So my name is Joanne Cook. I’m the Buddhist chaplain at Syracuse University. Which is an amazing thing for me, because I came here as a student when I was 18, and this is where I learned about Buddhism and got interested in Buddhism. And then to come back much later in my life after I retired from a job teaching in the city schools here to to return to the very place that I used to hang out all the time. There’s a coffee shop around around the corner here, the people’s place. That is one of the few places in Syracuse University that is pretty much the same as it was 40 years ago when I was here. So I was raised Catholic mostly by my dad, who was a very sincere Catholic. And I what I learned from him is the importance of vow. I’d say that he was probably would have been a priest if he hadn’t not been a priest. You know, you had to, you know, make a living. And his son of immigrants and all that. So helped them get out of that that poverty. But anyway, so I knew that the spirituality was going to be important in my life.
It wasn’t yet another piece of evidence that you were a piece of crap, you know. So then I just got more confident in myself because I could do things and sometimes I did them well and sometimes I made mistakes. And that was all okay. I mean, it seems really simple, but it was extraordinary in the world that I lived in where I was just always, you know, kind of always being criticized for mistakes and whatever, you know, it was I just felt like I was always being being called out in some way. So one of the major lessons from Zen practice, you know, you learn in sitting, so you sit for a long time and not move and I learned the importance of sangha in that, first of all, because we would be sitting together in silence for a long time and we knew that we were all really uncomfortable and going through, you know, some difficulties in our body and yet nobody moved. If one person moved, everybody would have moved. Right. I mean, if you you know, I work with other I work with students. And if one person moves, then then everybody starts moving because I’m like, oh, it’s okay to move. But if we hold this vow together that we’re not going to move, that we’re going to learn to sit still and allow our minds to be still by alone, by vowing that our body will be still, even though we want to move. Right. Because there’s always that impulse to to, oh, if I don’t like this, change it right? If I if I think I need something, take it right. If I need to move, I’m going to move right. No one’s going to tell me not to move that kind of attitude that we you know, that’s, you know, just kind of how we live, you know, which is what causes so much of our suffering, right? This oh, this grabby, this need, this, you know, I want to move. I want comfort. I’m not going to sit in discomfort. But what if we did? What if we just did right? And it just is so much easier. It’s all it’s possible to sit in that discomfort when you’re doing it with, you know, several other people. And sometimes I would just, you know, look around and just just look at them. Just look at these people in my life who, you know, became so important to me. This was the place where I felt accepted. I felt loved. I felt appreciated in ways that I didn’t, you know, in the outside world. And we were here together and we were doing this thing and it was kind of crazy. It’s a crazy thing to do. I just said recently in a talk about how to to my song, it it feels like we’re you know, of course, we’re like brothers and sisters, but we’re like a family. But we’re like a family that’s been raised in this very strange household. And we have some different values from the rest of the world. But, you know, we go out, we do our thing, but, you know, it’s good to come home and and then share what it’s been like out there, like this is our or our deep family. And so the other thing that you learn in selling, though, is to get over yourself, right? So because it’s that self that wants, that separate self that wants to say, I don’t want to be sitting in this discomfort, this hurts, this is crazy. Why are we doing this? So after some time and of course, everything we learn, we learn in our body really what I just learned to to sit with that discomfort and not judge it. So to experience everything without judging it, to experience the people that annoy us or with or the policies we don’t like or, you know, all the things that make us miserable in the world to just experiencing them without taking them personally. Something like, well, you know, this is making my life miserable. So just experience that pain in your knee for what it is. If you think if you are like a newborn baby and you didn’t know what pain was in your mind, right? If you didn’t have conceptions of what pain was or difficulty or annoyance and you just experienced it for what it is and enter into it with some curiosity, maybe like what it what is this sensation in my knee? Where is it going? What’s going to happen? It just it doesn’t hurt anymore. You know, I don’t it’s hard to explain this, but it’s the same exact sensation as you were feeling before when you’re like, Oh, my God, this is so painful. I can’t wait for the bell ringing and just say, Well, where is this taking me? And then the bell rings, and then it’s almost disappointing. Oh, I didn’t find out. Maybe next time, but then just experience everything like that. So I used to I used to be a teacher in the city schools and I taught in school, which was located in one of the most condensed poverty in the United States. So these are students that have a lot of difficulties, that don’t have come from advantages that that are suffering a lot. And so it is a challenging place to work. But, you know, I loved it because I love the students, even though they didn’t love me very much because I was pretty strict with them, because I wanted everything that I had, I wanted to give to them. And it’s it’s what it takes sometimes a little bit, but I hope that they always understood that I cared about them. Usually when we were in the classroom, they didn’t act like they knew that. But when I see them afterwards, you know, after they came back the next year or I saw them in the mall or something, then we had a different, different relationship. But when they’re there with their peers, you know, they have to act a certain way. So their behaviors are pretty challenging all the time. So again, there was a situation like this isn’t what I this isn’t the classroom I want, you know, this isn’t the kind of classroom that I had when I was a kid. This isn’t the kind of, you know, behaviors that I expect and you had to experience that in that same way, kind of go into it with curiosity, go into it with compassion, understanding where people are coming from, which, you know, it wasn’t wasn’t always easy. It wasn’t always something that I think I had enough training in really in the beginning. But, you know, of course, after a while you just you’ll learn a lot. So every year I learned more than the students. Every year I kept saying, this is the year they’re going to learn more. I’m not sure I ever had that year, but, uh, so they were always, they were always my teacher. And I think it would have been, you know, I think this is the situation where my, my Zen practice was just so helpful because I could be open to them and, you know, experience the difficulty and the challenge without, you know, that that kind of like poor me situation. And I guess that’s what I learned from sitting is that if you take the poor me out of the equation, then anything you can do, anything and not be afraid. I’m in. So it’s been a great experience being the chaplain here because I have the opportunity to, in introduce people to this practice and but mostly they just, you know, they just come they’re really interested and and thirsty for this. And we have a wonderful sangha here where everybody says that they love to come to. You have a one meeting a week and meditations throughout the week. So many students meditate every day. Here. There’s a couple of meditations every day. So there’s usually a time period that they can can make, and many of them sit every day and love to come together for our meeting of tea and discussion on Mondays, because they say that they this is the place where they feel not that they’re not judged, that it’s a completely open and welcoming place and that they don’t find that any place else. So that’s you know, that’s and I you know, I think they and they socialize with each other and they go to each other’s apartments and sit before they go out or do something or hang out. They’ll sit together. And it’s a wonderful it’s a wonderful group. I feel very lucky to to have them. But then, you know, they attract other students because it’s such a great group and I don’t really have to do anything except, you know, offer, offer what I can. But a lot of it just happens. So having a relationship with Shinji Roshi is just one of the most amazing parts of my life. Know. And it’s hard to explain what that relationship is. I remember in the beginning what I felt when I became her student was that that she could see me, that she was one of the few people who saw me in a complete way, that like the full moon as opposed to the crescent moon or, you know, that the not so full moon that in all my imperfections that I, you know, that I saw was lacking in myself. Then I felt I had that she saw the full shining moon of me and and that’s, I think, the other big lesson of Zen practice was that I’m not lacking anything, that the Dharma is something that isn’t out there, you know, but that we’re all part of. And it can’t you can’t escape it, you know, you can’t not be part of the Dharma no matter what, but just also on, you know, of the week to week basis, just, you know, meeting with her and Doka Song and always having somebody there to help you get unstuck and just realizing how stuck you are when you don’t even see it. Sometimes I think it’s so important to work with the teacher because otherwise we just want to like let our egos take us where where we want to go in, in whatever spiritual practice. And I think that’s, you know, that can be a problem for people who, you know, get interested in some kind of spiritual practice and then do it on their own. And then it just becomes kind of all about them. And it’s a you know, it’s a danger in because they mean well, but it ends up being, you know, more of a an ego exercise than anything else because that’s you know, that’s we’re that’s what our brains want to do. And that’s where we go kind of easing into those things that are easy for us and make us look good and it’s definitely something I’ve noticed in, you know, in myself when I’m when I’m not, you know, before I found a teacher. So so it’s it’s just a wonderful thing to have somebody like that in your life. But, you know, besides being, you know, your Zen teacher, you’re she’s also somebody it was that I know. You know, and I can talk to her about just anything and have her over for lunch and chat about anything and to have somebody like that in your life is it’s pretty amazing.
