Pine Street Sangha’s Fifth Anniversary

Pine Street Sangha’s Fifth Anniversary

On the fifth anniversary of the Pine Street Sangha, Nelly interviewed Nelly. You might think this a bit odd. But consider that Nelly interviews students daily so why not interview herself? She knows that an interview reveals hidden intentions and dimensions.

Why did you decide to open a meditation center five years ago, when your peers were retiring?

I finally had the resources. I had enough students to warrant and support this project. Enough money to buy a building and sustain it. More importantly, I was steeping in dharma; I needed to serve it up. I had found a way to meditate that touched my core, the depth of my existence. I felt the need to speak it.

Fortunate people at my age get to live their dreams. They travel the world. Sleep in. Play golf amongst the palm trees.  Pine Street Sangha was my dream.

Why was this your dream?

I wasn’t in charge of this dream. It dreamed me when I was 30 years old. Back then I was adoring of and disgusted by meditation teachers up on a dais. Did I want that? Last night I watched a movie about Ernest Hemingway. His fame deflated into despair and suicide. I didn’t want that. I teach in a circle, not from a stage.

You can’t do this work forever you know, you’re an old lady. Do you have a succession plan?

Check your ageism! Right now, I’m healthy. No one knows when fragility will strike them down. Yes, I know the odds keep getting higher. I need to plan for my demise.

When I look around the sangha room I see gray heads and etched faces. Here’s the plan. Magnetize some younger folks. The vibrancy of younger people attracts me— can we attract them?

We’ve been a non-profit for almost two years. This is our sangha, not mine. Never imagined what a relief it would be to no longer own it, to legally share it with all of you. Slowly other sangha participants have made it more their own. That’s how I see my succession—Pine Street Sangha slowly becomes more yours than mine.

How’s that going to happen? You’ve been doing the work all along!

Take a deeper look. There are two other teachers at Pine Street. Diane Yatchmenoff teaches the Thursday night group and chairs the Board of Directors.  Judy Butler teaches half the Sunday mornings and assists at Continuing Education workshops. Don’t overlook other volunteers working behind the scenes… making the bank deposit, editing correspondence, working on the new Grievance Policy, being the “food czar”, raking the leaves, serving on the Board of Directors. We have one paid contractor, our registrar Gail. She also cleans the sangha, updates the website, is our handywoman etc, etc.  Even though I can’t remember all the people who make Pine Street Sangha function well, I don’t forget my gratitude.

Do you need help with other tasks?

Thanks for asking.

I have tens of hours of recorded dharma talks. I need someone(s) to listen to them, choose the good ones and edit them for the website.

I need a “website watcher”. Gail and I can’t track it all. Sentences grow obsolete or repeat. As we evolve, the website needs to be updated.  Looking for someone with an eye for detail– writing skills would help.

What’s new for this next year?

More creativity workshops. Not only because the last one was so popular that we had to turn folks away, but because creativity can flourish when meditating this way. By not being told what to do while meditating, we become more creative, skillful, and flexible with the conditions presented to us. This enlivens meditation –and our lives and creative projects.

Speaking of creative projects, we’re compiling an eBook. Experiment—write your personal reflections, blogs or poetry—make your art or music—voice your experiences meditating this way. I’ll keep you posted as this project develops.

The Buddha suggested going to the charnel grounds to meditate with decomposing bodies. Not only would the Health Department prohibit this now, but sipping tea and discussing what’s on your mind about death seems like a more gentle, receptive way to contemplate your death. This is what we’ll do at Death Café, co-sponsored by the Pine Street Sangha. We’re also hosting quarterly Celebrations of Love and Remembrance to grieve and honor dear ones who have died.

Another part of my succession plan is to train longer term students who have aspiration and conditions to teach—that’s starting soon.

Anything else you would like us to know?

Like many of you, I’m trying to figure out what to do in these terrifying political times?  The ground of our democracy is shaking—more than ever we need a sense of internal ground. Meditation offers this, however you do it. Meditate when you can, on your own and with supportive community. Let meditation be a refuge for you in this storm.

At Pine Street Sangha, we welcome our life into our meditation and this includes the myriad feelings and reactions to the political world we now inhabit. This can help you hold your seat for this unpredictable, wild ride—and help you discover more realistic and skillful actions.

Maybe realistically I can best help by teaching meditation with as much open-heartedness and open- mindedness as I can muster up.

Wow, I feel energized by this interview. Maybe I will teach for a long time, especially because of all your support.

Check your email (and your spam folder) for documentation of your charitable donations for 2016. If you can’t find it, email me at