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Here's a story run by the Monterey County Weekly on Eyes of Compassion:
Posted December 03, 2009 12:00 AM
WILD FIND: “It was like the bluejay echoed all the way through me,” says Rick Slone, left, of his seminal meditation experience. “It penetrated deeper than anything ever did before.”
Photo by Nic Coury
Stirring Soup Kitchen Zen
With a new meditation center, Buddhist priest Rick Slone helps Dorothy’s Place breathe easier.
By Zachary Stahl
Ahungry crowd stirs in Dorothy’s Place’s day room, anxiously awaiting the opening of the bright yellow doors for lunch. An adjacent hallway is a frenzied runway: chattering guys asking for shaving cream, calling out for their favorite volunteers, going in and out of the bathroom.
On the other side of the wall, Rick Slone calmly lights a stick of incense as a handful of Dorothy’s guests sit quietly in rows of white plastic chairs. Wrapped in a black robe, Slone leads a memorial for five regulars who recently died. The names Chinna, Freddie, Ken, Frank and Melissa are framed on a small table in the checkered-floor dining area.
“We’re here to say: ‘Their lives do matter,’” Slone says. “If we don’t remember them, who will?” He bows to the altar and kneels, touching his shaved head to his meditation mat.
Friends of the dead share positive memories: “[Fat Kenny] didn’t spend a lot of time sulking in his problems.” “[Chinna] was one of the toughest ladies on the street.” Slone closes the memorial with another round of kneeling. Before returning to Salinas’ unruly Chinatown, the attendants light a stick of incense to honor their friends.
Slone is igniting more than incense at the city’s sanctuary for the down and out. The 52-year-old Buddhist priest and teacher recently welcomed his first student to the brand-new Eyes of Compassion Zen Center, which promises to bring a stronger and steadying Zen presence to the soup kitchen. His students take on double duty honing the practice of meditation and assisting the Franciscan Workers of Junipero Serra as they serve up hot meals and mentor the homeless on how to connect with social services and develop job skills. “This is a way to bridge theory and practice for love and compassion for the Zen practitioner,” he says.
Raised in Los Angeles, Slone first came to Salinas 20 years ago, broke and heartbroken. He ate meals at the Dorothy’s former home across Soledad Street and slept at Victory Mission men’s shelter. He worked at a nursing home and a convalescent hospital and two years later joined the Franciscan Workers. During a visit to the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, the group’s van broke down and they had to spend the night, introducing Slone to meditation: “I heard this blue jay – I really heard it – without the the usual veil of subjectivity.” He ended up studying at Tassajara for nearly four years. After being ordained a Buddhist priest in 1997, he moved to the Green Gulch Farm Zen Center in Marin County for 12 more years. In March he was certified as a Zen teacher.
Since rejoining the Franciscan Workers in September, he’s been working the day room providing razors, soap and clothes to the homeless. “Right now I’m just trying to listen, deeply listen,” Slone says. “I really don’t have much to offer but my attention.”
Slone opens the door to the Hollow, a small square room with pillows and mats on the floor and various prophets on the wall, from Buddha to Jesus. The space is part of the pink Salinas house where the staff members who run Dorothy’s programs, the Companions of the Way, live.
A bell initiates a half hour of silent, seated breathing for Slone and housemates Mia Ferreira and Greg Tippett. They say meditation helps them be present when listening to traumatic stories from the street – and reinforces Dorothy’s mantra of offering hospitality that is nonjudgmental and engaging.
“The practice of mediation just brings me into my current awareness,” Ferreira says. “It’s really helpful in dealing with people whose lives are broken.”
Adds Tippett: “Meditation helps you stay in that calm place even in the middle of chaotic situations.”
Inside the house, over a pot of green tea, Slone recounts a valuable lesson from his teacher: The most important takeaway from meditation is how to live with a broken heart. “The suffering in the world will not heal until we can feel it,” he says.
Slone envisions students coming to study Buddhism while helping the poor for as little as a few days to several months. Slone’s connections to the San Francisco Zen Center, which runs both Tassajara and Green Gulch, could draw more people to the cause.
Myogen Steve Stücky, co-abbot of SFZC, feels Slone’s Zen center is unique.
