Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Urban Zen Event with Roshi Joan Halifax

Hiya angels,

I am so excited to spread the news about an amazing benefit event happening in NYC on Friday, June 6th. My very first Zen teacher (and idol) Roshi Joan Halifax will be teaching her Death and Dying workshop at Urban Zen. Donna Karan and The Village Zendo will be hosting this event with all proceeds going to the Zendo (another spectacular place). Don't let the name of the workshop freak you out folks. It's REVOLUTIONARY. And not just for those of us experiencing adversity - no, no, if you have a pounding, breaking, passionate heartbeat (and some money to give to a good cause) well then you should truck on over and experience the magic! This LIFE class is for every soul that struts the planet and desires to overcome their obstacles of fear in order to soar. Roshi's workshop on Death and Dying will engage Eastern and Western psychology, philosophy, and contemplative practices from many spiritual traditions. In her DYNAMIC style, Roshi Joan will offer wisdom and teachings that are ideal for medical professionals, social workers, clergy, community activists, and spiritual seekers.

Studying with Roshi was one of the richest experiences of my life. She is a true gift. Rest assured that she will invite us to dive deep (to the core actually) and heal.

Below is a portion of what I wrote in Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips about Upaya and my experience with Roshi in 2003 - the summer I was diagnosed.

"Nestled in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains is a beautiful Zen monastery called Upaya. If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, you’ve experienced those annoying five minutes at the end when you’re forced to inhale “let” and exhale “go.” For me those last minutes were always torture. But when I ran across Upaya, I had a sneaking feeling that the silence within its walls would provide me the opportunity to discover what was inside me.

The woman who founded the monastery, Roshi Joan Halifax, had an electric way about her. I’d never seen such a dazzling female monk before. She had penetrating blue eyes and a shaved head. She looked like a cool cancer survivor, only she wore robes and knew everything there was to know about the Buddha.

I went to a few of her meditation and dharma talks, and though my back felt like it needed the attention of a team of chiropractors after sitting so long, I became hooked. Not only did I need to keep coming to the monastery, I needed to move in.

As I wandered aimlessly around town on the morning of my monastery move, I heard a faint, eerie whimper. It was a goose-bump-producing sound that seemed to be following me around. Wait, I thought, that sound is coming from me. I was letting out tiny yelps of pain. Not now, please Kris, hold it together. It was 2:45, time to go! My eyes welled up as I drove up the mountain. Would I be able to say hello without bursting into tears? What would living in a Zen Buddhist monastery be like?

When I arrived, a nice woman who worked in the office showed me to my tiny (yet tasteful) spiritual cell. I dumped all my leopard luggage in the middle of the floor and wept. I cried until I was exhausted. Then I stared at the ceiling for what seemed like an eternity. Now what? Nightly meditation in the temple! Oh, what a treat. As I sat on the cushion counting my breath, the waves of emotion continued to flow. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt so exposed. All my gunk was pouring out of me and there was no place to hide. It was embarrassing, and yet it felt good to release the weight I’d been carrying.

Après meditation, it was time for din din with the monks. Bread and soup. I was thankful for it. Until, out of nowhere, the crying started again. Stop! Stop! I begged myself to stop but my tear ducts were on autopilot and there was no way to override the system. I dreaded the thought of being the new freak who had come to the monastery to sort out her problems, but that’s exactly who I was. Thankfully the conversation at the dinner table was light. The monks had watched Margaret Cho’s Notorious C.H.O. video and were gabbing about how it was better than Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. I was grateful for the un-Zen-like chatter. I had a feeling that they had seen these uncomfortable emotional episodes before and didn’t want to make me feel awkward.

That night a pack of coyotes sang under my window and I slept like a baby. The next morning everything seemed better. As the weeks went by I blossomed.

Monastery living was the opposite of the busy, hectic life I was used to. Each day at Upaya included three hour-long meditations, as well as work practices like chopping carrots, sweeping, gardening—anything that needed to be done to maintain the place. In exchange for my help and commitment, I received a room and three simple vegetarian meals (three hots and a buddha-ful cot!). Weekly intensives ranged from calligraphy to yoga and of course plenty of meditation. I loved all the classes, except one. The title alone totally gave me the creeps. It was called Being with Dying, and I vowed to make myself scarce for the roll call. Fat chance!

Just when I had learned all the correct bows and zendo etiquette (like only the head abbot gets to enter from the back of the temple), Roshi Joan Halifax asked to see me . . . privately. Gulp. This was big. In fact, it had an official name, Dokasan. The protocol was very complicated. You had to bow, prostrate (three to four times, I never remembered), and chat. Then do the whole thing in reverse order and leave. Once I had finished making a fool of myself and dishonoring the tradition, I told Roshi that the Being with Dying workshop wigged me out. It made me worry that I’d manifest my death, and since I believed that worrying was praying for what you don’t want, I didn’t want to take that workshop! She laughed and promised me that it wouldn’t be morbid and that if at any time I wanted to leave, I could. Translation: Get your ass to class, I’m watching you!"

In my book I went on to write about how transformative this workshop was for me. Quite simply, it changed my life. It also changed my mind about how I was going to live this delicious life. In a word, FULLY. This workshop wasn’t about dying, it was about exploring all the emotional sandpaper that was making living so raw and scratchy.

OH, and guess who else will be there teaching yoga? Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman!

For the schedule, tix price, additional speakers etc...Check out the PDF posted on the Crazy Sexy Life forum.

Peace and deep zen bows,

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