Filling the void of God
It’s hard to it’s hard to remember, really. Like I was trying to think about like where did I really stop believing in God? The way I believed in God before? Like, that’s a big thing. And yet some somewhere somewhere in that time period where I was feeling and I remember a particular moment I was walking in the cemetery, Oakwood Cemetery, right here off the campus and actually go to I used to go to the Latin Mass in the morning, like very early in the morning there was a chapel in the cemetery where they would have a Latin mass. And I loved Latin Mass because it was in a different language that I couldn’t understand. And but I knew what it said. So, you know, I knew I knew the mass. I could recite the mass in English, but to do it in Latin was was something that was really interesting to me because in, you know, when you do it in English, you sort of get caught up with like, wait, I don’t I don’t believe that. Or, you know, but if you do it in this other language, it’s like I just think it’s not mundane. It’s not a mundane thing that we’re doing here. Right. And which, you know, kind of jump ahead 20 years. I, I realized, you know, we chant and and Sino-Japanese and I love I love to chant and Sino-Japanese and not have you know, I mean, we chant in English sometimes, too, but some of the things are in English, but just to not get caught up in the intellectual, you know, words just it’s and it doesn’t feel like words. It feels like a one thing, right? So that was one of the ways that, you know, being Catholic kind of connected to. You know, when I first went to the zendo, I never knew that Buddhism had so was was so structured and had such a form to it. You know, I just knew about meditating. So when I went there and there was, you know, you bow and you do this and you do that, and there is sort of a way to do as a way to pick up your teacup. There’s a way to walk it as a way to with your hands. It’s a way to do everything. And I think when I was younger, if I had gone to the zendo, I might not have liked it, I don’t know, because I was sort of not into ritual and kind of dropping away from ritual, but it was a great return to that. And like I said, you know, I loved the sound of the gong, the incense, like it was so beautiful. A priest coming in with a beautiful robe on. I liked that. It was so beautiful. But but here in in the zendo, it was like I believed it. I mean, there wasn’t anything you had to believe. You were just experiencing everything as it is. And that’s what you were there for, really, to to let go of stuff, not to to gain grace or, you know, connection with God or something like that. You were letting go of everything and that felt much more spiritually beneficial, I guess, than to try to get stuff. So again, like, I don’t, I don’t remember exactly where I stop believing it or like realizing maybe I didn’t really believe in the things that I was supposed to believe in to be a Catholic. But I think a part of it, like I said, instead of going to mass on Sunday, going hiking with the hiking club and being in nature, I think that first experience of just being in nature and because I went to church every Sunday, you know, my whole life, so to not go to church and to be in the mountains with this beautiful foliage and, you know, I just remember sitting on a mountain and seeing the the shadows of the mountain kind of move across. What I was looking at, it was so beautiful. And I felt this connection with my whole body. And at the time, it felt like connection with God, right? Like this is this beautiful thing that God created. But so then when I came here and I was, oh, I kind of got off, but I was talking about that moment in the cemetery because I was coming back from Latin Mass and I just felt and I had this apple in my pocket. So like having an apple and it was and I looked down at the apple and it was, you know, like the red was sort of bleeding into the the white part of the apple because it was an artificially colored apple. Right. And I was like, oh, this was like it. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back that this world is bad. Like, it’s just, you know, evil has one in this got this artificial color grating into the apple and I just like threw the apple and I, I just I just remember I had this whole spiritual breakdown, just not being able to live in this world where nuclear war is horrible is is more, more likely to happen than not. And, you know, as a 18 year old planning my life, part of that was like, okay, where to where do I want to be when the bomb falls? Do I want to be? You know, people were talking about like there was like Ground Zero Club where you’d go to New York City and joyfully accept, you know, receive this bomb that’s coming and be done with it rather than try to survive. Or do we go to New Zealand and and try this laid it out like that was really serious considerations. And in my planning and I met the, the man I would marry at that time so I mean we were really talking about that. So anyway, having this breakdown of this like just not being able to deal with this idea of good and evil like something else had to happen. And that was at the same time that I was starting to take I had taken a class in Buddhism and Hinduism. I was just taking a bunch of religion classes to fill some requirements. And I took Buddhism I thought was interesting, but it didn’t, you know, didn’t light my fire at that moment. I actually got interested in Native American religion and connection with nature, and that was so that kind of connected with that hiking club experience. And now I saw that in a in a different way. And also taking that class on evil that we looked at evil from a Buddhist point of view and a Christian point of view. And that’s where I realized that the Christian point of view was what was I couldn’t deal with anymore. And this Buddhist point of view of evil is something that made sense, that that would that it wasn’t a separate and it wasn’t separate from good, that good and evil weren’t separate things, that this wasn’t a dualistic world.
