Reflections on Sangha

Pete Neuwald

Where did our Sangha go?

Pre-pandemic, it was easy to see what our Sangha was. It was the community of dharma friends who supported each other in our Zen practice. It was all of us coming together, physically. We would meet at our Zen center for practice sessions, retreats, and workshops. We would have social gatherings as well.

For the past year, we have been meeting “virtually.” We “see” each other on our two-dimensional screens. So, are we still a Sangha? For me, the same could be asked of my family. I’ve been unable to see my kids and granddaughter for well over a year, other than virtually. The same is true with my ninety-five-year-old Mom. Are we still a family? The answer for me is, yes, we still are a family. So too, we are still a Sangha. It takes some work to keep in touch, but this has always been the case.

The dynamics of how we function have changed drastically, but the job we had as dharma friends has remained the same – to help one another in our practice. While I greatly look forward to seeing you all in person again, meeting virtually has provided some opportunities for practice that didn’t exist when we met only in person. Remote Sangha members have been able to participate in practice sessions and retreats. Also, it has been easier for people to attend sessions and events. We have had participation from people in other states and countries. Some of our members have taken advantage of the Kwan Um School of Zen’s online Sangha to participate in retreats, study groups, and practice sessions as a part of the larger Sangha.

As I mentioned, I am really looking forward to seeing most of you in person sometime this year! That said, I want to continue to “see” those of you who are unable to be present in person!

Photo courtesy of Susi Childress

Chris Rundblad

My Sangha is Small

My sangha is small.
It is a tiny planet around a middling sun
in one of a gazillion galaxies
light years apart in time and space.

My sangha is small.
It is a country wounded by disillusion and illusion
where thousands of pandemic deaths
are counted one by one by one.

My sangha is small.
It is a city on a lake where the sun rises
gold each morning to paint every single street,
building, and person the color of a new day.

My sangha is small.
It is a video collage of faces
greeting each other on a zoom screen
chanting together apart.

My sangha is small.
It is the little green worm hanging by a thread of silk
from a branch where I watch him for twenty minutes
twisting and curling down to the earth.

My sangha is small.
It is this pen and paper where I write these words to you.

Photo courtesy of Susi Childress

Suzanne Stone

It Would Have Made a Great Zen Hall!

Last weekend I assisted on a photoshoot, the purpose of which was memorialize an architectural gem slated to be torn down to make way for a new medical clinic. The location is approximately where Mitchell Street meets Forest Home Avenue. The name of the building pronounces the location, more or less: Forest Home Library. Various attempts were made to save it from being razed; however, efforts lacked resources and time and power (all the usual suspects) – the developer won.

Andi, the photographer I assisted, was hired to make large format image negatives of the interior and exterior. Think Ansel Adams and his 4×5 view camera and you’ll get an idea that this was not a simple point-and-shoot job. Each setup took 2-3 hours to frame, focus, measure, calculate, meter, and wait for best light. The process is very much like watching grass grow, and few photographers raised on the instant feedback of digital photography have the patience for it.

The day before the job, I found myself anxious with the prospect of having to wake up at 4 am so that I could be on site by 7. The first day was likely to be a 10-12 hour day, the second at least 10 hours, and the final maybe a half day (it turned out to be 8 hours). In other words, a weekend retreat without the 3 meal breaks. I was seriously asking myself why I accepted!

When I arrived and we were let in by the developer who now owned the property, the reality of what I signed onto sunk in: we were witness to the final days of what was once a thriving community library. This was not just any library; it was an expansive space where natural light entered through every window and transom, from every direction: north, south, east, and west. It was a place where a patron could come close to being inside and outside at the same time. Even in its compromised state with garbage strewn into heaps in corners as it was in the process of being gutted, and with its dirty, grimy windows from years of neglect, the light pressed through with warmth and brilliance.

During the course of the weekend, I learned through back and forth banter with the architect who was part of the historical preservation organization charged with documenting the site that he was a member of the Milwaukee Zen Center when he made the random comment that it would have made a great Zen hall. I agreed, adding that I practiced with the Great Lake Zen Center and was thinking the same thing. Then we both acknowledged how odd and unlikely it was that we crossed paths, given that the Zen Buddhism community is relatively small in Milwaukee. Yet, it was at that moment that I felt a strong connection to something bigger than I – I felt part of a community – a sangha – in support of the bigger community to which I belong.