“What he is doing is a pioneering effort,” Stücky says, “to bring together Zen Buddhist practice and the meditation training as a basis for extending compassion and working with the marginalized people of the world.”
For more information on the Salinas Zen center visit: http://eyesofcompassion.weebly.com.
In Beethoven’s sixth Symphony, there is a moment of transition between the storm and the finale, where gentleness and light prevails. The finale is subtitled Shepherds' song; cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm.
The following work was written for me by a young woman who is a guest and volunteer at our soup kitchen. Receiving this work is the calm after my storm of the Christmas madness on the street. The beauty of Skippy’s soul shines through in this document. When being gifted with a work such as this, I cannot imagine doing anything else with my life that could possibly be more fulfilling.
Thank you so much, Skippy!
Here it is:
Would describe my book—the book of schizophrenia as I know it. Stepping stones on to the well—step stones to the well. As water may see it. (the note ‘c’ on a flute) The ocean of a ventricle journey. A better daze or days of better views—I for one am always up for an adventure.
Two of a kind real life can perhaps exist. I truly believe that the real is a lie when dealing truly when really this is justifying a game of pardons, peasants and creators of false hope to something unreal. But the reality of it all is that someone like me or some of us do want to get better and believe in hope, nurture and humanistic ways to be existent still, still I try and won’t ever give up my true life, and then furthermore the most of pain, the tears of our soul reflecting on a certain face other than ours like a personal trait or tragedy. It is a tragic rugged range of motion to emotional abuse and felt of the sword or word of god left for ambition or perception of healing power or witchery for conquerors or conquest of faith and new world order.
I believe we all have karma in our human ways to be of wing to fly and conquest to clear and challenge-- the tears of our ancestors believe in us. Also claiming clean and cloak crystal like substance that can trigger an emotional disturbance or heat of the path of redemption. Kill or be killed. Do or die. Efferent afferent. Fight or flight. The fear of being left abandoned, feeling lost and lonely without a way out of sight. The fault of abuse of friendship the true torture of one fine friend and no one else there but ourselves. “Family” True family is a personal goal to find in one’s own feeling of emotional persecution. Racism. Classification of status and state of currency income. Life without the pursuit of happiness would not be amended so constitute would not cry out for recompense or remorse but reimbursement. Relevance. Reliant to the source. Our Self persona. Creation of a false illusion—a delusional state of mind where we know it is possible to be positively strong then worldly dishonor states the false of human rights and actions true to one self is not a delusion it is an abomination to discuss self righteousness when we or one’s self is not of a court order or marshal to express vindictive or retroactive dramatization of a crime for certain alliant reasons. Purpose. To become popular, famous, the start of an idolatry trait.
I as music lets me be will always play the sound of harmonious melody because it is redemption to my being of soul and soldier blood of self healing and procreating water. It gathers my strength my inner beauty, makes myself and other happy too, but I love the nature of water gathered in it, feeding my thirst for more ocean breeze. I was going to title my book Ocean (Butterflies entered in feeling) so I called out my memorial names and all of I, my music is what helps me get through certain days and challenges the being held upon my certainty and belongings. I love the Music, my music in ME.
The loving part of all this time is the fact of reincarnation of fleet and threats—hundreds of dollars for personal freedom, and re encountered finance, people.
lf god word and fatal attractions, all because a good man helped me and others make me happen. My persona and character have a change in motion but I also know to appreciate and value another Human Being. In process of nurture, nature or isolation, but not hypo creation or cremation. I am happy of being a volunteer at Dorothy’s Kitchen and Hospitality Center—Women Alive
To Rev. Rick Skippy, Dorothy’s Place Kitchen volunteer
She wrapped him in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger because there wasn't any room for them in the inn.
The hand of the Lord was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; and it was full of bones. And He caused me to pass among them round about, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley; and lo, they were very dry. And He said to me, 'Son of man, can these bones live?”
I have been through hell recently. Another word for it is Christmas. There is this thing called SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder. As a live-away dad, I know something of this disorder. Sometimes the sights and smells and sounds of Christmas do nothing but remind me of how much I miss my son Jacob.
