees and their particular practices. We also knew we wanted the opening ceremony to be something completely reflective of BPF, and not some particular sect of Buddhism. We'd rounded up a few volunteers to lead some ceremony, but I had many more schedule bits to fill.

While on the phone with Maia I'd mentioned to her I was just beginning to think of *my* intentions for the weekend, that until then I'd been focused on what it would be for other people. She took that thought and incorporated it into her idea for our opening ceremony. We had 4 people who spoke of specific concerns that came from the regions they represented, and they offered 4 responses to the suffering. Then we went around the room, when each participant could tell who they were, where they came from, and a succinct expression of their intention for the weekend gathering.

Lance began in the West. He spoke of the war, and our need to bear witness and not just think about the suffering but feel it. He led a tonglen meditation, once a 'secret' practice but made not secret by Pema Chodron. Basically you breathe in the ills of the world, and breathe out healing and happiness. Then Anchalee in the East, originally from Thailand. She has worked with refugees ever since she graduated from college. She especially wanted to mention those who were put into involuntary servitude. The ritual piece she brought was beautiful: homage to the 3 refuges in Pali, and the precepts in Pali. She said it's something one always recites in her Theravadin practice at the beginning of any ceremony. When she was young she didn't understand why but now she realizes it is to set the intention. Then it was to Jose in the South. Originally from Argentina, he spoke eloquently of how people 'were disappeared' in the politics of Latin America. But now, the ways of his country seems to be transplanted to this country, while in Latin America there are indigenous movements that are transforming the politics. He read a poem of Neruda, mostly in English, some Spanish. Finally there was Denis from Seattle in the North. He spoke of the riches we have, but of the suffering we have, war, environmental concerns, people in poverty, without health care. He invoked interbeing, and how we all need to find ourselves in the other. He read a poem by Robert Bly about how two people had no more to do but be, and love that third being in the room that was their connection.

In the go-round, some people expressed some very anguished distress over the state of this country, and the hope they could find some answers in the weekend. That was a tall order, but I think there were some answers found. I certainly found some. My intention had just come together that evening: I wanted to take joy in our interconnections, and help others make their interconnections, and get my self out of the way. In my role as ritual coordinator, that came together for me in a profound way.

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