Newsletter October 22, 2014

…there seem to be two sides to Zen. One is the diligent practice. We alone are responsible for showing up time and again…Then there’s the other side… the “matter of extraordinary wonder,” the reality we are all part of, the great fact, the great vehicle, the one body, the “vast and void,” as Bodhidharma called it, the “all-encompassing hole,” as Keizan Zenji called it


Our regular weekly newsletters and the entire archive will be available on the website in the near future. Please visit us again and/or look for an announcement on our Home Page or check posts in the Category: General News & Announcements.

Below are some excerpts from our latest Newsletter, Oct 22, 2014. Please signup for our newsletter by scrolling to the bottom of this page (see the box Subscribe below) OR scroll to the bottom of any other page on this site (see Subscribe/Connect).

Newsletter October 22, 2014

Hello Friends…

We’re happy to announce that our gazebo is slowly going up. This is an incredible gift from the highly talented artist-blacksmith Helmut Hillenkamp, and will contain a wooden deck to be built by Bill. Helmut’s iron work is renowned and prized for its organic natural inventiveness.

Our 4th Anniversary Party has been scheduled! Save Friday November 14th. The Ellsworth Gallery on East Palace Avenue (where we have also sat) have graciously offered to host it in their beautiful space.

Henry will be away from the zendo from Sunday October 26 through Sunday November 2. All of our regularly scheduled sits and classes will take place. The two Sunday’s Henry is away will offer zazen without the talking circle.

Embrace the colorful autumn foliage and shortening days…Love and best wishes to all.


Our next Zazenkai will be held on Sunday, November 9th from 9 am to 4 pm. The cost is $25 for members of Mountain Cloud and $30 for non-members.  Half day cost is $15.

For those of you new to Mountain Cloud or to Zen, a Zazenkai is a full day dedicated to zazen practice. It offers a wonderful way to deepen your encounter with the dharma.

We are trying something different this time. Mountain Cloud will provide tea, coffee, fruit and light snacks. Lunch will not be provided so please bring your own lunch. You can store your food in the refrigerator and, if needed, you can heat it in the microwave.

To sign up, please email It helps to know ahead of time how many people will attend in order to plan jobs and snacks.  If you have any special needs, please let us know.

The cost does not include dana (gift) for the teacher. Please consider bringing dana, of any amount, as a practice in gratitude.


Please review our Calendar for Special Events & Retreats and our Weekly


Three Treasures Prison Project Update: Each Thursday Pancho will be in Cabin 4 from 4–6pm sorting through papers connected with his work in the State Penitentiary here in Santa Fe. He would welcome any company. If you’d like to drop in and offer some help with the filing, and at the same time find out more about what he is doing in the prison, please feel free to just go ahead and join him in Cabin 4.


We could really use some help in two areas: various kinds of jobs around the zen center, and new members of the zendo team. Please contact us if you might be interested in knowing more about either. Of urgent need, is someone to volunteer to take the trash and/or recycling.


We have various ongoing costs in running Mountain Cloud. Please consider making a donation to help it keep flourishing. As we are a non-profit organization, any gift is tax-deductible.


I used to play the trombone. As a child it was all orchestral, classical music. The trombones would sit at the back of the orchestra counting their bars’ rest then play the odd note. The instrument was basically a bit of extra color that composers seemed to like to dab in here and that. That was fine by us. It was what we had practiced and trained hard to be able to do.

Then as a young adult a contact in London offered me a gig in the horn section of a soul-funk band. One rehearsal, one show, and I’d hit a turning point. I had never imagined trombone playing could be so exhilarating. I started to get asked to play in other bands around London, in West Indian music, and rock and soul, then in a “world music” band that was getting a lot of work on tour in Europe. For a while I was a busy professional musician.

In the midst of that world a musician friend once showed me a bootleg recording of what he called the best trombone playing he’d ever heard. It had been secretly recorded in a church in the American South – something called a “shout band.”

In some churches, apparently, instead of singing or shouting or swooning and talking in tongues, some evangelical Christians would pick up a trombone. They had huge “choirs” of trombones. Sometimes people who had never played would suddenly be inspired, and would go on up to the altar, grab a trombone, and find that they could play – not just fine but beautifully.

The trombone is not an easy instrument. It takes a year or two even to get a decent sound out of it, and many more to play it competently. Yet some of these people defied the laws of music. They could play magnificently straight off. No practice, no lessons. They just picked it up and played.

The friend hit the “on” button on his bootleg. He was right. I’d never heard anything approaching this music. The players soared effortlessly up to high notes, making their instruments sing. Their low notes came out fat and resonant, and the middle register was a glory of harmony. They played perfectly in tune, their tones all harmonizing into a glorious chorale effect. And all along there was a thrilling rhythm, a beat driving them urgently on. You could feel the inspiration that had them playing so tightly they played as one. And my friend reckoned there were 30 of them.

It was a revelation of what music could be, and what an ensemble could be.

So what does all this have to do with our practice, our training, our life as Zen practitioners? First, there’s no telling what Sangha can do, what being together in silence, and dropping all our collective preconceptions, may allow to happen.

Second, there seem to be two sides to Zen. One is the diligent practice. We alone are responsible for showing up time and again: oh, I’ve been on a train of thought, that’s all – so I come back to the next breath. Time and again. Diligent practice, at which we will always “fail.” And we learn to be totally okay with that. And paying attention through the day. I’m driving. I’m eating. I’m feeling rushed – just noticing what is actually going on.

Then there’s the other side, which in a sense all the practice is a preparation for receiving and embodying: the FACT, the “matter of extraordinary wonder,” the reality we are all part of, the great fact, the great vehicle, the one body, the “vast and void,” as Bodhidharma called it, the “all-encompassing hole,” as Keizan Zenji called it.

There’s no telling what it can do. It can do anything. It needs no practice. Everything is its practice. It is boundless, limitless, and bursting with infinite potential. The entire history of Zen is no more than its footstool, its handmaid, its beadle.

They used to call the trombone the “voice of the angels” in 16th and 17th century Europe. Those trombone choirs in the South – I guess they wouldn’t be surprised to hear that.

Image: Sun by Gerd Altman, from, CC0 Public Domain

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