In Search of Dignity And Care: A ZPO Member’s Reflection On A Year of Street Retreats

“…The tech firms have headquarters literally right across the streetcar tracks from the Tenderloin, the city’s most impoverished neighborhood…my mind and my body can be and has been complicit in setting up boundaries and breaking down neighborhoods… if I allow all experience – the whole plaza – to penetrate me, then I will be transformed…” – ZPO Member Kosho Brian Durel of Upaya Zen Center.

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Large Sprite, Large Heart- In the Aftermath of a Street Retreat

During September 22-25 2016, six individuals have partaken in a Street Retreat in New York City, a homelessness plunge based on Not-Knowing, Bearing Witness and Taking Action. Below is their email exchange in its aftermath concerning one individual they met on the streets. (September 28 2016) A vignette on our street retreat, As some of you know I went on a street retreat in NYC from Thursday to Sunday last week. In the course of being homeless we befriended a 47 year old woman who had been living on the street for 25 years now and is still alive. Fatima acted as our street coordinator; making sure we got our food at the Bowery Mission before others so we could get to the park for our closing ceremony on Sunday, got us coffee in the morning, showed us where to sleep in a big park in the village. She had amazing energy; you could see how alive she was from the way she laughed and cried to the way she offered herself to us; wanting to be seen and heard. She didn’t have teeth and admitted to taking crack and alcohol every day because she didn’t know how to cope with her life. We were sitting in our circle meditating and speaking from the heart and with a tear streaked face she looked into our eyes and said, “don’t forget me don’t forget Fatima”;. It reminded me of these parts of me that cry, are confused, feel messy and all our parts that cry “don’t forget me”. Marushka   (September 28 2016) Dear Friends, As you know we had a quick discussion & agreed we’d like to do something for Fatima for her upcoming birthday. I told her I would meet her for lunch again this Saturday at 12:30 at the meatloaf place; no guarantee she’ll be there but she did say she’s there every Saturday. I am going to bring a $100 Kmart gift card for her & say it’s from all of us; if however she doesn’t show I will just keep it for myself. Either way I will report what happens, & if she does show up I’ll give you all my address for any contribution you’d like to make. Gassho, Scott B.   (September 30 2016) Dear Street Sangha, Good day! Hard to believe that 7 days ago we...

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Exploring the Bodhisattva Way, Free Adventures Every Day, Part 2

EXPLORING THE BODHISATTVA WAY, FREE ADVENTURES EVERY DAY, Part 2 By Roshi Grover Genro Gauntt A talk given at Upaya Zen Center on September 28, 2015 Download audio recording, Continued from Part 1 Transcribed by Scott Harris, Photo above by Peter Cunningham GENRO: […] So we don’t have much more time. It’s like a few minutes before the dinner bell rings. So I want to be open to questions. Please say your name before your questions. Audience member: Nancy. Genro: Hi Nancy. Audience member: What was it like in the Black Hills? What were the interactions with . . .? Genro: That’s a big one. That’s a big question. It was really wonderful. We camped for five days. There were some people that stayed in lodges. So if you want to come do that with us, you don’t have to camp. But I highly recommend it, because the Lakota name for the Black Hills is Cante Wamakhognake. And the translation for that is “The heart of everything that is.” So I would not want to go to my lodge room, and take a shower. I want to be on the land. Because it’s holy land for sure. The natives that were there, they were really surprised. The question that I heard most often was, “How do you know so many nice people?” They can’t imagine two hundred people that are not bigoted—seriously—or don’t have awful opinions of them, and how they should be living their lives, and not being at the tit of the state. That’s what they run into all the time. So the normal way of native people around Wasichu, and that’s what they call the non-Indians — Wasichu’s an interesting word. It means “the one who takes the fat.” That’s what they call the non-Indians, who were the explorers and the colonizers. The fat eaters, Wasichu. But their normal attitude around white people mostly is distance and fear. You know, “What are they gonna ask me? What are they gonna call me? What kind of judgment are they gonna make of me?” But in the Black Hills [retreat], in this container that arose, the native people were saying, “I’m just so happy. I’m just so full of joy to be here, and to be...

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Bernie’s Trainings: Street Retreats

Bernie’s Trainings: Street Retreats By Bernie Glassman I wish to talk about going on the streets during Holy Week, the week of Easter, the week of Passover, one of the saddest and most joyous times of the year. I go on the streets at other times of the year, too, and each occasion is special in its own way, but the streets feel different during Holy Week. The remembrance and caring that spring to life during that time are unmistakable and unforgettable To give you a feel for what I mean, let me describe the 1996 Holy Week street retreat. We spent our first night sleeping–or trying to sleep–in Central Park. It was so cold that at about 4 a.m. we gave up and began to walk downtown, stopping for breakfast at the Franciscan Mission on West 31st Street en route to our hangout at Tompkins Square Park. We were tired and it didn’t help when we heard that it was going to rain that night, the first night of Passover. Walking past St. Mark’s Church in the East Village, I ran into its rector, Lloyd Casson. Notwithstanding the smell of my clothes after a night in the park, Lloyd gave me a hug. I knew Lloyd from the time he’d served as rector of Trinity Church, and before that, as assistant dean at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. When he heard that we would be in the area, Lloyd suggested we come to the Tenebrae service at St. Mark’s after our Passover seder and then spend the night in the church. Rabbi Don [Singer] had flown in from California to join us for Passover on the streets, but he’d disappeared in the middle of our night in Central Park. For purposes of the seder, we begged for food in the Jewish restaurants on Second Avenue and in Spanish bodegas by Tompkins Square. One retreat participant, a Swiss woman, was given twenty dollars by the Franciscans when she attended their mass that morning before breakfast. Suddenly, as we began to give up hope, Don appeared. He explained that he’d been so cold during the night that he’d gone into the subway to keep warm. After riding the trains all night he’d visited...

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Let All Eat Cafes

Jeff Bridges, who has been fighting hunger for decades, teamed up with the Zen Peacemakers to create “Let All Eat” Cafés to feed their communities in ways tailored to each location.  Bridges met Zen Peacemakers founder Bernie Glassman in Santa Barbara in 1999.  Over the years, their friendship and partnership have developed.  At Zen Peacemakers’ Symposium for Western Socially Engaged Buddhism, Jeff Bridges discussed his work to end hunger. “Let All Eat” Cafés are inspired by the Greyston Foundation in Yonkers, NY and the Stone Soup Café in Greenfield, MA. Accustomed to spending time on the streets, the Zen Peacemakers developed the Greyston Foundation as a set of social services and businesses that meet basic needs and affirm the dignity of all participants. This tradition of blurring the boundary between people being served and people serving continues with the Stone Soup Café, where a mixed income community gathers every Saturday to enjoy free food, activities and wellness offerings. Unlike many soup kitchens, the Café is a family-friendly environment.  The Stone Soup Café was started by the Zen Peacemakers in 2010 and continues as an independent entity today. The most important partners in establishing the Stone Soup Cafe are the Zen Peacemakers and the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church.  The Zen Peacemakers tenet of Bearing Witness and the Unitarian principle of affirming and promoting the worth and dignity of each individual shape the Café’s unique approach.  While these influences are important, the Café welcomes people off all backgrounds without being tied to any specific tradition. If you are interested in putting this model of Soup Kitchen in your area, please read this, and/or contact Ari...

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