I really am lit up about practice.
During the retreat season I’m so often involved with and fulfilled by the work we’re doing that sitting down to write just doesn’t happen. Now that our focus is on practice itself, rather than facilitating practice, I find I want to communicate with folks every detail of the extraordinary changes this organization is making.
2011 was such a time of change for the Zen Monastery Peace Center and Living Compassion that we designated 2012 as the Year of Deepening Practice. (I hope you read about this in the first issue of our new monthly newsletter: http://blog.thezencenter.org/from-the-guide.) A strong argument could be made that 2011 was a year of deepening practice and 2012 is simply going to build on that foundation, but who would want to argue about such a thing! The important thing is that we are pleased with practice as it is and want it to continue and grow.
Interestingly, the economic downturn proved to be a boon for our Sangha. We began looking for ways to reduce costs, make practice more affordable, and expand the practices we offer at no charge. At the same time we asked those who could afford it to pledge monthly support for the Zen Center, which, in turn, supports the work of Living Compassion, primarily the Africa Vulnerable Children Project. Sangha stepped up in a big way, and we’ve been able to continue and expand a full range of practice opportunities, even while working to maintain the Monastery and upgrade accommodations.
Perhaps the biggest reason for our success in 2011 is the extraordinary gift of our volunteer CEO, Ashwini Narayanan. Many of you had a chance to meet her in one of the amazing (not too strong a word, is it?) What You Practice Is What You Have retreats, held in North Carolina and at the Monastery. What you perhaps don’t know is that she has been guiding both organizations on a daily basis for most of 2011. Working with me, the monks, and those in support roles in both organizations, she has moved us to the point where the term “organization” is truly apt. Her business skills, the depth of her own spiritual practice, and her ability to bridge those worlds is making an enormous difference for us and for the practice. Under her leadership we have expanded what we offer, been more financially viable, and taken better care of the monks and the Monastery.
Here are two of the many great ideas Ashwini has put forth:
1. In 2012, we will launch the “Rest, Receive, and be Thankful” weekends. These will be Friday evening to Sunday lunch mini-retreats, a break from the often stressful pace of the world—a chance to be in nature, participate in a yoga class or workshop, meditate, eat nutritious vegetarian food, take walks, draw, journal, or simply sit and be. These weekends will be in addition to our traditional schedule of week-long retreats, at-home practice days, and guidance days.
2. We have created a Visiting Monk Program in which we accept applications to train as a Visiting Monk each month of the year. This replaces the one-month-only Deepening Practice Training. More information on this program will be available soon.
To facilitate these changes and the growing involvement of Sangha, we are offering as a kick-off for the Year of Deepening Practice an at-no-charge course of guided introspection (see link below) that will result in a yearlong plan for practice that we have cleverly titled a Deepening Practice Plan. DPP training will support all of us in working through any resistance egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate might throw up in an attempt to derail a wholehearted, life-transforming, freedom-and-joy-producing Practice Plan for the year. Following that initial course will be monthly support to guarantee our commitment to liberation remains stronger than conditioning’s commitment to our lack of liberation!
Another thing I’d like to mention is our plan to help folks pay for all of this. We want people to participate in as much of practice as possible—it’s what makes life fun, exciting, and satisfying, rather than endlessly subjected to suffering—and, as I wrote in the last blog, we know that can be expensive, even at our bargain basement prices. I’ve written twice now about the possibility of becoming a vendor on Sangha Market to help generate funds to support one’s practice and have extra to support practice in general. Before long we will launch another available possibility: fundraising. Details soon.
That’s the beauty of Sangha. No one is going to have to go it alone. We’re going to be on this journey of deepening practice throughout 2012, and then, if we remain true to form, we will figure out ways to go deeper in 2013!
To sign up and get in on the ground floor of these changes, go to Deepening Practice Program: http://www.livingcompassion.org/deepening-practice-program.
Visit Sangha Market: http://www.sanghamarket.com.
See current schedule: http://www.livingcompassion.org/schedule.