June 30, 2012 Practice Committee minutes

Red Cedar Zen Practice Committee Meeting   June 30, 2012

Present: Talus Latona, Edie Norton, Karen McMains, Nancy Welch
Absent: Bob Penny, John Wiley, Chris Burkhart, Marti Bartlett
Written comments received from: Bob Penny, John Wiley,  Chris Burkhart

0)      Upcoming Meetings

It was agreed that quarterly meetings of the Practice Committee need to happen consistently with as many people as available and that these should be scheduled ahead avoiding the usual email scheduling flurry. We also agreed that for each meeting we should designate a “reminder person” to remind us all a month out that it’s coming up and to start thinking of agenda items. We did not agree on who would gather the agenda/facilitate the meeting, at this moment this responsibility lies with Tim.

Fall 2013 Meeting: Saturday September 29 9:30am  Reminder person: Edie

Winter 2013 Meeting: Saturday December 29 9:30am  Reminder person: not selected

0.5) Announcement About Winter 2013 Practice Period

Tim announced that Talus will be shuso. This will be the first shuso at Red Cedar Zen supervised by Tim as teacher not by Norman. A round of congratulations ensued.      

1)     Tim off Weds. nights July & August

This is already all set up. Tim expressed his gratitude to Talus as Ino taking the lead on inviting people to give student talks and Dharma talks on Wednesday nights in July + August. And his appreciation for the general support of the sangha - that this small step of giving himself a bit of a break with everyone’s blessing has a sense of “opening the hand” and relaxing  that’s really helpful.

Note that Tim will be continuing to host Friday nights when he’s in town and attend Saturday morning program offering dokusan. However he will be away 7/13-7/14, 7/20-7/21, 8/3-8/4, and 8/10-8/11 however on various trips.

2)     Move Weds. night program earlier?

The question was raised whether our traditional 7pm – 9pm time for our main weekly practice night is the best time for the largest number of members. Should an earlier time be considered? And if so what would happen with the meetings and study groups that sometimes happen in the 6pm – 7pm hour?

The agreement was to consider changing if it becomes clear that the majority of the members would benefit.

Talus and Edie will work together to create an online survey which will ask:
a) If people would prefer a 6pm-8pm or 7pm-9pm practice time (an in between 6:30pm-8:30pm time will not be mentioned to keep the data more clear)

b) if they prefer moving to 6pm-8pm would they be available for study groups meetings at 5pm?

Initial survey results will be reported over the email and discussed at our 5th Wednesday Sangha Voices meeting on August 29th. Initial results from the survey and the Aug 29th meeting may elicit more sangha feedback. No decisions will be made without extensive input from the sangha and also from the Board of Directors.

Goals: initial survey online/over email;  discuss Aug 29th;  more email/announcements; discuss with Board; final decision sometime in the Fall.

3) Rotating Retreat Managers  

                We agreed  (in person and in the written comments) that Retreat Manager should be a rotating position to make it possible to free Tim from this responsibility. Some discussion about whether it should rotate every retreat or if it’s more realistic for one person to do several in a row. The two that start and end practice period should be done together probably.

Talus noted that he may be able to do several in a row after he is shuso.

Tim will take responsibility for updating the job description with an emphasis on interactions between Retreat Manager, Registrar, Ino, and Tanto/Spiritual Director before and during retreats.  And then Talus and subsequent Retreat Managers will refine these documents further.
Clarity about which role does what and in which decisions they consult together is important.

The following retreats and their likely or agreed Retreat Managers:

  Aug/Sept hiking retreats – Bob

  Oct 13/14 study retreat – Talus (who will use this simpler retreat as a test case for refining the written directions)

  Dec 6-9 Rohatsu sesshin – Nancy [addendum: changed to John Wiley]

 Practice Period sesshins (starting sesshin Jan 26, ending sesshin Feb 28 – March 3) – no volunteers and it was agreed that these should be done together.  
              John Wiley, would you be interested?

 May Buddha's Birthday one-day sit early May (4th or 11th ?) – No volunteers, date needs to be finalized as unclear when Norman’s May trip to Vancouver is – who is interested?

 June 14-22 Samish Sesshin 2013 - Talus (with Jeff McKenna as assistant?)

Scheduling a year’s worth of Retreat Managers seems an excellent plan and this should be a regular agenda item at both Practice Committee and Board of Directors meetings.

