The Zen Center’s First Affiliate Meditation Group
by Molly Yakusan Stevens
I was born and bred in Manhattan and have traveled far and wide. But the most exotic place I’ve experienced is upstate New York. When I first moved here some fifteen years ago, home felt far away.
I relocated here because I knew that if my life was going to amount to something meaningful, I needed to break from my professional and emotional patterns. There have been many ups and downs navigating the de-attachments. My Zen practice, which I found in 2016, has carried me through the transition. As many of my distractions have cleared, what has been uncovered is an incredible energy in me to serve.
The pandemic has brought many surprises. One is that I’m more connected to community now more than ever before. First, there is the everyday home of the NYZC sangha. (Thank you, Zoom.) I’ve also found refuge in a not-for-profit in Delhi, New York called Bushel. As a volunteer-run collective, its programming revolves around the arts, agriculture, ecology, and activist engagement. There are exhibitions and social actions, readings, screenings, music and workshops. The Bushelers I’ve met are farmers, teachers, papermaking masters, activists, poets, writers, tinkerers, painters, yogis, musicians and librarians—all sincere and involved individuals who want to make meaning in this living environment.
Meditation, for me, is a means of gathering, grounding and refueling. This is what I saw was so needed at the beginning of the pandemic; and it’s what I needed. Last March, I approached Bushel, with whom I already had a relationship as an artist, and within a week we had a time and virtual space for a meditation group.
We have been meeting weekly for almost a year now. Our Thursday sangha embraces a wide range of meditation experience: our elder has been meditating for fifty years; other participants had never meditated before. I am the guide. How much to guide has been an ongoing exploration for me. Our practice together has evolved and now starts with a body scan and moves right into zazen.
We then have a discussion and a two-word check-in. What has ensued is a mystery, the anchor we are to each other amid so much uncertainty, grief, rage and also joy. Together we are a place of warmth, settling, relationship and contemplation. Our group has become a home for me.
A few months ago I asked my Zen teacher, Koshin Sensei, if it was ok that I was facilitating a group like this. I have heard of people starting entire centers after very little training and so was aware this endeavor could turn into an ego trip. He asked me several questions and then generously proposed that the NYZC endorse this sitting group. Representing the Zen Center’s first affiliate is an honor and a boost to my confidence as a meditation instructor. It also shows me how my practice ripples out into my personal circles, even in the sticks.