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ZEN 2.0: collective practices in intentional communities

Updated: Jan 11, 2022

As a nomadic tenzo I have always been interested in sharing the joy of zen food practice outside of temples. Why that ? because I have a sense that awakening to food, to s(S)elf , to Life does not belong to buddhism, zen, or monachisme . This is about universal love and I am convinced that it can be manifested in secularity through community sytemic.

But this is a challenge ! As living in a separatist society our individualistic cultural dna stays constantly in the way of the new and where our own way of thinking leads us to opposite results . It is also interesting to observe this difficulty we have to connect mystery and community, the absence of conceptual frame to link wisdom to non-self, the disbelief in the collective wisdom. It seems that this is something very specific to our time and to western cultures. In France, Europe, America we don't understand what is community anymore , we don't beleive in its power and we lost the skill to live together ( between humans, but also with all others animal, plant, mineral , ancestors, futur beings ...) . As a consequence we disconnected our spirituality from the collective body and from ours(S)elves.

From that awareness, doubts and questions unfold ; can we , as intentional communities , propose conditions from which an harmonious life with all beings is possible ? can we frame time, practices, rituals in order to rediscover the collective body ? can we dance between personal opinion, believes , desire in a harmonious movement which integrates all what we are ( including our most detestful sides) ? can we live together in order to manifest our vastitude through interbeingness? can we have a good life where joy and pain can be addressed and healed through community ? can we activate our natural compassion to ourselves and to all ? how can we live free from the illusion of separation ? can we keep the universalism of monastic protocols in order to manifest freedom, love, compassion and intuition to act accordingly ?can we face what 's needed today and that monaschism can't address such as sexuality , inclusivity of different religions ? can we maintain enthusiasm, faith in community through creativity and not dogma ?

Sooooo when I found myself confined in a community whose principals are based on the desire to be at service of life itself , to question what it really means , to explore wisdom in secularity , I decided to stay and proposed an experiment : the arisment of the collective body through the movement of daily practices .

But before telling you how it went , I would like to remind what master keizan Jokin have to say about the movement .

Sharing the enlightenment of the 3 rd patriarch Ananda in the denkoroku , he tells the story of him pointed the corner of his kesa ( monk's robe) to show his disciple Shanavasa how unborn all things are , but it is only when he pulled it that Shanavasa became awake to all life. In other words, there is the knowing but it is trough the movement that the canvas of life becomes alive.

The movement in most , maybe all ( I don't know) wisdom traditions is the key of what we often call truth . It is not about the things in themselves but about the intersections and the interstices caused by the movement of life. In Buddhism we talk about impermanence , vacuity and we turn the wheel of the dharma, we move with all phenomena , that's the practice , just walking. In Japanese the kanji chosen for practice is Gyou which means both practice and movement and it is a verb ( iku, going to) ) .

The practice of the food " Shojin" in japaneese is also a translation which expresses the movement . First in its original sens of Viriya ( in sanskrit) , the quality of vigorous enthusiasm that is activated from getting to the other shore, ( iku, going to) and that chan transformed in 2 kanjis to add more movement : sho- jin ; the one who always go forward / with a pure heart (here it means a heart not filed with any projection of past or futur ), Shojin is a movement entirely dedicated to the activity of life, to the action of cooking but also working, cleaning , driving.

And when Pat Mac cabe's shares her Lakota culture with us , she is also talking about the movement radically expressed in the Lakota language where all words are action verbs. A culture where prayers to the unknown , to the great mystery ( the tao , the emptiness, god in other cosmogony ...) go through invocation of the movement of life .

So to come back to community, monastics or seculars ,one could say that this is about the movement which creates intersections between people, emotions, elements, food. It is the movement which dis-covers , disrupts, confronts . It is the movement which creates new possibilities, new life , endlessly, it is through the movement that surrender is possible , that deep joy can rises from spaciousness.

Life is movement, practice is movement,

Community is the embodiment of intermovement .

So , what did we do ?

first we agreed to have a place to practice, to bear witness to what is . A dojo . A space of absorption , a relaxation of self , a no goal methodology , just sitting . zazen. And even if not everybody feel to sit every day, to have people holding a space dedicated to emptiness within the community is ( in my sense) the main foundation we could create at service of Life.

Then to maintain this absorption, this circularity of Life as it comes and not letting our own agenda always getting in the way, we installed collective times organized in functions :

- the regenerative sense maker ( garbage, repair and recycling)

- the cleaning queen ( managing collective cleaning)

- the tenzo ( managing food groceries, menu system)

- the daily cooks ( cook, keep the space clean after, manage left overs properly )

- the emotional fairy : supporting people , facilitating circles

Finally to feel , experience , we changed functions every week and feed back to adjust .

In the process I received a lot of teachings, the first one was inclusivity .

As we went on , I realized it was a lot about negotiation, mostly from the time we wanted to give and the time we wanted to keep . This negotiation in itself is something specific to secular community and addresses a necessity that monaschism doesn't need to deal with. Here we have to build a vessel that integrates the variety of thoughts, beliefs , habits of everybody yet protecting the foundation, the emptiness .

The second teaching was humility : the thought that taking monastic protocols and adapt them with less intensity would work explosed in few days and after 3rd weeks it was obvious that only through creativity , being seen , constant adjustment to individualistic chaos we would maintained the regenerative movement of life.

the third , was more of a confirmation of what I saw so many time in zen retreats : after few days the frame creates beauty and raises dignity.

After one month , I found myself still in the question and knew that I was on the right path ! So I decided to continue the adventure and to practice what is community , what is

Living -Together with

To finish I would like to share with you , the testimony of Theo, one enthusiastic resident and worker at Life itself Bergerac who expressed brilliantly "ze experiment" in this post.

To be continued ...

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