I knew that when I went to the Zen Center that this was my home and that I was not going to leave. But I still didn’t know what that meant, really. So I just said, Oh, I’ve got to keep coming back to this place. This is where I feel at home. This is where I feel something resonating. But I don’t know what it is quite yet. And listening to Shinjiro, she’s talks like, oh, I, I need, I need more of that. Like, I think about it all week and I, uh, she. She didn’t do. She didn’t talk every other week. And the other week would be Dorcas on. I remember the first time I went to Dog. Well, the first time I experienced focus on the bell rang and everybody ran out and I didn’t know what was going on. And I just sat there thinking, like, was I supposed to go? And, you know, you could just doesn’t go. So I’m like, okay, so I’m just sitting there and like, nobody ever explained that to me. So it was that like not knowing and having to go through that experience and that was like, who does that to something like, yeah, I, you know, I was almost more intrigued. Now we usually try to explain to people ahead of time, but I also thought it was totally cool that they didn’t and that I had to sit there and figure that out for myself. That was really interesting and after a while, you know, there’s a couple times that happened before I actually learned where they were going and what they were doing. But anyway, and just the talks having to just like, I need more of this, I need I need my fix. I remember feeling like I need I need to hear these talks. And it was I was at the time my husband and I were remodeling a 160 year old house. It was a lot of work and we had to do it on the weekends. So it was always a little tension over me leaving two to go, but I had to do it and and and like I said, the just the ritual of it was just so the ritual itself, I felt supported me in that I was, you know, hip, you know, kind of cutting through that whole I had to give up this idea of myself that I was a screw up and couldn’t do anything right. I had to give that up because I had to do these things and I could not do that. And, you know, I would just do it and, you know, make, you know, told, you know, you’ve got to do this or this needs to be a little bit more like that. And that was just okay, okay. I can do that. I can do that. And I remember but so I remember, you know, I didn’t really know what the Roxy was and like, what is this? You know? And when I went to my first retreat, my first session, I, you know, I was the only person not wearing a rock kazoo. And, well, there was one other person, and I didn’t have a robe. Everybody had a robe. And and, you know, so it was like, well, I, you know, I, I just found this all like I just needed to, to deepen, to get to do these things like what? What is this? How do I get there? How do I do this? And then I learned about the orchestra and the precepts and oh yeah, I’m going to say I’m going to do the precepts. But actually they came after my first my first retreat. And, you know, I just remember having this sense that like after my first retreat and it was so amazing and no, and I but I could not talk about it to anybody and actually became this big ritual after retreats that me and this other friend would go out to dinner with my husband and my husband would be there, too. We don’t the three of us would go out to dinner because she lived kind of far away. So she would eat dinner afterwards. And she and I would just then because we hadn’t talked all for three days, we would talk about all of the things that we did wrong and all. And it just seemed hysterical, like we were just laughing, like we were, you know, hi or something. And my husband would just like, not think it was funny at all and didn’t understand anything we were saying. But it was, you know, this is where I’m starting to feel that this is this place where I feel a deep healing, a place where I am supported and I’m all in. I just felt I remember we used to play poker, so we had that, you know, you’re all in, you know, you got all your chips and your your everything you’re giving up everything. You know, you’re you’re risking it all and you’re ready to say, like, this is it. I’m not keeping any chips back just in case this doesn’t work out. I’m giving it all my whole self. I’m putting my whole self in. And, you know, after my first retreat, I was, you know, I was all in and I was going to do precepts and I was just going to be a part of this. And I was going to help hold this up. I was going to, you know, be, you know, consistent that I would go regularly, that I would and I, you know, still still am somebody who they can count on to take officer roll where needed. And, you know, I learned pretty much all of the officer roles and can do whatever I need to do. They usually need me to be the cook, but that that I am going to give back that this is the place where I will will grow and I take refuge, that this is where I get the strength to live in the world as it is, and that I can easily, you know, get up from meditation and go into the classroom and deal with whatever craziness is happening there. And sometimes it’s it’s really heartbreaking what’s happening there or their students who, you know, are fight fighting and, you know, how that how you just see the pain of of students who, you know, have to fight to to feel okay about themselves at that moment or whatever it is. And and just the difficulties that they have in this world or, you know, or just being in my marriage and it gave me the strength during a time where my marriage almost broke up, where my husband wanted to leave and in order to not see that in this dualistic way of, oh, he’s a jerk, you know, for leaving, but to have some real compassion for why he feels he needs to leave and maybe he, you know, doesn’t love me. Maybe he never loved me. And he’s realizing that he’s waking up to that. That’s amazing. That’s a good thing for him. That’s, you know, and not my own. You know. Of course, it’s heartbreaking and scary, you know, when you have a house and kids and kid in college, that point, you know, scary but for for me to be grabby and say like no, no, you’re going to either stay here or you’re a jerk and I’m going to, you know, throw some frying pans at your head, punish you for doing this to me. To me, as if he’s doing it to me. You know, he wasn’t doing it to me. He’s just doing it for himself to just allow that situation to unfold as it needed to unfold and not to interfere with it with my own fears or, you know, a heart, you know, ego wound, because I didn’t want to be married to somebody who didn’t love me, you know, why would that be a good idea? Right. But I also didn’t want to be angry and bitter, so just let it happen. Let’s see what really needs to happen. And then he fell in love with me again because I really gave him that room to figure it out. So and then we’ve had a great relationship better than ever since then, really. So, you know, and so so I would never be able to have acted that way if I didn’t have the refuge of the Sangha and the teacher and the Dharma. So so of course, it’s just this grounding refuge. I don’t know. It’s not a place, you know, it’s more than a place. I don’t know what to call it really. But and you know, I remember particular moments in the retreat early on that really changed me. And I talked a little bit about just the feeling of pain and experiencing the pain and getting getting over it, you know, not taking that pain personally and and how that changed me. But I’m thinking of a moment where I was the cook. I was an assistant of the cook, and it was really challenging situation where the cook was really difficult and to work with and I went to DocuSign and I just wanted to tell Roshi all about it, right for me, right? This is what? You have no idea. I want to tell you. And instead, before I got a chance to do that, she told me to stand up. And I stood up and there was a window right over her head. And right in the middle of that window was the full moon. And I just cried. It just all that stuff I wanted to bring to her, to let her know what I had been putting up with so she would think I was wonderful, you know, for putting up with it all. Like just fell away because the beauty of the full moon enlightenment itself centered in the window for us to see. It’s there. It’s always there. But we get so wrapped up in this poor me, this person’s making my life miserable just changed me. I remember for four months after that, every time I saw the full moon, I cried. It was embarrassing, you know? You’d be in the car and you’d look out the window and you just start crying. So it stayed. Stayed with me for a long time in that form. So just seeing it and that reminder that everything we need.
It’s hard to know that. I know that, you know, in the beginning of my practice, of course, in the beginning you’re still figuring it out. And you’re all excited about it, but you can’t explain that to other people. And first, it just seems weird to everybody and an inconvenience because I go off, you know, and go off on these retreats. You know, that’s hard on the family. And so, you know, I think in in the beginning, you know, the you know, my family was like, what is this about? You know, you know, and you’re you know, you’re I think you go through this this stage where you’re kind of out of balance about it because, you know, you’re all excited about it. You you know, you don’t. I don’t I wasn’t going to to try to get them to do it, you know, which is kind of weird, really, in in the context of like a religion because, you know, most religions, the family goes, whether they want to or not is something the family does. And whether you believe or not, you’re taken to church and or temple and you just you know, you have to go in. That’s just part of your lifestyle. And so, you know, a congregation looks a certain way, whereas in Zen, my experience, you know, people come on their own, they don’t come with their family sometimes. We had a Zen for kids. You know, my my daughter went to Zen for kids. My son was older by the time I started going in Zen Center. So he didn’t. But, you know, but it’s not it’s not the same. It’s not like, you know, you bring your children, you tell them to be quiet. You know, they learn the prayers and all that. It’s just a whole different thing because it’s something you do individually which which kind of makes it less, you know, stable in a sense, because, you know, whole family gives money. You know, you give money, you decide that you’re going to do that. For me, you know, it’s like, well, I’m giving, you know, part of my money, sort of not that we have separate money, but it’s, you know, you wouldn’t I think you know would probably give more of is the whole family was involved. So there’s this kind of lack of stability in a way compared with other congregations. And so it’s just something, you know, something mom, did, you know for a while and then, you know, when did it start to become something that they appreciated or started to see in me? It’s hard to say. It’s that, you know, walking through the midst kind of thing, like when you don’t really know, you’re getting what I definitely, you know, of course, uh, cooking. They noticed, you know, that would be something. But, you know, when did they start noticing what I was, you know, bringing to the family as far as acceptance? Um, and love? Um, I mean, I think it’s hard to. It’s hard to say. I would really wish that you would interview my children on this, actually. Yeah. Uh huh. So, well, my son would say something that he said once that was interesting to me is that, um, that although like my husband might be like on his case a lot or whatever in a very overt way that he’d say like, you’re the person you really got to watch out for his mom. She’s like, This ninja. She’ll sit there completely quiet for the longest time, and then she’ll say something that just, like, cuts through everything. So, you know, it was kind of that would be something that he noticed that I would just sort of be completely honest and say something that he didn’t expect. But in a but I wouldn’t be angry. I would just make an observation that would blow his mind or something like that. Uh, I, my, my daughter went through a lot of difficult times and so, you know, just being patient, just being able to accept what she was going through and not freak out too much. We freaked out a little bit, but you felt an obligation to to some extent. But, you know, I think she knew that she was okay, you know, despite whatever is she was going through, that I thought she was okay. She’d be okay. And that was reassuring. Um, you know, and, and I think so the students that I worked with, I think saw that too, that I thought they were okay, you know, that I believed in them and had compassion in this real sense that that wasn’t, you know, oh, poor dear. It was more like, you know, seeing them for who they were. And not just how they acted, which, you know, was not always very good.
