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Tiny Revolutions №94: The Way Seeks You
notes on a path taken 🚶🏼♀️
Greetings from late summer in Los Angeles, from the baked pavement and the yellowing foliage and the parched smell of a landscape that’s been under assault from the sun for months on end. It’s my least favorite time of year here, and I’ve been escaping often, visiting friends and family in Oregon and Minnesota and northern California. Which sort of explains why I’ve been missing your inbox. The truer truth, however, is a mixture of a few things: I haven’t been motivated, I haven’t had anything pressing to say, and I’ve been fighting with myself about how much time I want to be spending on the laptop. And then there’s the whole thing about getting out of the habit of writing creatively.
Oh sure, you say, maybe you needed the rest?
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Resting is hot right now! Writers like Jenny Odell and Katherine May and Tricia Hersey of The Nap Ministry (obviously) have been touting the importance of making time to recharge for years, and this summer Rebecca Solnit and Krista Tippet of On Being, among others, have been publicly heeding the call. It’s wonderful to see.
And maybe I did need the rest. But if I’m honest — and I always do try to be as honest as I can here — I’m going through some big changes. The kinds of changes that you try to ignore until they force their way out to the surface. It’s been intense over here trying to figure out how navigate them!
The way I’ve been feeling lately is kind of like when you go to a yoga class and are in the middle of holding a really difficult pose and the teacher asks you if you’re breathing and you realize you’re not breathing. So here I am remembering to breathe.
So on the topic of navigating, I wanted to talk about something I have not yet mentioned in this newsletter: how I came to live at the Zen Center. If you’ve been reading this newsletter, you know I practice with Angel City Zen Center, but did you know I live here? Surprise! Now you do.
This week marks my two year anniversary since moving in, in fact.
Here’s the story: I started attending ACZC in January of 2019. I’d been looking for a new group to meditate with for a while — prior to that I’d sat with a secular group for a couple of years until the facilitator moved away. There was a period of about a year where I meditated by myself, but I knew from experience that the best way to commit to a meditation practice is to find other people to sit with.
So I did a bunch of what you might call spiritual tourism — I went and sat with a bunch of different groups to see what felt right, but no one felt like home until I found ACZC. I started attending their weekly Saturday morning sits and the occasional Monday night sit and talk, and I went on their spring and fall retreats that year as well. Before long I was a regular.
I planned to go on the spring 2020 retreat, too, but it was canceled for obvious reasons. At the time I was living alone in a one bedroom apartment and starting to, uh, TOTALLY FREAK OUT about being trapped in there for an indeterminate amount of time.
And then one day that summer I got an interesting email from Dave Cuomo, who runs the center, saying they had an opening for a resident in the house and asking whether I was interested. How strange, I thought, to imagine living at the Zen Center. I was into Zen by then, but was I that into it? I thought not. Weird! I thanked him for thinking of me and declined straight away.
But then time crept on. It was the heyday of social distancing and Zoom everything. I’d been working from home for years by then and was used to a fair amount of alone time, but this was nuts.
Would I really want to live at the Zen Center? The question pestered me. After years of living alone, I’d been considering communal living situations prior to the pandemic, but had yet to come across one that seemed like a good fit. And then this one appeared out of nowhere. I felt like I had no choice but to reconsider.
On the pros side:
It would be an opportunity to deepen my meditation practice and learn more about Zen, a tradition I found fascinating.
The center is in a cute house in a cool, walkable neighborhood.
I’d have two roommates that I knew to be upstanding human beings.
It would put me in contact with these other humans on a daily basis.
It was cheaper to live there than what I was paying for the one bedroom apartment I’d been living in for the past six years.
On the cons side:
I’d have roommates again for the first time in 10 years (!)
The house/neighborhood was not as nice as the one I’d been living in.
It would mean giving up my apartment, which was wonderful, in a great neighborhood, and which rented for under market value (for the non-city dwellers, this is a really big deal!).
I’d have to share a kitchen.
I’d have to agree to the house rules, which included being quiet during all sessions. It also meant no drinking (fine, I was sober), no eating meat (iffy as I still eat/ate some meat), and no overnight guests (kinda hard to date during a global pandemic so not such a big deal?)
Note: the caveat with all of these rules was kinda like, wink wink, as long as we don’t see it, it didn’t happen. So it’s not as restrictive as it sounds.
It meant committing to Zen practice in a way that I had not identified as something I was on board with.
I would have to tell people I lived at a Zen Center??? I would become a kind of monk??? This constituted a giant identity shift for me.
And oh yeah, what if I got there and hated it and felt trapped during a time when there was nowhere you could go to escape??
The stakes felt high. But still the idea of moving in wouldn’t leave me alone. After a couple of weeks of deliberating, I emailed Dave. Hey…so how about I come take a look at the rooms?
