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Sangha Meeting Minutes from October 30, 2021

October 30, 2021
Sangha Meeting Minutes

The meeting was held on zoom. 48 attendees were present.

Agenda approved by those present

Minutes from the May 15, 2021 sangha meeting were also approved.

Teacher’s Reports
Henry and Valerie’s reports are attached at the end of these minutes.

Interim Executive Director’s Report

Our new website is practically ready to launch. At the very latest it will launch in January, hopefully before. The new site is beautiful and much improved. The launch is in the capable hands of Johanna (and Sanjiv and Canton).

Our fabulous caretaker Dan Martin is leaving us at the end of November. He’s done a fantastic job and has taken on much more than we ever expected. We have found someone to fill the Caretaker position who is expected to arrive mid November and spend a couple weeks training with Dan. Joe (the new hire) will take over on December 1.

Recognitions

Sondra recognizes Rachel’s many contributions to MCZC over the last seven years…

  • she established structure for good governance
  • has a sense for recognizing talent inside and outside the organization
  • she dealt with an array of issues facing the organization, including covid

Sondra also recognized Dan’s stewardship at Mountain Cloud, particularly during the covid pandemic.

Financial Report

Johanna presented the balance sheet and income statement. Our cash flow is very good, with income YTD at $63,000 significantly greater than our budgeted year end income for 2021 of $13,000. Our gross income for Original Love (OL) has been substantial, about $80,000 but there are many associated expenses: audio/video, website, social media, and additional staff hours. Donations and membership dues are steady, though we could use more cash gifts. We will have a year end appeal beginning in mid November. Donations to date are lower than our year end budget projections

Original love has significantly added to our income. OL income is greater than our retreat income. That may change once we have income from Rohatsu. As Henry mentioned in his report, if and when the time comes to expand our facilities, we would need a capital campaign, our building fund has $314. 

The new website design and implementation was a donation from Kevin Rose who selected the design team which cost about $43K. Once the design was complete it was handed to the WordPress concierge team (also part of Kevin’s gift) to implement. This has taken more time than expected because the WordPress team has other clients, the WP implementation leader left for paternity leave for several month,  and the WP group only communicate via email. This process has been skillfully and patiently managed by our long term tech volunteer Sanjiv.

Rio Grande Mindfulness Institute

RGMI is an outreach of MC serving primarily teachers, caretakers and social service workers.  RGMI went virtual with covid. A number of our sangha members have been on the RGMI teaching team.

Due to John’s health issues, RGMI is currently on hold. John’s is preserving RGMI’s operating budget and anticipating a full recovery. In the meantime, John is taking the Original Love course and is looking at its delivery system as a model for future RGMI offerings. 

Nominating Committee Report

Irene Webb has been nominated and approved by the board to be our newest board member. Irene has a great deal of fundraising experience working with non-profits in New Mexico and Santa Fe. Her values and experience make her an ideal board member. She has already begun assisting our development committee and will bring a good deal of horsepower to our fundraising efforts. She is also a long term meditator, was involved with the Vipassana community for a number of years, sits with our MCZC community and has an become a member

According to our bylaws, the sangha must approve Irene’s appointment. Her appointment was ratified by the sangha members.

Sondra is leaving her office as board president this year and the board voted to make Peg president beginning January 2022. Later, the board voted to make Peg’s appointment as president effective on November 1, 2021, in order to accommodate some of Sondra’s plans and the concurrent resignations of Rachel and Dan. To keep our leadership contiguous, Peg has graciously accepted to take office two months early.

Equity and Inclusion committee

In mid 2020, this committee started as a board study group focused on implicit bias which, over time, morphed into the Equity and Inclusion committee. Members are currently working on drafting a statement on equity and inclusion which communicates the board’s commitment and action toward equity and inclusion.  Once finished and approved, this statement will go on the MCZC website. Together, the committee has continued to learn more about these difficult topics. If you want to get involved, you may contact Laura:  laura.hunt.cooley@gmail.com

Closing

To conclude the meeting, Henry invited Will Brennan to make a short statement about his appointment as Assistant Teacher. Will says, “I feel like an elder Asian who now spends more time at the temple.” Will plans on spending more time at MCZC. He would like to alter the format for the Wednesday night sits, maybe include some onsite Intro info.