Well, one book that was my Bible at the time was in mind, beginner’s mind. And I wrote paper that connected to that. And, you know, use that book really to inform every aspect of my life really. Some of the things that I, first of all, taught you how to sit and how how to meditate and how to breathe and so that that in a way, was, you know, my first teacher. I understood the. I remember one section of it talked about, you know, well, being in the moment, of course. And. But so if you’re if you’re eating, you know, one thing and wish wishing you were eating a different thing, you know, how how that was like killing this just moment of your life and how often we do that, right? We’re just always dissatisfied with everything. So just really woke me up to how we act dissatisfied all the time when everything is great. Right here and now, right in front of us. Right. So there was, I think, that aspect of just the way you live your life is part of what kind of lit the fire to follow this path. And so I became a vegetarian, not not so much for a while, you know, for for the ethical reasons necessarily, although, you know, that was definitely a plus. But in the dorm, the food wasn’t that good back then. And then we discovered that some people were eating something that looked a lot better, like way like you usually walk down and there would be like three choices and you’d get what you get. But something apple like they’d go in the back and they’d get something else. And it turned out that was a vegetarian option and it looked a lot better. So I became a vegetarian. And then of course I had to teach myself to cook because I wasn’t raised, you know, a vegetarian and it was a whole other world of eating. So I taught myself to cook and I realized that cooking was just a wonderful meditation. And so chopping, you know, chopping and just everything about it, really. I mean, here is like the universe that you are now, like creating this sort of alchemy to make this wonderful food that you’re going to eat and, you know, so be a part of, of, of, of, of nature because you’re taking from it and you’re giving back and it’s a reciprocal kind of relationship and I felt that cooking and eating and appreciating food was one of the most spiritual things I did all day. And that, you know, so I used to like cooking, but it wasn’t until I, you know, started going to the Zen Center where I became the benzo, the cook for the retreats very often because because I love that practice. And then it sort of became official, you know, and somehow that really deepened that practice. But so it’s, you know, it’s just part of everyday life. And if you you know, I think if there’s something that you do three times a day that you should do it, you know, in this fully mindful way. So when I first started that practice, you know, in my twenties, you know, so that’s, that’s when I started, that’s when I started to meditate and learn what meditation was and experience, whatever that was. It’s it’s hard to explain now. And, you know, even really remember, but because, you know, we have these experiences in meditation and let them go like we’re not going to cling to that and like, Oh, I need to have that again exactly the same way. It’s like things just happen in your meditation that, you know, just be that, that you just get off the cushion and go on with your life and you know, you it can’t not be part of your life after that, but it’s not something you cling to. But but I just remember that, you know, learning mostly learning about breath and experiencing this completing complete letting go in your body and in your mind and allowing what’s in front of you to just become as vivid as it always was. Kind of take away this film that we have walking around where we take everything for granted and don’t really see it so suddenly. Meditation, you know, made me feel alive and in ways that I hadn’t noticed. I guess. And that that informed, you know, my my interests and my work and my commitment to to peace work. Although, you know, I didn’t always do that throughout my whole life, you know, but when I could and just, you know, just how I saw the world, not so much as something that I wanted to get, get things from, but to just be a part of it, to be in it, and to raise my children with these values. We didn’t I didn’t, you know, quote unquote, raise them as Buddhists. But just with Buddhist sensibilities. So they didn’t really grow up with a religion. When people asked, I remember my son really asked my son what religion he was because that because that person was born again Christian. And that was very important to him. And my son said, I think we’re Buddhists and, you know, but I didn’t really know what that meant except how to live his life, you know. And I’d say, you know, today he’s a very then man in his own way, even though he would never say that himself, which is good, because that’s how it really should be. And my daughter, too, has a a deep spirituality connected with nature and so, you know, raising my children without this, like, okay, we’re Buddhists and you have to go to you know, you have to go to morning service with me. It wasn’t, you know, like that at all. Some, you know, and that’s what Buddhism is like. It’s you have to experience it yourself for your own way. So, you know, we did this meditation used to like when my son was a little boy, we would meditate and he would sit down and then he’d jump up and he’d go and he’d get a toy and he’d put it next to it. It was a bus. I remember we had this little toy bus, so the bus would meditate with us and you know, so he had a little bit of that growing up and my daughter also, but it was not a prescribed kind of thing. You know, while you’re talking, it’s making me think about a few things. First of all, frustrations, just that being a part of our morning service and and what we do it you know, it seemed like a strange thing to do when you first come. I mean, you know, as Catholics, you know, you kneel and you do, you know, you do all the stuff. But just really to give yourself over to full prostration, you know, we don’t do as many as you do in your in your tradition. But but really to to put your whole body into this, you know, giving yourself to others, basically, and really does affect the way you are with people. So, I mean, it really does break down this this ego. And I think that’s something you really feel throughout the years of your practice. So.
I mean, karma is it’s a very hard thing to understand in a way, you know, and but it definitely I, I can’t think of the right what I wouldn’t say explained I wouldn’t say in forms but is a part of the world as it is. So everybody is perfect where they are. Well, from Zen. From Zen mind, beginner’s mind. We’re all perfect and we could use a little improvement. All right, so, you know, people won’t. Part of compassion is the understanding of our karma like we are. We’re and can’t be otherwise. So this it’ll just sort of allows for a world without judgment because karma holds us this way. And the understanding that we, you know, we don’t we don’t know. We don’t know what another person karma is and how it is bringing them to to us right now in the way that they are, you know, so, you know, this idea of bowing to everybody as if they are your mother, however, you, you know, understand that if you live your life that way, then you have a good life. I think, you know, so. So I don’t know if it has you know, has I’m not sure how is exactly how it’s informed my practice except that, you know, karma creates other karma and you’re trying to get unstuck. So this is motivation to get unstuck from our karma is a big part of why we why we sit and we just do it, you know, just do it and see what happens going into it with a curiosity. And when you sit for many years, I mean, you can sit for four, you can spend a lot of your time sitting just, you know, thinking about other stuff and you know, but in that, there’s always the, the point at which things start to fall away and it changes. You just change changes your mind and you can feel that and you can experience that. But it takes a long time.
