Many bows to the practice efforts of everyone at the Austin Zen Center during this year filled with unique challenges, loss, some adversity, and hopefully some peace & joy as well. May we all have a safe, easeful, and harmonious holiday season as we turn towards a new year!
The Coffee/Chat campaign was our response to the isolation forced by the pandemic, and we were able to connect with a significant number of our members. Thank you all for helping us keep the Sangha connected! We asked questions about what AZC was doing right during COVID, what we could do better, and opened ourselves for any comments about the future. Here’s a brief summary of the wide array of responses – starting with two seemingly opposites:
“My practice has intensified because of the online zendo offerings! Work and family obligations pre-COVID prevented me from coming to AZC more often. Now I am in a regular practice rhythm online.”
“I am concerned that AZC might lose its traditional forms, liturgy, and ceremony post-COVID and focus too much on the online zendo.”
We found that our Sangha generally wants a continuation of the online zendo post-COVID as long as we don’t lose what draws us together as a face-to-face community. The Middle Way… an interesting challenge, and one we will face together.
Much gratitude was expressed by almost everyone for the effort that AZC made to encourage practice, develop ways to connect with each other, and to continue to provide teachings and opportunities for practice throughout the year – a sign that AZC is meeting its mission even during adversity. Many people requested safe small group meetings in the side-yard or porch, and we hesitated because it would have potentially exposed our residents. There were still requests for post-COVID small discussion groups – we hear you and will encourage this when safe. And there were many who expressed appreciation for the Waking-Up group, outreach to those who might be in need within our community, and the strong tradition of women in leadership. A few members yearned for more opportunities to engage with arts – poetry reading and music. These are possibilities post-COVID, provided they augment and not distract from our foundational mission to bring Sōtō Zen practices and practice opportunities to our growing sangha in Austin.
We are encouraged by the gratitude & support expressed by the Sangha through the Coffee/Chat feedback given. Together we have made it possible for AZC to not only weather the pandemic but even thrive in some instances. As we reflect on this year-end, please consider making a gift that will enable AZC to continue meeting its mission into the new year and beyond.
THE YEAR IS NOT OVER JUST YET!
Although the Austin Zen Center will be closed for the winter interim through January 1, we want to remind you that we will continue to offer morning zazen (informal) during our usual times during the week, with the exception of Xmas & New Year’s day (Dec 25 & Jan 1).
On Xmas Eve all are welcome to join the Christmas Eve Sit (Thursday, Dec 24th at 10-11pm), hosted by the Meditation & Recovery group.
On New Year’s Eve (Thursday, Dec 31st ) we will be holding a NYE celebration from 7-9:30pm++. We begin with a Full Moon Ceremony followed by temple (your house!) cleaning, two periods of sitting & kinhin, bell-ringing, and sharing our aspirations and intentions for the new year. Everyone is invited.
Let’s have a Coffee & Chat!
An Invitation from AZC Board President Dave Pietruszynski
Dear Dharma Friends,
There’s a corner of the rug in our office/bedroom where I sit morning zazen. My zabuton is a brightly colored striped blanket from Mexico. Over six years of my morning routine I notice the city waking up – the increasing drone of cars and trucks on I-35, black turns to grey and then the colors of the zabuton become visible. Then there’s a soft whir of the elevator in the hall as bleary-eyed dog owners, some in pajamas, take their pet for a quick walk. The city stretches and wakes up. There’s a comfort in this repetition of changes, a sense of certainty. Since March though, there is something else…
Now in zazen, there is a knot in my stomach of low-level anxiety that arose with the COVID pandemic. My pandemic experience thus far does not include the devastating loss of close friends or loved ones as it has for others. In the six years on my rug corner, I have sat with a deep personal tragedy (not COVID-related), the stress of going back to school after 40 years, and a cancer diagnosis and operation. With these life-stressors I did not experience this persistent knot. Maybe it’s the heightened awareness of life’s uncertainty that resulted in a “sea-level rise” of angst? Perhaps for many of us COVID disrupted the routine of comfortable changes and amplifies the anxiety felt when random life crises arise.
There was a comfortable routine at AZC until Sangha life was disrupted in March. Our teachers and leaders responded with an amazing effort to normalize a regular online practice. My rug corner has space for a cellphone – for Wed/Thur morning service, I see and hear Bruce Smith or Pat Yingst ringing the bell. Our Saturday morning services and program attendance rival pre-COVID numbers. Recently I had a sunrise remote dokusan with our Head Teacher Mako while in my car in an IHOP parking lot! I am deeply grateful every time that I log on and AZC is there supporting my practice.
While trying to use my now familiar stomach knot as a practice opportunity on the zafu, I am aware that some of my friends and family are going through more difficult circumstances. Many of us experience a feeling of compassion- a rising awareness of interdependence and interconnection during the COVID crisis, racial unrest, and election issues. This has been a leadership topic at AZC through the summer. In any outreach to our interdependent Sangha community we wanted to extend more than general well-wishes – many of us need a warm helping hand and a listening ear. Based on that awareness, AZC offers help for those facing immediate financial problems or those needing services that volunteers can provide – see AZC’s Emergency Relief Fund and Mutual Aid Project links on our website.
In addition, we have planned a one-on-one Coffee & Chat with our members, where a group of senior leaders within AZC will be contacting our Sangha members to touch base and have a brief “check-in”. The intent of these conversations is to connect with our members and understand how we might collectively or individually help one another through this time of difficulty. These are informal and confidential chats that will begin next week and extend through Thanksgiving. Expect a reach-out from us to set up a conversation – either over Zoom or in-person (as long as both you and the “meeter” are comfortable social distancing outdoors).
For our very new members that may not have participated in programs, we don’t want to miss you! If you are in that category, or if you are not contacted in the next couple of months, please reach out to Julie in the office and we will ensure that you are included.
Warm bows from my corner of the rug,
AZC Board President