Tonight I had the privilege of giving a short talk about what San Francisco Zen Center means to me and specifically about Tassajara - a retreat center located in Carmel Valley. Here's what I said:
When Kate, the director of development from San Francisco Zen Center asked me to talk for a few minutes from a layperson's perspective about the Zen Center and specifically about Tassajara, I took a deep breath and said to myself "If you say yes, you'll regret it and if you say no, you'll regret it." So what I said was "Thanks very much for thinking of me, I'll let you know tomorrow." Tomorrow shows up and I'm getting on a plane early in the morning. I'm waiting at the Pittsburgh airport where the rain is torrential with random flashes of lightening. My favorite weather to fly in, NOT. I'm basically afraid to fly, though I do it frequently. I especially do not like bumpy air and turbulence. And yet here it was, 7am Saturday morning June 5th (I always like to note the date and time in case it's my last notation in this life), and I'm boarding the full flight to SFO with many other people who seem unaffected by the weather.
I pat the plane with my right hand and subtly pause on entry reciting the metta sutra "may all beings be safe, may all beings be happy, may all beings be healthy, may all beings be at peace" three times and try to surrender. Within a few minutes - between boarding and take off, there was a break in the weather and the plane took off with amazing grace, though the flight was pretty bumpy for the first 2 hours. I listened to Pema Chodren on my ipod with sweaty palms and a noticeably fast beating heart, as she talked about unconditional confidence in meeting life. Eventually, the air was smooth, the sky blue and landscapes of the desert, mountains and lakes were actually beautiful. I remembered Kate's request and thought I would write some ideas about what I would say and then see how I felt about speaking.
For me, public speaking comes right after sickness and before old age and death. And yet, much like flying, I push myself to do it anyway because I find that vulnerability is a truth serum like no other. From fear and the desire to close down comes the opportunity to open to whatever is there and to see how my suffering is the same as everyone's suffering. Then the whole story shifts and it's not about ME anymore. We all want to get home safe and be loved, seen and accepted for whom we are. And then there is this effortless opening and deep gratitude for this life, the life that we all share.
And it's from this place, where I may be able to find the words to explain what Tassajara and Zen Center mean to me. Being at Tassajara feels safe and protected - yet we know from the fire, that we have been fortunate that it is still intact. It is a place of extreme beauty and the wildness and surprises of the natural world are constantly unfolding. The last time I was there, No Race, 2008, I went to bed racked with a zillion mosquito bites and woke up in the morning greeted by thousands of butterflies - it was a magical paradise.
Tassajara is steeped in the dharma. I can feel Suzuki Roshi's encouragement and appreciate Baker Roshi's skillful means at negotiating the deal on behalf of Zen Center. I am taken by the efforts of so many who continue to infuse this place with dedication to all beings - with great care and kindness and beauty that welcomes all who pass thru its gates. We gather tonight to honor this place of refuge. I consider it a privilege to contribute to Tassajara so that it may continue to serve and make a difference to all who make the journey.