Congratulations Will!!

And, thank you Sondra for your service as Board President during a most challenging time. 

Sangha Meeting adjourned. Minutes submitted by Johanna Sindelar

**********

Teachers’ Reports

Valerie Forstman
May 15 – October 30, 2021

Virtual/Hybrid Zendo

In-person sitting in the zendo continues with limited seating capacity. Proof of vaccination is required on the first visit. Thursday nights remain Zoom only (except for residents) but Henry has offered one talk from the zendo (10/7) and Valerie is scheduled to offer one ahead of Rohatsu. The zendo is now fully equipped with a camera and a new sound system, with the zendo team trained to manage it. (Special thanks to Mark!) Outdoor onsite sitting continues on Sunday mornings, 11-noon

Daily sits

Two daily sits every weekday; Morning sits on Saturday and Sunday; all ongoing, handled by Peg with the Zendo Team; a wonderful scheduling job that Peg continues to coordinate monthly. Zendo teams for August-October include Peg, Johanna, Dan, Christian, Nancy, Mark, Bill, Gudrun, Karen, Becky, Rachel, and Will. Thanks to all! 

Intro Offerings:

“Saturday Morning Stillness” (9:00-12:00, first Saturday of the month) met in May with Peg serving as jiki and Zoom host and Mark offering the posture demo. The class did not meet in July or September due to the holiday weekends. This introductory session, led by Valerie, was offered, in August with Christian serving as jiki/Zoom host and Dan helping with the posture demo. Valerie offered it again on October 2. The scheduled November 6 date was cancelled due to low enrollment. We may resume this offering in January with a marketing push or develop another format as a steppingstone for newcomers and support for ongoing practice. 

Intro Class 

The weekly Intro class continues to meet on Tuesdays at 5:00pm. Members of the Intro teaching rotation include Mary Ann Bennett, Bill Bruce, Lisa Lincoln, and Kathryn Stedham. Nancy O’Connor has kindly served as a sub. Once in-person gatherings resume, Will Brennan will re-join the Intro class teaching cohort. Nic Redfern is willing to teach occasionally but is not currently available. 

The Intro class is now organized in a six-session series following the rubric of the short intro talks Henry has recorded. Participants are encouraged to attend all six sessions but it’s fine to come and go. Henry’s talks are posted online, as is the schedule of topics. Attendance for the Intro Class has increased, currently averaging more than 20 per week. 

Valerie has been joining the weekly Intro class every other week; three times in October. When present, she offers a short talk (in place of the video) and joins in the Q&A. Each Monday Valerie prepares a short “Tuesday Meditation Tips” text that Jeremy designs and posts on the day of the class. Thanks, Jeremy! 

Katie began serving as Zoom host for the class in mid-July, a great help.  

New Intro offerings under consideration: small practice sharing groups with Q&A; a book study group. 

Talks/teisho/Q&A’s
Weekly dharma talks on Thursday evenings, given by Henry and Valerie with occasional guest teachers. Attendance Thursday evenings has typically ranged from 35-80. MCZC hosted Michael Taft on August 5, Ruben Habito on September 23, Victoria Austin on September 30, and Rick Hanson on October 14. Responses to these talks were very positive. 

Retreats

The zendo team for retreats, superbly coordinated by Peg, has included Peg, Dan, Mark, Johanna, Mary Ann, Christian, Bernd, Hans, Gudrun, Becky, and Nancy, with Mary Ann, Luke, and Susan sharing in leading movement. Shana Smith, a yoga master from Florida who often attends MCZC retreats, joined the guided movement team in July. 