I’m still processing the entire experience: my attachment to a pandemic routine that has shrunk my world and mind to the inside of my ranch home; my observations of Andi’s painstaking deliberations for each setup and how I might apply myself with the same measured diligence when photographing birds, landscapes, and flowers; the neighborhood rhythms – a parking lot bullhorn church sermon in Spanish blasting to the far reaches of the neighborhood punctuated with many well-placed “Alleluias,” domestic back porch disputes, crying children, drag-racing on less-than-street-legal bikes and cars, and the occasional pedestrians stopping to ask what we were up to. I wanted to say we were there to document the imminent death of your family member, but deferred to answering an honest question with as straightforward an answer as I could muster. As I now reflect, I’m mostly trying to understand how I became so attached to a building in the space of three days that up until up then I had never realized existed. I am mourning what cannot be saved and repurposed for the community it once served. (There must be some reciprocity between attachment and mourning. Actually, they may well be the same thing.) Before leaving, I dug up some crocuses, daffodils, and tulips lest they end up in a dump truck to be used for fill for some other new development, and relocated them near a hummingbird feeder in my backyard.

Alleluia!

Photo courtesy of Susi Childress

Gretchen Neuwald

Sangha-ria

Sangria, one of the most popular drinks in Iberian cuisine, is a beverage that traditionally consists of wine and chopped fruit and is often fortified with other sweeteners and spirits. There is no one recipe for Sangria. Any kind of wine, spirits, tea, soft drinks and just about any variety of fruit can be used. The wine (or other liquid) and fruit sit and muddle together for many hours. I love it because it is delicious, versatile and just about impossible to mess it up. All the disparate ingredients come together to make one fantastic, sustaining concoction. Isn’t this a nice metaphor for sangha?

Here is a Sangria that I like that uses Hibiscus tea and replaces the wine with fruit juice:

Hibiscus Sangha-ria
2 cups Hibiscus tea, brewed and chilled
1 cup orange juice
1 cup lime juice
Orange slices
Lemon slices
Lime slices
Mango slices
Black berries
Lemon Raspberry or other sparkling water for topping

Mix together the brewed tea and juices. Add the sliced fruit and chill in the refrigerated for 4-6 hours. To serve pour liquid into wine glasses and top off with sparkling water or club soda. For more sweetness, try topping with a lemon/ lime soft drink. Garnish with sliced orange and lime slices.

I omitted any alcohol to keep the recipe more precept-friendly, but red or white wine can be used instead of the fruit juices and any variety of spirits can be added. A robust red wine like Roja is often used. Other herbal teas, like green tea or Red Zinger can be substituted. Literally any variety and amount of fruit works. Have fun experimenting and creating your own brew!

Here’s to the wonderful inclusiveness and diversity of both Sangria and sangha!

Photo by Pete Neuwald

Gretchen Neuwald

Come as you are

come as you are
just as you are
happy, sullen
calm, agitated
curious, bored
mended, broken

all you are
is expected
is accepted
is welcome
is needed

come to sit with
to be with
to become friends with
just as you are
just as we are

then use this
just as you are
just as we are
to help oneself
to help each other
to help this world

Reflections on the Pandemic

Zen Master Dae Kwang

Whenever I start considering the shut-down I always think of the zen phrase:  no one guarantees your life.  The virus doesn’t care what you think; it just does its job.  That’s just cause and effect. Old age, sickness and death were the Buddha’s teachers. As the sutra says, “Everything is always eating everything else.” So, sometimes we eat food at the Hollander and some times we are food. This situation brings up the great question, what are you really? 🙏

Chris Rundblad

Photo by John Brander

This is my block. I am asleep in my house. On this cold Covid tinged night, a sleepless neighbor takes a walk in the early, pre-dawn hour, his porch light left on. There is great peace and silence in the night, which he found and shared with me. Here is a poem that wanted to be a Pantoum, but didn’t quite work out that way. A pantoum is a poem with specific rules for repetition and rhyming. I am probably just too lazy to keep at it to fit the pattern. This is about when I had my son shave my head early last summer as the pandemic looked like it was going to require a long time retreat from social life.

Cutting Grass

I cut off all my hair.
The Buddhists call it Cutting Grass.
I cannot miss what isn’t there.
A Crowning Glory doesn’t last.

Without a frame, the face is bare,
the naked head’s protection thin.
Eyes hold a larger darker stare.
A bitter wind will chill the skin.

I now abandon lingering hope
that comb or brush or new shampoo
could change a bad hair day to good.
The message of the mirror is true.