Mindfulness and Chaplaincy
Yeah. It’s really interesting being a Buddhist chaplain in the United States because the students that I work with aren’t Buddhists. Right. There’s a few. But, you know, mostly American students are coming to this practice because they’ve either done some meditation in the past or they’re interested in finding out more about it. But they all are interested in what Buddhism is about. Like they just see this like, Oh, there’s this something about compassion, and that’s something I’m looking for somehow. So it’s, it’s kind of interesting that they well, I’m pleased the degree to which they really are interested in that and aren’t just coming for like this, trying to be mindful so that they can be better at their job or, you know, that kind of thing, which is it’s good to be good at your job, but and to apply that mindfulness to your work, you know, that I think is, you know, helped me a lot in my job. But. But so one thing that happened when I first started here was that I have a lot of students come that were interested, but then they wouldn’t show up to meditation. So I actually thought, well, you know, they need it’s hard to justify yourself when you think you’re a busy person. You know, they’re busy. They have a lot of work to do, you know, to do nothing like to come here and do nothing for 30 minutes. Can’t justify that to the brain. So I created a certificate program and said, you’ll get a certificate. It just says, you did this practice. That’s all it means. You know, it doesn’t make you certified to be a meditation teacher or anything like that, but it says you did this and people are interested in that. You put it on your resume and you get something out of it because people want to see you know, you do want to distinguish yourself on your resume. And that’s something that you did. And people people are interested in that because they think it’s going to make you better at your job, which it will. But that’s not why you do it. But so it’s kind of something that justifies this time to either other people who don’t think you should be wasting your time with it or yourself or you’re at least you know your thoughts that come into your head that keep you from going. And it it really worked. So that was the beginning of creating a stronger that had a critical mass to it that then attracted other people. So it’s growing and growing and growing. The interesting thing about students who are interested in more than mindfulness and a lot of them came to this practice through apps and things like that, which, you know, I don’t think they’re bad, but they, you know, they are about money. You know, it is people create an app so that they can be a millionaire. And, you know, sometimes they were a monk and, you know, but they still never left the monastery. They were going to make their millions of dollars, billions dollars doing something that, you know, has is good for people. But still, it sort of has this addictive, you know, pull to it. And, you know, that’s how they make money and that’s that’s how they become successful. So it you know, it’s still a business is kind of that you know how yoga kind of went bad in this country. You know, I can see this whole concept of mindfulness going that way, too, that it’s a money making thing that, you know, is offering something to you like, oh, you’ll be better at your job. You’ll be better at this, really better at that. It’s all about you. It makes you something, you know, instead of your ability to have compassion for people and that kind of thing, that’s sort of a that’s thrown in there. You know, it’s definitely in there. But, you know, it’s it’s now a, you know, people that seek out mindfulness practice for themselves, right. So so a lot of them came with some experience through, you know, these apps, which really did you know, it taught them to breathe, taught, taught them to sit. But but once they, you know, found a sangha, then they kind of let go of it. So they use it because it helped them meditate every day or, you know, kept track of, you know, has some device in there that kept track of how, you know, whatever. So that was helpful is kind of like the certificate program. We just gave them some something for their brain to link to. But once they’re here and they meet each other, something else happens. And that’s been really wonderful to observe. The interesting thing about working with college students is because they are you know, they are forming their identity. We had a discussion about stress recently, not really one of my favorite topics, but they need to talk about it. And I it’s hard to get them to talk about it in a way that isn’t just about, you know, like complaining, which, you know, no, they they kind of need to do. But a lot of them talked about the connect that what stresses them out is their concept of themselves. So that was a really interesting thing to kind of come back to that. What gives them stress is the sense that, you know, they’re kind of forming who they are. They’re doing some program because they’re going to be a such and such. And this is how they’re going. This is how they’re going to make their living and this is how they’re going to be in the world to get them to kind of form this ego identity for the rest of the world, but to remind them to not believe in that ego identity, to not see that that’s who they are. And, you know, to that whole syndrome of, you know, not being that imposter syndrome, that that’s what gives them a lot of stress that they’re not that they can’t really be this false self that they’re propping up for themselves or the rest of the world that they feel they must create, that they can’t be it. And that’s what’s hard. So to to help them, you know, create this, you know, get the skills they need to to make their living in the way that they want to make their living without being attached to some false self that they can’t really live up to and then feel some always that lack. So, you know, always trying to help them see that they have everything they need, which is so hard. It’s so hard for all of us, but especially I think when you’re not sure where you are and you’re trying to figure that out. So it’s an interesting dynamic and it’s nice to to work with students who are open to looking at that question. That’s really fascinating. I find myself, you know, we’ll have some discussion and they do the discussion there. I’m quiet most of the time. I kind of introduce an idea, but they start talking about their own experiences and that kind of thing. And and I can see where they start getting caught up in overthinking everything. So is that this or that? I don’t know. I don’t know. And then just so I think, you know, usually my final words on things are about letting go of don’t get and not getting caught up in the topic itself for its own sake with all these things that you’ve said and these these conflicts that you’re creating, is that this is it that should I be doing this or reading that to to let go? So just let go is a lot of and not don’t overthink it. Don’t get caught up in the intellectual side of this question. Just let it go. What it always comes down to is, does this thing separate you from others, from the world, from the Dharma, from nature, from experience? Does it take away from the intimacy of your life? Then let that go. That’s that’s the thing to always come back to when you’re having a question. Should I do this? Should I do that? Am I doing this? Is is this good? Is this bad? Does it separate you? So that’s that’s there, mate. I think that’s the thing that I’m always coming back to. I just did this workshop the other day called Uncluttered Your Life, and it was we talked about clutter, physical clutter in our life and that how clutter separates you from your experience. It just is in the way, right? It keeps you from being relaxed a lot of the time because it’s just distracting it. You can’t find the things you need because all the things you don’t need are in the way and just, you know, in all the ways that clutter separates you from the intimacy of your life. So physical clutter, of course, electronic clutter, like we’re just so in this, you know, students talk about this a lot, social media, how much, how little how do we how do we live in the world without getting too wrapped up in it? And and it’s a constant struggle, which is crazy. Like, you wish you could just let go of it all, but I can’t even let go of it because I have to work with them. And, you know, we’re on discord and worry. You know, it to me, it drives me crazy. But, you know, that’s the world that they live in. And I have to participate in that in order to communicate with them sometimes. So but we’re all but that’s always a question. And at least they’re asking that question, which I think is good, that they don’t just let it take over their life, that there is some kind of friction there, that that there is kind of a push and pull that takes up a lot of our time, but better than letting it just mindlessly take us over, I suppose I forget where I was going with that. But yeah, I think, oh, on clutter you’re like, So I’ll just get back to that. So then so there’s electronic clutter and then of course there’s the our cluttered heart and the all the, the thoughts and emotions and assumptions and conditioning that we have in our hearts that separate us from each other. Just all the concepts that we live with that in an absolute reality don’t really exist. But we have created so and, and the judgments that come from that, that to being aware of those and being able to to let them go once we become aware of them, because we don’t really mean to be judgmental about things, but we, you know, it’s a condition that we’ve had so, so on cluttering our our hearts because clutter in all these ways is, like I said, gets in between. So.