“Zen Basics,” May 20-23, led by Henry and Valerie

“Awakening the Heart,” June 24-27, led by Henry and Valerie

“Suffering and Beauty,” July 29-August 1, led by Henry and Valerie

“Journey of the Heart,” September 24-26, led by Valerie

“Circle of the Way,” October 21-23 (Thursday-Saturday), led by Valerie

Upcoming Retreats

Zazenkai/Day of Zen, Saturday, November 13, led by Valerie

OL, November 27-28, Henry

Rohatsu, December 6-12, led by Henry and Valerie. This will be our first hybrid retreat since Covid, with a core support group (vaccinated, quarantining for the week prior, and tested) staying on site at MC and sitting in the zendo. 

Note: My partner, Scott Thornton (a SanboZen Assistant Teacher), and I will be staying at MCZC from November 15-December 13. We will quarantine there the week before Rohatsu and join the retreat in person. I will continue to offer online dokusan and practice counseling during the time leading up to the retreat, and to join the Intro Class as scheduled. 

Dokusan

Valerie continues to offer online dokusan on Mondays and Wednesdays 5+ hours/week. Johanna oversees the schedule and offers invaluable support in coordinating communication. Katie Rader serves as Zoom host. Thanks to both!

Counseling Sessions

Valerie offers individual practice counseling sessions to about 35 students on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis. 

Posture Demo Video

Working with Katie, Mark and Valerie recorded a posture demo video that is now posted on YouTube. Thanks all around! 

Marketing in the Works

Working with Jeremy and Johanna to set up a more robust marketing plan for Zazenkai and other events to come, Valerie is creating text to populate a richer landing page for Zazenkai. Henry, Jeremy, and Valerie will work together to send out a wide welcome for Rohatsu. 

Henry’s Report

First, exciting news: we have a new assistant Zen teacher at MC, authorized by Sambo Zen in August 2021 — Will Brennan. Will is one of the original founding team of MC, he originally invited me into Mountain Cloud, and helped build the place. He was part of the team from Rochester with Philip Kapleau who founded it. He kept it running for 25 years. It had some rough times and nearly closed its doors numerous times, but Will kept showing up Wednesday after Wednesday, for decades, and then invited me in in 2010. So I’ve been teaching since then, thanks to will, and thanks to his dedication, And he’s done all the koans twice. So, a very well trained guy, approved by not only Valerie and me, but by Yamada Roshi in Japan. S

The other thing I want to talk about is the Original Love program and my failure to be offering dokusan in the traditional way for about a year now. Basically, I had a head injury now 16 months ago — it wasn’t very serious, but led to a situation whereby I’ve had lingering symptoms and – as long as I don’t do a small number of things — I’m pretty much normal and symptom-free. But there’s a small number of things which if I do do, I get symptoms, and sadly, one of them is looking at screens for more than about 10 minutes. (In fact right now I’ve been covering my screen.) and the symptoms don’t just stop, once they start they linger for days. So I have to try to avoid them getting triggered. I can’t watch TV. I can’t drive for more than 10 or 15 minutes or they start up. (Anybody who’s had this kind of neurological issue will know exactly what I mean. It’s not that rare and I’ve had some fantastic advice from people who have been here before or are living here for long in this symptomology.) 

So it’s coincided Of course with the pandemic. Meaning that dokusan would need to be online anyway. And it’s very difficult to do good dokusan without video (I’ve been offering some kind of practice counseling sessions without video). But dokusan really needs video in our tradition. So that’s one situation. 

Secondly, I came here in 2011, at our first six day retreat, four students came from Germany.  I’d been teaching in Germany, in a large Sangha, and they were so thrilled and excited to come out to Mountain Cloud, and there was a real hope that a lot of German students would want to come. These first four students came and they were showed to their bunks in the cabins, and they were dismayed because they didn’t want to sleep in a room or a bed that didn’t have a bathroom under the same roof. So I realized quickly, okay, we’ve got to organize more bedrooms or improve the bathroom facilites. Finally, eight years later, we opened up the cottage and it had bathrooms under the same roof as the bedrooms. And then we lost four of the eight bedrooms in the cottage because they’re outside code. So after all these years, we’ve only got four more bedrooms, under the same roof as a bathroom. 

