Wednesday, July 12, 2006

BPF Gathering: Closing

As this conference/retreat went on, the interconnected energy of the folks there grew to a ripe fullness in a way I haven't experienced in retreats, nor in a similarly structured weekend training through the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Maybe it's because of the position I was in, being responsible for coordinating the rituals, or the space of mind I was in to, receptive to the vibes of the group, but I think it was also because of the nature of the gathering. Maia said in a post-gathering email, "Probably the most important thing all of us did was get to know each other better... as Viki from Seattle reminded us, building relationships needs to be the foundation for all of our work. I am so grateful for the time we had to learn, practice, and break bread together and strengthen those relationships."

We had time for reflection before dinner on Friday and Saturday, based on the Meeting of Friends' worship sharing. To introduce it I read a quote from the North Pacific Yearly Meeting website. This filled a need exactly as I'd hoped it would: we could share as a group the things that had touched us as we went our separate ways during the day, in a thoughtful, mindful way. As I said in our first Reflection period, I enjoyed being able to meet people's eyes and get hugs, not something that happens in meditation retreats. Alan Senauke lightened the mood with the poem Meditation on Grasping and Clinging by Barton Stone, which tells us birth and death are relentless and proceeds to list all the things that will not save you, for example, "Organic produce will not save you/ Your vows will not save you/ Mutual funds will not save you...Extended orgasms will not save you..." (damn!)

Saturday evening we had a 'peace jam'. One or two poems were shared. Alan gets more animated talking about music than he does about Zen (sometimes). If you follow this link he's the one on the right. We'd been told to bring our songs, our poems, our instruments. I brought a toy wooden fish drum, at least I can keep a beat if I can't keep a tune. A woman I'd met, formerly from around here, but who now lives in New York, led us in beginning a body-drumming session. She has the kind of voice you'd like to hear in a relaxation spa, hypnotic, cadence slow and thoughtful. Judy instructed us to put a hand to our chest, to listen to the frogs, the rain patter, feel our heartbeat. Listen to the world's rhythm, feel how it fits in with our own, and start a beat along with our own heartbeat. It was something that started out slowly, concentrating on my own heartbeat and trying not to switch to my neighbors'. Soon some started adding voice, or other sounds. The clink of a pen on glass. I picked up my drum, drawn to the bumpy fin where I could scrape the stick and mimic the call of the frogs. We didn't get all too wild, and somehow one or two drew it down, brought us to quiet again.

We moved on. Alan sang a great song about Bodhisattva Never Disparages, a bodhisattva most sacred to the Nichiren-Shu. No matter what anybody does to him, this bodhisattva always bows and says "I will never disparage you, I will never despise you. I know you will be a Buddha someday." He also sang a Tom Waits song that mentions a bodhisattva. Then Rick from Florida picked up his guitar and shared a song I know from our Buddhist Sunday school. "There's ol' Buddha, sitting under that Bodhi Tree (bodhi tree)..." (At my Zen Center we sing it a lotta songs to sing, after all.)

I hadn't thought I had anything to bring, but after the body-drumming, I wasn't ready for that sort of thing to end, so I suggested we could do a similar sort of thing with Portland's street chant that Portland BPF also brings to the 24 Hour Chant for Peace. Maybe together we could come up with a new rhythm. We didn't, but I think I'll seed the room with sticks and shakers and other drumming things to get people inspired to make it lively. Rick also led us in Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around. Sure, we had our share of political words we stuck in there, but we also stuck Buddhist stuff into it, like "ain't gonna let no samsara turn me around..."

Jesse had commented to me that he wished he could know what people's personal practices were. So I conferred with Maia and Alan, and I asked people to think about a piece of their practice they could bring to this Sunday morning ritual. It could be a snippet from a ceremony we might otherwise not know about, something that was special to them. Together we could create a mosaic that is a BPF shared ritual. We'd had some practice in other segments of the weekend in 'sharing time equally', and around 50 people shared their practice introduction and actual piece in just a half hour. I remember a Theravadin chant in Pali. My own repeated "Namu Kanzeon Bosatsu". (Bodhisattva of Compassion, Japanese) Somebody else mentioned Kwanzeum Bosal (the same in Korean). Somebody mentioned walking as a meaningful meditation practice for them.

Finally, we got a dharma talk from Alan. All along, he sat among us, democratically, no separation. Now, he put on his rakusu and spoke with wisdom. I found myself resonating with his words on identity action. Searching for the root word, I find he has written of this before. It could be called non-duality, but I sense that doesn't quite capture it. Non-duality in action, that is what we want to cultivate. I find the word: samanattata. Some translate it "adaptability," others "putting oneself in communion". It is knowing just the right thing to do because there is no separation. Alan shifted papers in front of him, reading quotes from here, notes from there. He spoke off the cuff, didn't have a written draft, and it was a great talk. Lucinda, one of the attendees, volunteered to transcribe it.

This is our touchstone as we work for peace. This is what we were doing at the gathering, creating a space in which we connected on a personal and spiritual level. I felt as if we moved through water, each movement affecting others, each of us a bubble dancing among the waves. Identity action works with those waves, not against, because the bubbles are not separate from the waves. (There is a traditional metaphor in Buddhism about bubbles floating on the ocean, something that occurred to me after this image came up...I'm not sure if my thoughts fit with the traditional understanding.)

On that final morning we had opportunity to discuss the board's strategic plan. We'd been slightly worried that the mosaic ritual might go over time, but this was the piece that cut into lunch. Enough concerns arose that it became clear chapters and membership need a way to express their ideas to the board before it's adopted. One woman reflected my own feelings about the weekend and the people there. She said "I've fallen in love with people here, and we need to trust them to do this right." I too felt that intimacy of love.

Finally, we dedicated the merit of our gathering. It's pretty much traditional across all sects of Buddhism to dedicate the merit of a ceremony. Once or twice in the weekend someone mentioned the unheard voices, the voices of women needing to be heard. Tellingly to me, this white-haired sweet woman kept raising her hand and raising her hand while the mike kept getting handed to someone else. Even here, for a while, she wasn't seen. Appropriately we ended with a dedication that remembers the women, and we chanted the lineage of women ancestors as done at my Zen Center, with similar ones emerging elsewhere in the US. (Sallie Tisdale recently release her book, Women of the Way that tells the stories of the women's lineage, my reading material for the plane.)

I could have caught a ride with someone heading back to New York, but I opted to take the train so I could talk to Viki. We talked shop, and connections. At Grand Central Station, we parted. She took the subway to LaGuardia, me to the Hotel Chelsea. As we hugged goodbye she said, "You were the glue that held it together, Enji." (wow, who me?) I'd certainly felt a feeling of special connection to many people. It wasn't me, but I guess I was swimming in identity action. It seems to be something I think of as love.

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