So as a teacher, you know, in a T, when you’re a teacher and kids are really acting out, you know, it’s easy to take that personally or feel like that’s a an offense against my ego. Right. And that I’m going to lash out against that. I have this power. I can, you know, call send you out of the room. I can write up a referral or I’ll do, you know, all those things which don’t work at all. Right. You know, you’re coming up against kids that you know, that that’s not going to work for them. They don’t care about any of that stuff. So when I was a kid, like if I got anybody got in trouble, that was a big deal. But like, you know, there’s they’ve been in trouble all the time, right? So that doesn’t mean anything. So it’s, you know, having to do the opposite somehow. And, you know, and I couldn’t always do that, you know, I wasn’t always good at that. But, you know, there are these I remember, you know, having these periods of time where I just learned to breathe through it. So I remember one particular time it said something about a student who had come in late, like you always came in late, if she came at all. And she would come in cause I said, you know, something about how it’s, it’s helpful when you come on time because then when I don’t have to stop and explain everything over again and appreciated it, if you could come at it. But it’s just like she just went off because that’s, you know, that’s why she came to class really to go off. She’s very smart person. But, you know, it just didn’t, you know, sometimes she would work and sometimes she wouldn’t. But she she but she did like to just, like, cause conflict. So, like, she got totally up in my face and just ripped me up one side and down the other, like, threaten to snuff me and this and that. And just like all this stuff, she’s just saying to me, and I just. Brett just said they just stood there and just said I would just breathe like, don’t like like don’t like what, you know, because that was it was pretty extreme, right? So, you know, I think, you know, a lot of teachers would get would just, you know, they would try to up that right. Escalate it to a point where they would could win. But I knew I couldn’t win. So I’m just just going to breathe and let her go. And she just, like, went on and on and like, all everybody’s like watching this happened and I just let her do it. And then I just said, she ever think about being a teacher? You look at you have everybody’s attention and you’re so smart and you know, you’re the best reader in this class for sure. And when you do work, everybody does work. And when you don’t do work, nobody does any work. Like you, you’re in charge. So you ought to think about that. She said, what I can’t get. And of course she’s cursing the whole time that she’s calling me out so I can’t get through the day without cursing. I said, Oh, you’ll get you’ll get used to it. I curse at home, you know, I just learn not to do it. So last I heard, she was making sure all her siblings who met, she had many did their homework every day, like she was in charge of that at home. So that was a good thing to hear. Who knows? I don’t know where she is today. But anyway, point is like just, you know, being able to take that kind of stuff without it being kind of you go threat, you know, cause you’re not going to win that way. And I’m just a realist. Like I really saw her in that in those few minutes and it was so much better. It felt a lot better to me to just breathe and listen to her than to try to get up. And what am I good? What am I? How am I going to what’s my next move? You know, to win that conflict? So I don’t think I could have done that. You know, my my first year of practice. And I think the biggest reason, you know, that, you know that like you said this, you have this faith, you just do it, you just do it. And some days, you know, you go through periods where it’s like not doing anything. You know, I used to be very tired. I used to go to we had a service on Thursday nights, three sittings, and I’d go after work. I’d be so tired because Thursday, you know, it’s been a long week, right? By Thursday, first sitting sleep, just second sitting. Think about school. And the third sitting was a sitting. But you know, you go through all these sittings where you’re just not sitting right. You’re just there. But that’s what it takes, right? It takes, you know, 45 minutes of sitting to to do 5 minutes of sunset that sometimes. And you just have to let that go and let that happen. And you just you just keep doing it because you have faith in it. And again and so that, you know, that missed you, you never really sense how what you’re getting. But, you know, then all of a sudden you realize that you’re happy and that’s that’s how, you know, I think, like, suddenly you’re just always happy. Things don’t go your way, but that doesn’t make you unhappy. And you’re not afraid to die. You’re not afraid. You know, if you if you’re not afraid to die or really not afraid to do anything, if you’re not afraid of discomfort, you can do anything. So once you get past that discomfort thing, you know, then you can just start really living your life. And then once you start really living your life, then you can say, Well, everything is fine, so it’s effortless and it’s.
Stepping in the dharma
Yeah. Before I found the Zen Center, I was practicing yoga and teaching yoga, but kind of off and on, so in a spotty way and like, cooking was was a spiritual practice, but you still just sort of had to get dinner on the table, you know, kind of thing. And I think there was this big period of time where, you know, I, you know, there’s sort of little strings attached to what was a deeper practice back when I was doing yoga every day and that kind of thing. And just, you know, getting a little bit, you know, in your thirties, you’re just getting caught up with with everyday life of, you know, raising kids and so forth. And, you know, that was a period of time where, you know, some things didn’t go real well, like my late, late twenties, early thirties. Things weren’t going so well for me. And some, you know, things that that would, if you were to look at it this way, would kind of prove that, you know, I was lacking something major in this world, like I just wasn’t I felt very alienated from the rest of the world and felt like I was not like could not participate fully for whatever reason, whatever. I wasn’t sure what I was lacking and I wasn’t I didn’t feel dumb about things. I just I don’t know. I just didn’t think I was capable, I guess, of a lot of things. So, so in an example that I that I often reflect on was being in an interview, a job interview for a teacher, a teaching position where they asked me what I was good at and I almost cried because the idea that somebody thought I could be good at something was foreign and such a normal question in a job interview. Yeah, but I got all choked up and I had a I had to come up with something, you know, I thought I was good at some things really, but still just that the way he said it just made me realize that. And I thought like, wow, you must be really you’re in bad shape. So, you know, so there was this this deep, this kind of dark period. I’m sorry. I like so so I was trying to contrast, you know, this this time with coming out okay and then retreats and that kind of thing. So how do you even. Yeah. So the first night that I showed up at the Zen Center and I felt so at home, you know, that that was the the step to this whole this whole part of the journey. And I, you know, went to so, first of all, just just the ritual of it. And, you know, being part of that, being given a officer role as assistant teacher and, you know, you had to turn the lights on at a certain time and you had to do all these things a certain way. And I just found that structure. So, you know, it’s odd that it’s so spiritually deepening that just by doing these things that by just having to be so aware, I think, of what’s going on and doing it in order to create this environment for the sangha. All right. Helped me really step into it. And then, of course, you know, gain confidence that a mistake is just a mistake. It’s not who you are and that you actually don’t make that many mistakes, actually, because you have a lot of things that you have to do and you do most of them, right. So that was just this whole world of, first of all, being in an accepting place and seeing myself as not lacking for the first time and, you know, and, you know, a decade probably so. And, you know, seeing yourself that way isn’t about yourself. You know, it’s about the Dharma, you know, the whole ness of of everything. And so, you know, I remember going to my first retreat, which I did right, you know, pretty much right away after I came, just, you know, maybe a few, you know, maybe maybe six months into coming to the Zen Center, doing a retreat. And it just it just was an amazing experience that was so hard to talk about when you came out of it. I remember trying to to tell people about it. I ended up having to go right from their treat to a dinner with a friend and my husband. And I just wanted to talk all about it. And they’re like like, well, we don’t really need to know all the details. I wanted to tell them all the details of like what breakfast is like and like, you know, eating with Katsu bowls and needing to learn that procedure. And, you know, I had just sent some students to Davis to monastery. 