Honestly, I was feeling like I’d failed MC. In all those years, all I’ve managed to do was galvanize four new bedrooms, which was something we so desperately needed, because we’re in an out of the way place, and lots of people want to come and do retreats with us, but our facilities are just not up to what’s expected these days. And I have not managed to change that in any significant way in over a decade. And I feel quite ashamed of myself, that I’ve failed in that regard. 

But then the pandemic came and all of a sudden, the goalposts have moved completely. The game was completely different and we weren’t having in-person retreats anyway. And lots of people started joining in. Meanwhile, I couldn’t really do dokusan, and the numbers were beyond one or two person’s capacity anyway. So I started thinking – I’ve got to find some way of answering people’s questions and practice matters, and so on. And so the natural thing was to do q&a. And within q&a, it was vital that I be open to a broader range of topics. And that led me to developing Original Love, which has four practice areas that we look at. And they more or less correspond to what in our traditional teaching are called the “five kinds of practice” – though those five kinds are a little bit out of date, frankly, so I’ve made “four zones of practice” that largely cover the kinds of things that come up in the early years of sitting. So I believe we have a strong program and the response to it has been astounding. We’ve never had 240 people sign up for anything at MC. But we do now for this new Original Love course, and I’m happy about it.

The downside is that I’ve been doing less of the dokusan, which is a mainstay of our training program. But my thinking is that as soon as pandemic lockdowns are over I’ll be doing that in person. For those who are local, or coming to stay here. Secondly, until then, once my neurology is better, I can do it online. But basically, I like this idea of concentric circles of practice — that there’s a core number of people who are really into serious training with koans, then a wider group who are deeply into Zen training, but not so much with koans. Then there’s a wider group who don’t yet feel the need, and may never, of regular contact with a teacher, one on one, who are just happy to get it now and then, and mostly be receiving the general guidance that we offer in large gatherings. 

So I think there’s a real place to continue doing what we’re doing, and having different tracks within MC. I’m excited about it. And in the midst of all of that, we’ve been so blessed to have Valerie now for about a year, joining our faculty, As everybody who’s had the good luck to train with Valerie already knows, she’s a really awesome teacher and amazing person, with the deepest integrity and compassion and seriousness about this Way. We’re incredibly lucky. Thank you so much, Valerie. And so I think we’re in a good place and as things develop, it’s just going to get better. 

Response to a question: Original Love is threaded through with Zen. It’s not named quite that way. But when I’m offering those teachings, often I do mention that. We’re in an extraordinary time in the world of meditation, in that all these great traditions are meeting one another. It’s never really happened before. Over the last 50 years, it’s really been cooking in a new way in the West, and we’ve got to take advantage of it. We don’t want to be so sectarian that we won’t learn anything from other traditions, if we’ve got a deficit in our own. Just one example is that in Zen, traditionally we don’t teach the Four Foundations of Mindfulness anymore, but they did in early China. The Four Foundations of Mindfulness are the basic foundation of a deep practice that everybody can benefit from. So I’m bringing them in, and I see this as a time of incredible enrichment in different directions. A lot of people who’ve joined our Sangha have come from other Buddhist traditions, especially the Vipassana world, which has different strands to it, because there are deficits that we may be able to meet. We’ve got deficits that they meet, too, so it’s a fantastic time. And I think we’re moving beyond sectarianism, which has been a problem in Buddhism and has been a problem in the spiritual life of humanity. It’s easy to get into, and easy not to realize we’ve got into it, because we find a way that works and it’s thrilling and wonderful. And our teachers tell us it’s the best way. The traditions tend to say that — but they’re not the best. They’re just good. This is what pluralism means. More than one can be good. 

One last point is that as we move back to in-person onsite activities — we’ve got to be thinking about how to expand our facilities, if we’re going to take that seriously. Because we have urgent deficits in our capacity, our physical plant.

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