~ The Nibbana Sutta
“Whenever I tried to speak of it, I could not find the words. A year went by…At last I made a stumbling attempt to express the ineffable to him. I said, finally, ‘We can’t talk about this.’ And he said, ‘You have to say something. If you don’t speak, nobody will understand.’”
~ Steve Hagen, You Have to Say Something: Manifesting Zen Insight
When asked to write about my upcoming move I was hesitant, not wanting to imply that I understand what’s going on or deem it significant to anyone but me. Yet I appreciate the request, and I remember the words of Katagiri Roshi: “You have to say something.”
Over these many pandemic months, I’ve been caught in the general wave of reassessing my situation and my trajectory, and found myself gravitating toward a reset that includes a major shift in my professional life. As for where to do that work, I sensed a pull in all aspects of my life toward one in which Place, or a sense of home, might be a key organizing principle. After growing up in Missouri, I spent most of the decade following college in Columbia; beyond the network of friends I still have there, my family (including my aging parents) is 160 miles south in Springfield.
With a population of 125,000, Columbia occupies a space between city and small town, and the cost of living is pretty manageable. I’m unsure how my practice will manifest there; the nearest Zen centers I know of are a couple hours away, though locally there’s an Insight Meditation group I intend to check out. As invaluable as I’ve found residential practice over these past six years—particularly my efforts to fulfill the role of Ino—I have no doubt that I will find ways to both maintain and nurture my practice going forward.
I don’t have an exact departure date just yet, but I will be taking off sometime in early to mid-October, in the days leading up to the fall practice period. As my own move follows close on the heels of the departures of two practice leaders, I’m sensitive to the impact on the AZC community; thus a few words on my view from the Ino seat may be appropriate.
I have great confidence in the ability of this sangha to withstand the ups and downs of all these apparent comings and goings, as well as a hard-earned appreciation of how much work often falls to a relatively small group of people. Rolling with the punches of karma is precisely what we practice, individually and collectively. At the same time—and at the risk of pulling the curtain aside too far—I have to caution against complacency or too much trust that things will sort themselves out somehow, magically, without my/your/our getting involved.
I’ve been re-examining my tenure as Ino, trying to get a sense for what I’ve actually done (because to me it often seems like not that much), and I think the biggest thing is something that’s really a part of everyone’s practice, independently of ceremonial or leadership roles: namely, paying attention and responding to the needs of the moment; looking around, proactively seeking and anticipating. It seems helpful to have people with official titles in order that formal group practice can be reasonably smooth, so that gaps are filled and everyone isn’t trying to manage everything. But everyone should consider whether and how they can take on more of an “eyes of the temple” approach, and how often and when they can support the sangha with their active participation in daily sittings, other offerings, and formal leadership roles.
For example, consider how stepping up and asking to take on a doan ryo role furthers both your own practice and that of others. Our sangha has shown an amazing resilience in the face of all sorts of storms. And yet it must be said that too much responsibility on too few shoulders isn’t reasonable or sustainable. So don’t rely too much on the appearance that everything’s solid and flowing smoothly, but investigate how you might stretch yourself and do more to support temple operations. Rather than simply partaking of its offerings, ask how you can join the wonderful emptiness of giver, receiver, and gift — especially now, in this season of (apparent) comings and goings.
I’ve been trying not to dwell on how hard it is to leave this sangha or how much I will miss practicing here, though at some point I know I will have to let myself feel it. There’s always a price to pay when leaving, a piece of one’s heart that must be left behind even when the move seems sensible. And so, if you take anything from my words or my practice, I humbly ask that you never take this sangha for granted, but instead care well and constantly for the precious jewel that it is, and that you have been to me. – Bruce Smith
Bruce held the Ino position for 3 years, from late 2018 through late 2021. Read more about Bruce’s role as the “bringer of joy” HERE.