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Lions Roar : November 2012
61 SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2012 before the age of the Internet, it was revolutionary. In the beginning the program focused on using split-screen televi- sions as a way for people to talk to each other. “The communication wasn’t one-way,” she says, “and that was the key to a more horizontal power structure, to elevat- ing a population and putting it on an equal status with the people in power. One of the first projects we did was in a little town in Pennsylvania, where we connected all the senior citizen centers to the mayor’s office. Then once a week the seniors would interview the mayor and it would go out on the cable system for the whole county.” Later O’Hara worked with other marginalized populations, including kids in a drug treatment center to whom she taught videography. For people with drug issues, particularly those dealing with addiction to crack and other hard narcotics, the ability to pay attention has been eroded. In order to interview one another or to hold a camera, O’Hara’s young students first needed a certain level of attention, and so she taught them med- itation. They started with a minute or two of trying to follow the breath and built up from there—the incentive of getting to use the camera keeping them going. “I loved that proj- ect,” says O’Hara. “In the beginning the kids just talked. They didn’t know how to do an interview.” But in the end they learned to listen to one another. Another major element of O’Hara’s work at NYU was to mentor new art- ists—to help students enrolled in the school to develop their voice in media. Today mentoring continues to be important to her. Her focus has shifted, however, to nurturing a new generation of Buddhists engaged in social issues. One example is that she is the spiritual director of the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care (NYZCCC), a non-profit that offers a Buddhist Chap- laincy Program and provides direct care to the sick and dying. Koshin Paley Ellison, a co-founder of NYZCCC, has a deep appreciation for O’Hara’s patience with people, pro- cess, and unfolding. He says, “Over the past two decades, she’s taught me a lot about trust—trusting that each person will find their practice, that each person will find where they need to go.” The essence of contemplative care is being with someone where they are and not trying to get them to change. “One of the huge struggles that many of our beginning chaplaincy students have is feeling like they need to ‘do’ something,” Ellison continues. “They feel the need to fix somebody. They need to get busy. But Roshi O’Hara’s teaching is not about that. It’s about being with the moment in an unadorned way. Include Everything A teaching by Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara. A GROUP OF TWELVE of us lived on the streets in lower Man- hattan for four days, practicing meditation and experiencing how it is to survive without money or cellphones. It was a renuncia- tion and a pilgrimage, a way to give up all our habitual comforts and resources and to open up to reality, to the conditions of the world of which we are a part. What’s it like to live in the city without anything? What’s it like to find that you need to use a phone for some information when you don’t have a quarter? The week before the retreat, I attended a Soto Zen confer- ence in San Francisco. While there, I met with my beloved dharma sister, Egyoku Roshi, and she told me something that struck me powerfully. Roshi’s community, Los Angeles Zen Center, is spending a year studying “What is vow?” One of Ro- shi’s students had decided that for the whole year, her practice would be to investigate the vow “Include everything.” Just imagine what it would be like if you were to include everything that arises. Usually, all of us only include a certain amount: what we like, what we are willing to see about ourselves and others. We don’t include the things we don’t like about ourselves or about conditions and situations. We push them away. Denial. To constantly include everything that is arising—I was so struck by that—perhaps that was the teaching I needed right then. So, I took this idea of “include everything” onto the street retreat. To deny nothing, not my disgust: “Something is touching me—a rat? A bedbug?” (The worst fear of a New Yorker.) Or at the soup kitchen: “Is this man going to throw up on me?” These were some of the thoughts that came to me. One of the points of the street retreat is that things are right in your face and so there is no way to exclude anything. I would say that every one of us discovered things that we were forced to include. Every one of us had issues come up: “Begging shows me what it’s like to be rejected or given something.” Or, “Living on the street shows me I need to be seen” or “I have my anger.” Fear was a huge thing. Living on the street is scary. But the min- ute we include the fear, it’s much less scary because it’s there. You can touch it, you can feel it, and it’s not this black cloud following you around. ♦ Pat O’Hara co-leading a street retreat in New York’s Washington Square Park. PHOTOSBYA.JESSEJIRYUDAVIS