And then within a few weeks I had agreed to move in. I figured hey, if you’re ever going to live at a Zen Center and deepen your inward-looking spiritual practice, wouldn’t doing it during a global pandemic be the time? Turns out it was a great move and a chance well worth taking.
Which is not to say it was easy. It was humbling, it was exciting, it was terrifying, it was, above all, very, very weird to go from being a regular person with a burgeoning interest in an ancient spiritual practice to being dropped right into a (semi) monastic environment. Some part of my identity had to be reformed in order to be able to absorb it.
Living here has been a practice of stepping into routines. Not like the intense ones of an actual monastery, but there is a rhythm to the days. We do morning meditation from 7-8 am from Tuesday through Friday, and then on Fridays we also do a chanting ceremony after the sit. We have a Saturday morning hour long sit followed by a talk, and then the same thing on Monday nights, though the meditation is only 30 minutes that night. And then on Wednesday night is Koan Night, where we sit for a half hour and then talk about a Zen koan for an hour afterwards.
The first year I lived here coincided with the deepest part of the pandemic, and aside from when I was traveling to visit my family, I would say I did probably 95% of sessions. I sat hundreds of hours on the cushion, just me and my monkey mind and whatever it dredged up on any given day. I sank into the rhythms of the place. I immersed myself in the teachings and the practice of Zen, discussing them with other members of the sangha and giving talks of my own occasionally. Writing about them in these rambling missives to you.
The reason I tell you this story now is that over the summer, while I wasn’t writing to you very often, I was coming to grips with a truth I also wasn’t sure I was ready to face: that it is getting to be time to move out of the Zen Center. For many reasons, but one of them is just that I want to.
Living in this place has changed me for the better, and while I harbor fears about whether I am making a mistake by leaving what has been a true haven during a difficult time, I also have confidence that wherever I go next, I’ll be OK. Better than OK, even.
Practicing Zen has helped me understand that on a cellular level. I’m talking about a marrow-deep understanding that life is a constant process of change, and the more I can surrender to it instead of fighting it, the better off I’ll be.
I have to trust that the same deep intuitive knowing that led me to take a chance and move into the Zen Center has led me to conclude it’s time to move on from it. And that’s exciting! And yes, scary and all those other emotions that go along with change.
So here I go into the blue again. I’ll be here until the end of the year, and after that, who knows? I’m thinking I’ll spend some time up in Northern California and maybe even farther up the coast, but that’s all TBD. I’ll keep you posted.
On to some other stuff I found worth sharing:
The Way Seeks You!
Here’s a talk I gave at ACZC recently that covers some of the territory I wrote about above, but goes into deeper, more mystical territory. Why are we attracted to certain things — in my case, Zen — and how do we know what’s worth paying attention to? How is it that when we hit upon a path that feels right, it seems like the path rises up to meet us? Check it out if any of that sounds interesting at the link above or anywhere else you listen to podcasts.
Newsletter recommendation: Observations
You know I love a good newsletter (and I know you do too), but how about one that isn’t so much about thinky thoughts? I’ve been enjoying the dispatches from Stefania Culafic. Composed of just images based on a changing themes, I think this is what the kids mean when they talk about something being just vibes.
The Myths That Make Us
“As you wake up your inner critic gets more intelligent in trying to gaslight you away from doing the things that you know are the things to become who you’re meant to be.”
A friend recently turned me onto The Myths That Make Us, a podcast by Eric Godsey about our stories of who we are and what kind of world we're in. I loved this quote from a recent episode and have experienced this phenomenon many times. Why is the mind so slippery!?!
In the same episode, Eric uses the metaphor that having a spiritual practice is like a nutrient for our personal growth. He says that we all start like seeds, with (mysteriously) the designs for everything we’ll become already inside us, and that, like plants, we just need proper nurturing and support in order to flourish.
Did You Know I Coach?
Speaking of nurturing, I have not mentioned it in here in quite some time, but I offer life coaching services. I hate talking about it because the term “life coach” triggers an intense gag reflex, but hey, I’m the kind of life coach you go to if you are repelled by the idea of having one. Coaching, along with Zen/meditation practice have made a huge difference in my life, so I’ve experienced how transformative it can be firsthand. I love working with people one-on-one to help them take steps toward creating the kind of life they want and am in the midst of putting together a group program as well — more on that soon. You can read about my coaching practice here, and just reply to this email or comment below with any questions.
A Tiny Assignment
It has been my experience that when you know you have to do something, the pull comes deep from within and is often inexplicable. The pros list can be short and the cons list long, but there it still is.
Can you allow yourself to hear it and to feel it? What is it telling you?
Thanks for having me back in your inboxes. It is a pleasure and a privilege. See you soon.
p.s. Paid subscribers, please note I have placed subscriptions on pause for the moment while I get this thing back on the rails.
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