12 students went for a weekend and they learn how to bowls and they learned it’s Shinjiro. She ran it, taught it, and when they came back, you know, they they too they like they wanted to talk all about it, to share with the students who didn’t go and the students who didn’t go. I could not understand anything. They were talking about. And it just reminded me of that. But one student said it really made me aware of how we treat each other. Right, because in the monastery, you know, you don’t eat until like you wait for the person next to you to start eating before you start eating. Just you’re so aware and respectful in everything you do there that it made her realize how we don’t care about each other at all, right? We just like, do what we don’t know, right? I mean, we do of course, we do care about each other, but our habits, you know, are not don’t always reflect that. And if your habits, if everything that you do requires you to, you know, try not to disturb other people in their, you know, in their sitting or, you know, like you can not not take before somebody else to have this kind of patience with each other is so such an awakening to how we live our lives normally. And, you know, this was the beginning of, you know, this strange household that I’m now becoming a part of. And growing up in with these other people, you know, who are still my very close Dharma brothers and sisters for 20 years now. And and, of course, just the the immersion in living this way for so many days was like three days, not too long. But, you know, it seemed like forever, right? Just the sitting, just all the sitting without. Of course, that’s where you experience the the big discomfort that you’ve never quite experienced when you’re just, you know, coming to sit for a little while. I mean, there’s some there, but then it’s over. But this is just all day, right? And just having to just that experience really breaking down your your poor me voice, that you just get so sick of that you’re ready to shut it up and in the silence, uh, being three days in silence makes you so aware of the habits of your speech and just how you blah, blah, blah, all day, you know, just, um, that, that most of what you do is imposing your ego into situations for the fun of it, you know, which is fun. You know, you can do it. It’s not like you shouldn’t do it, but, but not aware of how much you do it. So, um, just having that fast from speech is, uh, it just makes you so aware of everyday life. And then you just all start seeing everything you know differently. You start seeing, uh, this how mindless we live, and you can’t go back, you know, you can’t forget it. So, you know, then there’s many years of doing retreats. You know, I did every retreat at a Zen Center for all these years, pretty much at least for a year. So it’s which, you know, there’s a rhythm to that and that that deepening, you know, you wish you could do more, but, you know, have your job and all that. So that’s what you can do. And just kind of moving on into this, um, uh, well, and getting back to Zen mind, beginner’s mind, like walking through a mist, you don’t realize you’re getting wet, but at the end of your walk, you’re soaked. So I’m pretty soaked. Yeah. So I, I, you know, I had one of the things that attracted me to this practice was that frivolous, engaging and frivolous conversation was one of the precepts, like, I don’t have to engage in frivolous conversation. Great. You know, because I wasn’t good at that. You know, I was sort of quiet, um, you know, people didn’t like me for that. So to find a place where it wasn’t a requirement was such a relief. Relief is actually a big part of how I felt coming into the Zen Center and why it was such a refuge. Because this feeling of relief like this, that’s how you feel in a refuge, right? Oh, I don’t have to act that way. That’s expected from you. And in so many situations, I don’t have to do things, engage in an unhealthy conversation, you know? Oh, you know, think of all the precepts, really, right? So much of the precepts in an everyday life kind of way are how we’re expected to live like the the, you know, the thing you’re not supposed to do, the thing that you’re trying to to rid yourself of. You know, we’re kind of expected to do those things. You’re expected to put people down and have conversations where we, you know, disparage somebody or expected to eat unhealthy and drink and engage in intoxicants. And we’re expected to, uh, to kill and steal and be greedy. So it was such a relief to find a place where, where ethics wasn’t, where it was not morality, but ethics or ethical life to, to engage with. So it wasn’t, you know, a right or wrong we caught you eating chicken wings in your car or something, you know, or you know, you really shouldn’t be doing that. Should be doing that. You know, that’s against the reasons, that kind of thing. It wasn’t a right or wrong thing. But for you to recognize the difficulty of these things but to move move into them. But it was that it was the feeling that like this is a place where you don’t have to act out but and that you’re not the only one that thinks that that aspires towards it, because it just seems normal to, you know, to gossip about people to to do those things. And I just always felt uncomfortable in those situations. So to be with people who are comfortable with themselves not acting like that was such relief.
Like I needed something deep enough to replace what the Catholicism that like, had run its course. So I needed something deeper than just like the yoga and, you know, the way it was practiced. I’ll just get to it. Okay. So actually, one of the first things that happened in Syracuse University was that there was a guru that was a speaker that’s coming. And I thought, oh, cool, a guru, right? So let’s go. So we went as Sri Shim NOI was here and he and there were monks who chanted and that was all very amazing and that kind of thing. And then he spoke and I just remember the very first thing he said. I don’t remember anything he said after that and maybe didn’t even hear anything he said after that. He said, and this was the first thing he said. Right. He said very dramatic. A human life is not a burden. And I went like, oh, my God, I have always thought a human life was a burden. Right. There is always a burden. There’s always something. Right. And then I just saw like, oh, it isn’t it isn’t a burden. Like, why do we walk around thinking our life is a burden? Right. And that was sort of my mantra for that year. I was like it was like September of, you know, freshman year and, you know, because people would be like, wow, how about this and that? And I just said, human life is not right. So that was like this little seed that happened early on. And then, you know, still went to Catholic mass or all that. But there was something about this whole idea of looking at this world of suffering when it is not. We don’t have to see it that way. Like there’s a whole other way to be in this world. And I got that little glimpse of that at that moment. All right. So fast forward. So after I graduated from college, things didn’t go that well for me. And I was just, you know, again, starting to feel very low. And I started taking yoga as and had this wonderful yoga teacher who became my friend and I went and decided to become a yoga teacher. So I got yoga teacher training at Kripalu Institute when it was an ashram. So this was a whole way to practice meditation with other people that had this deep spiritual side to it, because it was, you know, it wasn’t yoga. The way it gets marketed these days, it’s it was more, you know, from an Indian tradition. So guru and had this ethical practice was part of it. And it was it was about freedom, you know, of ourselves. It wasn’t about health, you know, necessarily. I mean, it was about health, of course. But in the terms of this precious body that we have in this life, and to appreciate our life, to appreciate our health, but not not with the ego side, that that seems to come with the the the current way that your often gets marketed and practiced. And that’s what I found as I became a yoga teacher so that, you know, the yoga journal was big and, you know, the person on the cover was always beautiful and had a perfect, oh, he’s tall, right? I’m five foot one. So, you know, when people came into my class and they saw me as the teacher, you could just see the relief on their face like this woman is not going to make us feel bad about ourselves, which, you know, it happens a lot. And, you know, and I found that, you know, I enjoyed being a yoga teacher, wasn’t, you know, my full time job, which just something I did to maintain that practice that I found, you know, that I found that that was giving me really a deep spiritual practice that I could do with some guidance. And I think that’s where my practice of meditation deepened. And I think that’s where I learned how to to really meditate in a way that, you know, you would have spiritual experiences that made you feel very connected to the world and that that compassion. I think I learned that that that compassion is a physical thing, that it’s not something you do in your mind, but that you do it with your whole body. You know, we did chanting. You did, you know, and and just do the physical practice of yoga wasn’t about, you know, stretching or improving our body as much as it was