SHIFT's second Summer Church Visit was to the Big Mind Western Zen Center in Salt Lake City. This was an eye-opening and very educational introduction to Western Zen Practice for all who came. We were asked to sign in a guest book outside the door, then, keeping our voices down because there were people "sitting" upstairs, we took off our shoes and placed our bags in cubbyholes just inside. Then were were told to go up the stairs, put our hands together and bow as we reached the top, and then sit, either on a mat on the floor or in one of the chairs lining the walls.
As we reached the top of the stairs (I forgot to bow) and found a seat, we saw around us a room full of people from all walks of Salt Lake City life, sitting in meditative thought. Many had their eyes closed, some were looking calmly about the room and smiling or nodding at newcomers, and all seemed to be practiced in yoga and steady breathing. It seemed to be a time of repose, to enjoy the summer sun pouring in through the windows. After about 10 or 15 minutes my body grew restless, and to keep focused I began silently repeating a mantra while we sat, something like, "I will take only what is healthful and good in to my body and mind."
After I believe half an hour, Genpo Roshi, who was sitting at the front of the room raised slightly above the people sitting cross-legged on the mats in front of him, rang a gong of sorts and called our attention to what came to be an introduction to, or lesson on, Western Zen thought and/or practice. I can best describe what he spoke on as guiding us through three ways of thinking . . . if any who were in attendance can explain these three ways, please do comment!
It was a calming, non-theistic discussion, where the Roshi listened to and repeated back what people in the room had to say, engaging everyone who felt they wanted to speak. And most impressionable to me, there was no use of "you" language, only "I" language ... in that, there was no sense coming from the leader of the discussion that "you should" do or think or see this this way, but rather, "I think," "I have experienced," I believe," etc. Then the people who responded or engaged in the discussion also used phrases like "I feel" or "I think." It was so personalized and yet example-setting. You wanted to be like them, or think like them, or feel what they felt, because they were just stating the way they were thinking or feeling, rather than saying, "This is how it is for everyone." Quite an amazing approach to teaching about peace and living a calm life.
The other positive things I noticed about the experience was the inclusion of people of color and people, as I mentioned "from all walks of life," some I recognized from the LGBTQ community as well, and the use of inclusive feminist language ~ Roshi would say "she" or "her" equally as often as he would say "he" or "him," even though he was speaking from a male perspective!