Thursday, June 9, 2011

Homeless Zen Retreat

I don't have too much to say about this post, other than it's so much more inspiring than a lot of the stuff I have read over the past week.

When I went on my first 9-day retreat, I felt claustrophobic. There was no place to run and nothing to do but sit with my thoughts. What came up was sometimes poignant and sometimes scary. I spent many hours marveling at the tenderness of my own heart. But I also had to face my lifelong habit of wriggling away from anything that required true commitment. I was so afraid that I would wither away if I stayed in one place or dedicated myself to one thing. But only through going on retreat—and subsequent meditation practice—did I begin to dismantle those fears, and gradually build an organization in which I, and hundreds of homeless youth, could experience a true sense of belonging.

But as I learned last month, dreaming of going on retreat and actually going on retreat are worlds apart. Taking twelve homeless youth to a Zen-Buddhist monastery for 3 days was an experience that I could not prepare for. And while I had designed the experience for them, I too had to open myself to learning along the way. As it turned out, one of the first lessons appeared even before we left the city.

The post goes on to detail the experience. I loved how the retreat leaders and monastics at the retreat center seemed to balance holding the container of a retreat with the basic needs of teenagers who have lived quite unstable lives.

Amidst wranglings over the intentions of Buddhist teachers at some conference, or endless dissections of the behavior of a Congressman named Weiner, writings like this are a reminder to me to stay focused, and let whatever seems like a distraction roll off my back.

Giving homeless youth the gift of a Zen retreat is the kind of engaged practice that makes my heart happy to hear. May we do more of it. May it become commonplace.


taz tagore said...

Nathan. Thank you for re-posting this piece and for your wonderful comments about it. The youth we serve are extraordinary--they constantly show me how to deepen my spiritual practice.

Many blessings, Taz

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