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Lions Roar : September 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2012 37 seconds, then thirds. His affect is flat, but he always says thank you. The food offering at Richardson Apartments, which started in January, is about more than nutrition. It is about generosity and fostering connection among the residents, who were homeless when referred to Richardson. Now, according to a social worker at the facility, “they are building community together.” Plans are in the works for Zen Center to assist Richardson Apartments residents with their rooftop garden and to offer meditation classes. None of the volunteers serving the meal lives at City Center. This isn’t by design, but the program presents an opportunity for non-resident practitioners to be involved and have a posi- tive effect. One volunteer was introduced to Zen Center through its addiction-recovery programs. For her, the lunch offering at Richardson Apartments is a chance to give back. This blurring of the boundary between giving and receiving takes a different format at Google World Headquarters in Sili- con Valley, where Marc Lesser teaches a seven-week course on empathy. “It can be daunting standing up in front of fifty Google engineers. I do it in part because it stretches me. It’s my practice,” says Lesser, author of Accomplishing More by Doing Less. Lesser (whose wife, Lee, runs the HPW veterans’ retreats) lived at City Center and Tassajara from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s. He’s an ordained Zen priest with an MBA, which he pursued after leaving Tassajara, and CEO of the Search Inside Yourself Lead- ership Initiative, whose mission is to promote world peace by promoting wisdom in leaders. I asked Lesser what he takes from Zen into the corporate world, where values of productivity reign, and how Zen at Google differs from Zen at Zen Center. “I focus on being pres- ent and flexible, on listening,” he said. “Zen is the study of our emotional lives. The business world just puts our emotional lives into a place where we get stuff done.” At Google and other corporate and educational settings where Lesser teaches, such as Social Venture Network, Technorati, and University of California, his work is a combination of medita- tion training and competency building. While he recognizes his own need to “drink from the well” of zazen that isn’t about pro- ductivity, leadership, or even happiness—and he leads a weekly sitting group to that end—he sees his business coaching work and the heart of Zen practice as complementary. Recently, he’s started working with senior staff at Zen Center on team building, values identification, and intention setting. For Lesser, and for Zen Center, the work is full circle. “I understand the culture at Zen Center as much as anyone can—and I get to see how much I’ve learned and grown by being out in the world.” BRANCHING STREAMS Across the Golden Gate Bridge from Zen Center, inside a majes- tic restored Victorian on the campus of Dominican University, the chapel schedule includes Buddhist, Muslim, Sufi, Quaker, and Catholic services. Every Monday night, the space is reserved for a Zen sitting group called Dharma Eye, led by Zen Center central abbot Steve Stücky and his longtime students. The chapel is a former library in a private home, with mas- sive wooden doors, chandeliers with patterned glass bulbs, and lots of windows. The practice in this inspiring yet nontraditional setting is less formal than practice at City Center, Green Gulch, or Tassajara, but the evening’s layout contains all the standard elements: We sit zazen, chant and bow, drink tea, and hear a dharma talk followed by time for discussion. On the April evening The food offering at Richardson Apartments is about more than nutrition. It’s about generosity and fostering connection among the residents. Formerly homeless residents at Richardson Apartments enjoy a healthy meal brought to them by Zen Center volunteers. “I like this kale!” says one resident in her fifties. PHOTOSBYANDREAROTH