learning about coming up against conflict and resistance and learning about that resistance to to doing things that were difficult that was difficult and didn’t didn’t place our egos because it was what was hard for us all the time, you know, to always coming up against what’s difficult for you. Instead of what makes you feel good about yourself. And I think then when I, you know, when I was, you know, teaching yoga and had relationships with other yoga teachers, I just found that the community of the yoga community was, you know, that there was there was a lot of ego in that practice for a lot of people. And I think it’s hard to make a living teaching a spiritual practice because you can’t help but get greedy about it. You know, it’s it’s really hard. I think it’s a rare person who can be successful at that without forgetting what it’s all about. So I got, you know, I just didn’t didn’t enjoy it that much. And it was about that time where I discovered the the Zen Center of Syracuse. So, you know, there’s so many nights out you can have when you have small children at home. So I started going there instead of I stopped teaching yoga just because I didn’t want to have too many nights out. And, you know, I just sort of never looked back really. I do miss practicing yoga, though. It’s always good to find a good class, but it’s hard to find a good class. So I, I don’t practice yoga as much as I would like to, but but as far as spiritually, you know, I found this other sangha that was, you know, gave me a much deeper experience. And I think, you know, because I’m thinking back again, like, where where did I let go of all, you know, I used to believe in? And when did that happen? Exactly. And I’m still not sure exactly when that happened. But, you know, I know that I that the the practice of meditation had to be had to replace that deepness of, you know, a belief in God and and, you know, in Jesus Christ, which, you know, I never stopped appreciating the teachings of Jesus Christ and still live that way. And of course, the Buddha taught pretty much the same lessons as this Jesus Christ taught without the Son of God part, right? So which, you know, I, I would say now I feel that the belief in God, at least in my experience, like got in the way of really experiencing the amazement of the world as it is. And if you’re kind of relying on this God to represent good the good side, right, good and evil, it’s very confusing. Right? Right. Uh, you know, just the whole I mean, the question of evil is, is a problem for, for Christianity. So, you know, people have trouble with that. Like, why is there they stop believing in God because. Because there’s evil in the world. Like, how can there be evil in the world if there’s God? But what if there’s not exactly evil in the world? Maybe that’s not what it is, you know. And then and then this whole concept of good and evil, God and the devil, you know, kind of implodes. So what’s left is this amazing, direct experience with the world as it is. And I find out there is a lot more joy in living in that full experience of the world as it is. And.
I, I got to a point where I really didn’t like being a Catholic, wasn’t really where I needed to be. I didn’t really believe in it. I think and I know that I when I was a senior in high school, I joined the hiking club and we went hiking on Sundays and I couldn’t go to church and I went hiking instead and I was realizing that I got a lot more out of being in the woods and in the mountains than I did going to mass. But anyway, that kind of led to dropping away from Catholicism. And that happened here at Syracuse University, mostly because I was doing a lot of peace work at the time, protests at protesting against cruise missiles and very concerned about the threat of nuclear war. And it was hard to live in that world where there was such a thing as good and evil. And those things being separate really scared me. I couldn’t imagine really a world where there was good and evil and that evil could win. And it seemed like evil had a pretty good chance of winning. So, like, how do you just how do you live in that world? How do you be a spiritual person and just live with that and what do you do about it? And when I learned about Buddhism, something kind of clicked. I think the first concept was concept of emptiness, that there was no good and evil, that they weren’t separate things, that there wasn’t a dualist. This isn’t a dualistic world, but a whole a whole world with everything all connected that you couldn’t have one without the other, that in any situation we read novels every week and every novel there was a character who was in some ways evil, and yet you understood that character. There was a reason they acted that way. It wasn’t this evil force that made them that way. There were circumstances.
On mindfulness with students
So I actually thought, well, you know, they need it’s hard to justify yourself when you think you’re a busy person. You know, they’re busy. They have a lot of work to do, you know, to do nothing like to come here and do nothing for 30 minutes. Can’t justify that to the brain. So I created a certificate program and said, you’ll get a certificate.
There were part of a whole world that they were a part of. And just seeing things that way clicked for me. And I really allowed the Catholicism to fall away and got interested in this. And I started to meditate. And I remember early on to feel a spirituality in my whole body, right? Instead of in my head, like just, you know, this is what we believe. This is what we say. These are our prayers. Instead of that, it was something that happened in my whole body and this sense of oneness. And I remember a particular I don’t remember it well enough, actually, to talk about it, but I remember that I had it and that that confirmed that that meditation was a very important part of my understanding of the world and being in the world as it is. So I think that was my quest. All this all this time was the question of how to be in this world as it is with joy and compassion when it’s not the way I want it to be all the time. And that’s just the that’s the lesson that just kept happening, you know, through my life, because, of course, in everybody’s life, it’s not the way you want it to be. And that’s what you have to deal with. Right? And and the practice of meditation helps me really understand that in a lot of ways. I didn’t actually find a sangha until I was 41. So it’s a pretty long time of, you know, kind of being on my own and, you know, having this sense that, well, I’m a Buddhist, but I don’t really know what that means.
And this Buddhist point of view of evil is something that made sense,that would that it wasn't a separate and it wasn't separate from good, that good and evil weren't separate things, that this wasn't a dualistic world.
And I practiced yoga and had, you know, had somewhat of a sangha in the yoga community at times. But but not really. So. So finally, I found a teacher here in Syracuse, and it was just kind of an amazing thing that we have this amazing Zen teacher, Shinji Roshi, here in Syracuse. Syracuse isn’t the city you think of when you think of, you know, where are the great Zen masters in this country? But here she is. And so and I’ve heard a lot of stories from the other Sangha members that it always took a long time to actually show up at the Zen Center of Syracuse. We knew sort of had this sense it was there, but how do you go and how do you show up and how do you enter how do you enter into this? So it took me a couple of years, even after I learned about it, to actually show up. When I finally showed up and just kind of ushered in and given a little bit of instruction, now we have a much more elaborate instruction process of the new people showing up, but I just I came there was a certain night you’re supposed to come when you’re new. And I came on that night and they told me a couple of things. And since I sat before and I had a lot of meditation experience, you know, it was easy for me to just kind of come in there. But I sat down and it was a gong and I just heard that gong and I just let it wash over me. And I just knew that this was my home. And the first time I went on a Sunday, which is a longer service and included a talk by Shingo Roshi, I knew that I had to keep coming back, that I, that I needed to hear this woman talk, that I needed I needed this in my life. And, you know, once I started becoming a full Sangha member, I knew that right away. I wanted to receive the precepts and be a full member and just kind of jump right into it and at the time in my life, I was very insecure about myself. I was having a really hard time with a lot of things. I had trouble finding a job. I just didn’t. I felt like whatever I did, I was going to screw it up and when I look back at it, it’s kind of amazing how low I really felt. You know, I just kind of consider that kind of normal and just, you know, when I went through my day and went through my life and I had small children and that was the joy. But when I think about it now, it just seems like that was a really difficult time in my life that I should have been more upset about it. I think at the time. But anyway, that that I was maybe depressed, but when I started going to the Zen Center, I just learned a whole different way of being really. I learned that you could just make a mistake and it was just a mistake.