Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


Accomodate or Include?

Still processing the Founder's Dinner. On one hand it was wildly successful and I am so grateful. Then there's the other hand...

Yes, the chef was donating his time and ideas. Yes, we'd already asked him to prepare a vegetarian dinner. Yes, vegan meals had to be asked for towards the end of planning.

But like so many events the accommodation for a vegan was just leave dairy/eggs out of the vegetarian dishes, a couple of which had no option (I'm sure the fritters were lovely and we didn't even try the chard from the garden). Dessert? Yes, a plate with a few of the strawberries in syrup that garnished the beautiful shortcakes served to everyone else. Shortcakes that our teacher used to guide everyone in a mindful eating practice.

Why is it that dessert always seems to be the bit that really sticks out? My first weekend at Great Vow, for a Beginner's Mind retreat, I had no dessert options when it was time for tea. By the time I came for the women's retreat that Sandy Boucher and Martha Boesing teach in the winter there was a scramble to serve me dried dates at tea. During Loving-Kindness I brought a package of store-bought cookies so there would always be something. Admittedly there was more than one tea where I struggled with the hurt child's voice inside who couldn't help but notice just now nice the cookies served to everyone else were.

I've been practicing with this voice, this hurt child who is me, for a few years now. She made a deafening howl at times during the Loving-Kindness sesshin. As far as being vegan goes, I have reasoned conversations with that child about how being vegan is so critically important to our practice of Peace, the practice that heals us. That our need to be literally nourished by a diet of peace is the very foundation of our Practice.

The Founder's Dinner became another chance to practice with that voice unfortunately. I was already nervous at being all dressed up and helping as a Table Host (which meant talking to people, answering questions and asking for money). Instead of relaxing into the evening I practiced with that child's disappointment and my concern for CK, who was having a rough time with the same issue.

I guess the word "accommodate" jumps right out. It doesn't mean include. It does imply making something suitable or giving consideration to someone's needs, which is important but it isn't the same as including someone in a group. In the overall scheme of things it often a huge accomplishment to get a group, society to accommodate someone. Hell, I don't need the State of Oregon or the whole of the United States to include me or make me welcome in everything, but I'd be elated if they would merely accommodate my right to marry the person I love.

But my spiritual home? This is the community I want to include me, not merely accommodate me. This is the essence of the article I wrote for our Sangha newsletter, Wisdom's Heart Includes All. As vegans we are an extreme, although there is a precedent of a Zen teacher advocating a vegan diet (Thich Nhat Hanh), but I feel we are an important part of our Sangha. Inclusion means we gather in those extremes as well as the nice, comfortable, filled-out center.

What does this mean? I am not entirely sure yet. I know I am filled with gladness and gratitude that JQ, the tenzo at Great Vow, is using more vegan recipes, is excited by the cookbooks we sent, and I love talking to her about cooking. I am delighted to share recipes and ideas with my Sangha. I'd love to host some cooking classes! I want to hear about any special events in advance so either CK or I have the time to make something special to bring. Maybe, just maybe, the next time we have a fancy dinner planning for vegan members will be considered at the beginning, I hope that at least one dish will be entirely vegan for the whole group, and we'll actually get a real dessert.

I do know with all my heart I want to be a part of the founding of the Heart of Wisdom Zen Temple, but at times it is painful, challenging practice to feel "accommodated".

CK's open letter she wrote in response to her feelings at the Founder's Dinner is also online.

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