Goals: Rotate Retreat Managers; that Tim no longer do this role; that the role be clarified; that it be scheduled out in advance.  See also item 6 about role assignments.


4)     Rotating Registrars

We would like to have a consistent registrar to ensure that conversations with participants about retreats and money stuff is handled consistently. It was thought wise that the main registrar have an assistant (or simply a team of 2) to cover some retreats and times when the main registrar is away.  Karen expressed her willingness to continue in this role a while and that she will emphasize writing up procedures. Tim noted that the new website (based on the WordPress  technology) allowed us to put in a new registration system which handles more of the financial tracking than our old custom built online registration system, and that this has already started reducing registration work.

Goals: Continue to have one main registrar but find her an assistant; write up registration procedures; continue to look for ways to simplify this position so that it is sustainable.

Update after the meeting: Karen let Tim know that she may need to exit from this position sooner than she thought – Tim and Karen will discuss and notify the others of what we need to modify.

5)     Posture Adjustments by Ino - feedback from Norman, Talus's experience

Talus gave announcements during zazen about posture and a round of posture adjustment at the Samish Sesshin. Norman while praising the execution of both expressed concern that these are Dharma teaching activities and wondered if they should be in the realm of the Ino. That our usual process is to have been shuso before taking on any teaching activities and then only on a point by point invitation by one’s teacher. Norman however left this decision to us. See Talus’s attached email about this, and note especially that several people told Talus that the adjustment made a significant difference in their sesshin experience.

It was decided that posture adjustment be understood as an intimate contact between teachers and students and that it be held as a Tanto responsibility, but that the Tanto may invite other people who have been shuso to learn how to do adjustments. And that we will be especially mindful of this at Samish.

An opt-in system will probably be used instead of an opt out system.

The Ino will continue to do posture announcements. At Red Cedar he may choose to do these at different times including during zazen (especially on the first Wednesday of the month), but at Samish s/he will give posture instruction during orientation or other usual announcement times, not during zazen.

Goals:  Clarified that posture adjustment shall be a Tanto/teacher job to do; Ino does so posture announcements, explanations and encouragements but avoids speaking during zazen at Samish.

6)     Spirit Settling Ceremony at Samish – a report

Tim relayed that he had a powerful and confusing spiritual experience in the course of this year’s Samish Spirit Settling ceremony in which he felt strongly called to another spot on the lawn not far from where we’d set up the ceremony. Leading the sangha there to do some additional chanting he felt a powerful “jolt” of energy pass through, or into his body, and a strong feeling persisted for several hours in which Tim felt much pain and contraction in the body.

Jeff McKenna and John Bailes who were assisting Tim with the ceremony were quite concerned about Tim’s well being.and did a cleansing ceremony with him over dinner after and Tim, Jeff, and John felt concerned that others at the ceremony may have been affected.

Tim chose to make an announcement in the Zendo during the beginning of the next period of zazen in the interests of safety warning people that any unusual spiritual experiences stemming from the ceremony might be something to get help with and not just sit with. Several people at sesshin later reported feeling more disturbed by Tim’s Zendo announcement than that actual ceremony itself.  While others reported not having a sense of being so disturbed.

It was noted in the meeting that it may be necessary to disturb the Zendo if there is something potentially dangerous happening. An “escaped murderer” being nearby being given as an analogy. Tim expressed some regret at not finding a way to do the announcement in a simpler less dramatic way.

Happily no one else has reported feeling anything similar to what Tim experienced.

We can only speculate about the meaning of what Tim experienced. We do not assume it was aggression, it could also have been a kind of sharing of the suffering, or something completely different that may not make sense rationally.

Tim and Jeff hope to reach out to the Samish nation and sponsor a “burning” which is the more traditional way to make offerings to ancestors in that frame – our ceremony being a kind of hybrid between Buddhism and native spirituality. This will happen outside of the Samish Sesshin.

Norman has requested that we no longer to the Samish Spirit Settling ceremony as currently designed. Tim is recommending a much simpler ceremony based around the Metta Sutta in reference to the story from the early commentaries on the Pali canon which say that the Buddha offered a group of monastics the Metta Sutta as a practice to make offerings to spirits who had been disturbed by the monastics entry into the forest.

Goals: Tim and Jeff investigate sponsoring a burning ceremony with the Samish nation (separate from sesshin, may or may not be done on that site);  Tim propose the details of a simpler, quieter Metta Sutta based ceremony to Norman in advance of next year’s Samish sesshin.