I cut off all my hair.
I will not dwell on what’s not there.
The Buddhists call it Cutting Grass
to clearly see what always lasts.

Terry Kinzel

Weathering the Storm

As the lock down started, with miles of trails out my back door I was able to do daily “forest bathing” for my soul from the very start.

As a physician, my work was not shut down, so I had lots of daily human interaction. And although our numbers of cases and deaths are consistent with much of the country, the pandemic rolled into the Western UP slowly without a sudden peak so we generally have had enough staff and supplies to meet our needs. My personal experience primarily is that of having to have trimmed my beard to accommodate a seal for the N95 masks, being trussed up like a mummy in plastic and latex, and having nearly worn the skin off my hands from washing. Although, as a Geriatrician, I care for the most vulnerable group of patients, thus far only one has died – though there have been several near misses.

So, at the outset, I didn’t experience the stresses that many were feeling: I had my daily time in the woods and, although intense, I was able to continue work that was engaging, both socially and intellectually. But after several months I realized that I really missed my friends. A feeling that continues to grow.

Although a confirmed Luddite, Zoom has been a rope tossed to a drowning man. But still, I need to give and receive a hug.

Frank Pauc

The pandemic became a reality for our family in December of 2020. The Covid virus ripped through our house like a tornado. Of the five people currently living in our house, four of them spent time in the hospital because of Covid. Last month was full of uncertainty. It was scary at times. It was thirty-one consecutive days of “don’t know”.

Our practice, it seems to me, is often preparation for action in the world beyond the cushion. The sitting and the chanting help us to deal with each moment, as it comes and smacks us upside the head. I spent most of December doing. There wasn’t much thought involved, because there often wasn’t much time for thought. When Karin needed to go to the ER because she couldn’t get enough air, we went. When Hannah’s water broke seven weeks too soon, I took her to the hospital so she could give birth to Asher. Later, I took Hannah to the NICU at St. Joseph’s Hospital whenever she needed to be with her tiny son. I washed, cooked, and cleaned when other people couldn’t. I didn’t do any of these things because I am particularly virtuous. I did them because my fifteen years of practice with the sangha told me that these things needed to be done right now, and they needed to be done by me.

Speaking of the sangha, whatever I did was only possible because of the support and love my family received from the people at GLZC. I never did anything by myself. I was never alone.

Suzanne Stone

Photo by Suzanne Stone

Groundhog Day

This moment, and by moment I’m referring to the past year of living life cautiously, has clarified two realities for me: #1) We’re all stuck, and #2) Everything is perfect in this moment if we just wake up and embrace it. (And by “we”, I’m really referring to myself.) This is all easy enough to put into words and/or documents through photography, video, or other means…. More difficult to resign to the reality and be with it. I have moments where I want to get in the car and just drive until I relocate myself to a place never before seen or experienced, just to reassure myself that there is something other than the sameness of what seems like an exact replication of the previous day. What I’m realizing, however, is that less of my energy is spent going through the motions of running errands, commuting to work, only to then deal with the inherent anxieties they provoke. Moments of internal stillness have displaced the frantic need to get as much stuff done before the day is over, and it’s a state unlike anything I’ve ever experienced pre-pandemic. That it took a year to experience stillness….No, a lifetime is perfect.

Pete Neuwald

A year deferred?

What is this? . . . Don’t know.

When can we get back to “normal?”

What is this? . . . Don’t know.

2020 was a year of cancellations, postponements, and separation. To say our lives have been disrupted would be quite the understatement. It looks like this will continue for some time as we move through 2021. Like everyone else, I am missing in-person connections with my family, friends, and communities. A year of cancelled plans. Birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, weddings, holiday gatherings, family visits to New York, trips, in-person Zen practice – all cancelled.

What is this? . . . Don’t know.

Throughout the past year, I have found myself coming back to asking myself, “Why am I doing what I am doing?” This “doing” encompasses thoughts, words, and actions. “Why am I thinking what I am thinking?” “Why am I saying what I am saying?” “Why am I acting what I am acting?” As difficult as it has been sometimes, asking myself this question leads me to “only help,” in whatever ways I can, cultivating kindness, compassion, and Great Love. Actually, I find this helpful no matter which year it is, and whatever the situation may be. 2020 is now done. We have only this moment – oops, that’s gone too!

What is this? . . . Don’t know.

