Knowing When to Quit: Roshi Genro’s Reflects on a Photo from a 1999 New York City Street Retreat
NEW YORK CITY, USA. “So this picture is a Street Retreat from 1999 or 2000. And Bernie’s leading the street retreat; there are probably twelve of us on the retreat. I know Paco, Noemi, and Fleet Maull were on the street; I know because we talked about this retreat not long ago, just remembering retreats with difficult circumstances.
The reason I’m wearing this plastic poncho, most likely it came out of some trash somewhere, is because I was protecting myself from the rain. It rained the whole time. It’s probably a Thursday night, the first night of the retreat, and we probably had dinner at the Bowery Mission. We likely had gone to Fariha Friedrich’s mosque on West Broadway down in Tribeca. So this could be late at night, or it could be early in the morning, I’m not sure because of the rain.
Here we’re taking shelter under scaffolding. One of the remarkable things about this retreat was that it didn’t last very long because it kept raining and raining, the entire time. We knew what the circumstances would be, and I’m not sure if we were out one night or two nights in total. This might’ve been a retreat where what we did to stay out of the rain was go on the Staten Island Ferry. We’d walk down to the Battery, get on the Staten Island Ferry, which is free, and take the twenty minute ride across the bay to Staten Island. From there, you can’t stay on the boat, so you have to get off, walk around, get on another one, and then take twenty minute ride back. So we’ve been known to do that many times all night long to stay out of extreme cold and rain. This could be the next day after an evening like that, and it becomes clear that once you’ve experienced, this isn’t true all the time, nothing is true all the time, but once you’ve experienced a certain amount of difficulty as a group, and the group’s gone through a lot, sometimes you don’t need four days on the street to get it. I think this group was in the position of having gotten it pretty well. Everybody’s tired, of course no sleep, and wet and cold, all that.
So somehow we found a place to meet in a public building. We found an unoccupied office, this is just one of these things you do on the streets, you have to figure out where you’re going to meet and you don’t know until you just find a place. So this just appeared; we started opening doors in some building and we went in, sat, and held council in some unoccupied office.
Bernie’s leading council, and says, “How’s everything? How’s everybody doing? What do you think? What should we do?” and we went around and I think the overwhelming energy was, “It’s okay to bail,” including Bernie. He might’ve been leading the charge, I’m not sure. But we bailed, and I think we finished on Saturday so it probably was two days at least that we’d been out already. The question was to do another full day. I remember we finished at that meeting, but somehow we all ended up back at The Bowery Mission for maybe a final lunch or something like that. That was a very memorable New York Street Retreat.”
–Roshi Genro Gauntt
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Roshi Grover Genro Gauntt is a Founding Teacher of the Zen Peacemaker Order, a dharma successor of Roshi Bernie Glassman, and a co-founder of Hudson River Zendo in Yonkers, New York. He has led numerous street retreats around the world, as well as bearing witness retreats in Auschwitz, Rwanda & the Black Hills, USA.