7)      Proposal to Rotate Ino / How are position invitations and decisions made?

Tim has had discussions with Talus about rotating out of Ino in time for being shuso in January and with Kate McKenna about rotating in as Ino. And with Marti who will continue as the Ino for the Saturday morning program chiefly.

The topic of discussion is how these role assignment and rotation decisions should be best made.

It was decided that for organizational purposes we should divide the ongoing sangha roles into two groups – those that are more closely associated with formal practice and the Zendo and those more administrative and involving finances, the outside world, etc.

For the more practice oriented roles Tim as Spiritual Director shall take the lead in encouraging people to take different roles and to role. He will consult with the Practice Committee as needed to get input and request big picture or organizational issues that may have been missed. However it will be under his authority and the Practice Committee is seen as an advisory body more than a decision making body.

For the more administrative roles to rotate Tim will take these proposals to the Board for approval.  The Board is clarified as a decision making body with legal authority over Red Cedar Zen as a corporation and thus such decisions should be under it’s purview.

Practice oriented roles  Spiritual Director invites people with advice from Practice Committee:
Ino, Jisha, Tenzo, Chiden, Tanto, Doshi

Administrative roles  Spiritual Director makes proposals to Board of Directors who decides:
Retreat Manager, Registrar, Work Leader,  Membership people, etc.

[easy rule of thumb: if we use the Japanese name it’s more likely on the practice-oriented side]

Goals: clarify this distinction with the Board and with the sangha; Tim will take the recommended rotation of Retreat Managers + ongoing registrar with assistant proposal to the Board for its consideration; Kate will become Ino once she is freed up from membership; Marti continues as Saturday morning Ino.

8)     Tim's role as teacher vs. Spiritual Director (and tanto for retreats led by Norman)

This item was discussed only briefly. Spoken and written comments seem to say that it’s an important topic to continue clarifying. That on the one hand Zen tradition clearly gives a special role to fully transmitted priests as teachers and that on the other hand we have many overlapping areas of responsibility between people and Tim’s current role can be unclear. The request in person and on the written comments was to continue to clarify roles and responsibilities especially with written job descriptions in order to see what Tim is not doing as well as a period of inquiry from and with Tim around what he would most like to do as a primary teacher of the sangha. It was also mentioned that it’s critical for other sangha members to continue moving forward into sangha roles. And this is happening here with Retreat Manager rotation and clarifications around role rotations as well as in many other areas of sangha life.

[Note this was discussed and clarified much more in the September 2012 meeting, see those notes also]


Posture Adjustments – Report from Talus Latona, Ino at Samish Sesshin

(Irrelevantly, I don't like doing posture adjustments.  That's because it's so subtle that I fear making mistakes.  I always start by praying (pleading) to all buddhas and bodhisattvas to guide my hands. I also don't like flossing my teeth, but I'll keep doing so.)

Over 15 of the Samish participants came up to me and thanked me specifically for providing posture adjustments.  At least 5 said that it made a substantial positive impact on the tone of their practice for the whole week.  Norman said that he heard a lot of positive feedback about it.

Norman also brought it up as feeling "inappropriate" to him that posture adjustments would be done by someone who hasn't been shuso.  He suggests it is a dangerous precedent to have it as an ino function, because just being ino does not mean that someone is ready for this intimate practice. He also affirmed that the final decision on this limitation is Tim's.

On the deepest end of the aspect of intimacy with posture adjustments, several people recovering from sexual abuse cautioned me of the potentially excruciating experience of having a male provide posture adjustments. Our human psychology of misplaced shame would be a barrier to 'standing out' by taking the option of shaking the head no to decline.  Again, what I heard (true or not) was that in this case it turned out to be a positive experience but, for example "where I was five years ago in my process of recovery, it would have been awful."

Norman also felt it inappropriate for me, as a non-shuso, to speak during a sesshin zazen, regardless that the topic of posture was good.

Tim mentioned a teacher conversation about how the conventional understanding of American Soto zen isn't quite correct that when a person is shuso they are ready to give dharma talks, hold practice discussion, teach classes, etc.  The discussion observed that there is more to it and it isn't so clear cut. In speaking with Norman, I understand his position to be that it is clear cut, with one substantial modification:  When a person is shuso they are eligible to give dharma talks, hold practice discussion, teach classes, etc, as, little by little over time, they are invited by their teacher to do so. Offering posture adjustments falls within the 'etc'.  

- Talus

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