Susi Childress

Bad Situation, Good Situation, U.S. Covid Edition

Bad Situation:  Covid-19 arrives in the United States, and we go on lockdown.

Good Situation: Families spend more time together.

Bad Situation:  People are laid off work and find it difficult to make ends meet.

Good Situation:  The spread of the virus is minimal due to the lockdown.

Bad Situation:  Everyday life is disrupted.

Good Situation:  People start finding creative ways to help out or entertain others.

Bad Situation:  People are becoming worried, restless, angry, and depressed.

Good Situation:  With the arrival of warm weather, people can go outdoors.

Bad Situation: Politicians, doctors, health professionals, and citizens disagree.

Good Situation:  Some businesses are able to reopen with restrictions.

Bad Situation:  Many people are still out of work, and businesses are closing.

Good Situation:  Some businesses are booming as people adjust to the pandemic.

Bad Situation:  As the seasons change again, some are reluctant to follow restrictions.

Good Situation:  Progress has been made on testing, PPE, and vaccine development.

Bad Situation:  Ignoring health guidelines, people travel and gather for holidays.

Good Situation:  Those who find ways to gather with family are happy to connect.

Bad Situation: Cases spike and climb to their highest levels of the pandemic.

Good Situation: Vaccine approval gives us hope.

Bad Situation:  Lack of supply and poor planning lead to slow vaccination rates.

Good Situation:  Infection rates begin to fall.

Bad Situation:  Large numbers of people are refusing the vaccine.

Good Situation:  Less people wanting the vaccine makes it easier for others to obtain it.

     So this is where we are at. Obviously there are some significant “bad situations” I did not mention (people dying and exhaustion of front line workers, to name two). But this was never meant to be a comprehensive list.  If we keep following the situation through the lens of “good” and “bad”, we will be on quite a roller coaster ride. “Oh, this is good!”  “Oh, this is bad!” “But this is good!” “But this is bad!” I catch myself doing this. It’s a habit I have developed over my lifetime. But Zen teaches us not to live in the world of opposites. This only causes suffering, as we are constantly trying to avoid what is “bad” and grasp and hold onto what is “good”. If we put it all down, only go straight, don’t know, and help when the opportunity appears, perhaps we can all get through this difficult time with our sanity intact. So how do we do this? Practice, practice, practice. Watch your mind. Ask yourself, “What is this?” “How can I help?” And only go straight, don’t know.

Gretchen Neuwald

Photo by Pete Neuwald

Getting Lost January 6

dawn
grey shroud hugs the lake
Pete is asleep
I slip downstairs
make coffee
flick on the news

4000 more Covid deaths
officer not charged in Jacob Blake shooting
Hong Kong arrests 53 democracy advocates
Trump still says he won
Ugh
Warnock beat Loeffler in Georgia
Yay

at the nature center
we tramp through soft snow
inspect the dots and dibs
left behind by rabbits and deer
stare up at towering oaks
do you hear that?
tat-tat-tat-tat
woodpecker!

loud voices rise behind us
hurry, lets get away from them!
turn here—is this really a trail?
are they still behind us?
boots kicking up snow
jacket sleeves swishing
I think we lost them!
where are we?

we follow fresh ski tracks
along a snowy ridge
weaving between trees
we climb over fallen trunks
brush against brambles
releasing cascades of white powder
where are we?

wait, down there, the creek
we scuttle down the slope
snatching at trees and rocks
to slow our descent 
we follow the black water
as it winds around
each turn
takes our breath away
where are we?

the creek, a dark mirror
ice-rimmed
reflecting
limbs laden with snow
hooded stones
when black comes, black
when white comes, white

we are lost
completely lost
we smile at our good fortune

out in a clearing
snow-shoed hikers
point the way back
we pass three women
do you drive a Hyundai?
we found car keys in the snow
set them on the fence post by the waterfall

Heading back
we ask those we pass
have you lost your keys?
in the parking lot
we search for a Hyundai
not there

is that your car? a young woman asks,
pointing to the SUV next to ours
its window smashed
oh no! not ours!
I called the police, she says
just waiting until they come
how kind, we say
do you want us to wait with you?
no need, they should be here soon

the drive back
I’m hungry, says Pete
me too, I say
Kind bars in the glove compartment?
no such luck
I switch on NPR 
Following the Trump rally protestors have stormed the Capitol.
The Capitol at this moment appears to be occupied

every day is January 6
only go straight
when lost
get completely lost
find your true home
help all beings