I can only imagine how my friends on the street are affected by the Christmas season. No, that’s not true; I can see how it affects them. The depression, the anger, the despair that is always present to the people on the street becomes heightened, becomes aggravated this time of year. Some of the people I hang out with deal on a daily basis with losses that I don’t know if I could endure. I see my son regularly, every other weekend. Some on the street have children they never get to see-- the legal system has taken them from them. This time of year must be very hard in the absence of family and friends, hearth and home.
So, it has been hell on the street and at our hospitality center lately. Tempers have flared. Fights have broken out. There were times when I questioned what I was doing here. (Traditional Zen temple life wasn’t that bad, really--maybe a little boring at times.) I found myself mentally rehearsing scripts of what to say to people to enforce more rigid boundaries of behavior. I flirted with the idea of lifting weights so more testosterone could course through my system. I began to feel an occasional sense of dread driving to the soup kitchen. I have been feeling a bit broken and on the run lately.
Scripting things to say, contemplating weight-lifting, are protective measures, defensive measures, born from fear, fear of a wasteland, a desert of pain and grief within and without—a desert that I don’t feel I have the strength to face. It is a sign of feeling inadequate and phony, a sign of seeking to buttress up my flagging spirits with some impressive posturing.
Sometimes people come with donations and praise the wonderful work we are doing at the shelter. I now know that the most appropriate thing to say in response is probably, “No, we aren’t doing anything wonderful. If anything good is happening here, it is happening in spite of us.”
In Christian contemplative circles there is a thing called the ‘Dark Night if the Soul,’ a time of despair and ennui. This is a desert time, a time when all spiritual enthusiasms fade, where all consolations cease. One is left feeling dry and empty. The teachers in this tradition say that the only thing for it in this dark night, this desert, is to continue your spiritual practices, even though you don’t want to, even though it seems pointless and dry. Say your prayers at the appointed times. Go sit on your meditation cushion when the bell calls you. This continuance, this persistence in spite of a lack of desire for it, is eventually what will see you through.
I sometimes think I could avoid this dark night in the desert if only I were practicing ceaselessly--if I were constantly on-point in my Zen practice, then maybe these feelings of falsity, despair and inadequacy would not have a chance to arise. Or maybe if I only thought about Jesus 24-7, then I would be OK. Feeling despair? Feeling inadequate? Just hit that Jesus button; on demand morphine drip of pure Grace. This is precisely spiritual materialism, a ‘spiritual’ equivalent of pumping iron to fortify oneself.
But the desert time is not something we must simply endure—this desert is a strangely fecund place, it is essential for spiritual growth. In the desert we are stripped bare, we no longer have the strength to maintain our pretenses and posturing. We are compelled to confront ourselves with all our contradictions and failings. We see the falsity of much of what we show to the world, and what can then arise is a longing for something more true, more real.
It is only in the desert that we learn to thirst for the Living Water. All else that passes for spirituality is just vanity and ego.
I don’t know much, but this one great and gruesome cosmic truth has been revealed to me: the places where we are most broken--these places are precisely the places where we are most blessed. (God seems to have a rather annoying sense of humor.) This stark fact with its equally stark beauty is the Great Koan, the great mystery that I must spend the remainder of my days contemplating, though I would rather not.
My son Jacob was with me in the day shelter during much of the uproar before Christmas. He was present during three of the most severe conflicts. The morning after one of these angry, violent scenes, he and I walked into the dayroom, and there was Jesse. Jesse was involved the previous day in a conflict that involved gross profanity and shoving, and almost resulted in an out and out brawl. When he saw us, Jesse said in a serious tone that gave me pause, “Rick, you need to get your son into the office, I need to talk to both of you.” The office was already crowded, so we opened up the donation room. Addressing my son, Jesse said, “Jacob, yesterday you saw me get very ugly. I owe your dad and you an apology. I’m so sorry that you had to see that. I’m very sorry I got so ugly in front of you.” His voice was cracking and there were tears in his eyes. There’s that stark beauty again. Grace filled that messy donation room. I don’t think Jesse would have been inclined to bare his soul in such a way if I were in the habit of pumping iron and assuming authoritarian postures to cover my fear of the chaos of despair.
It is Grace I need, not testosterone.
When I got home to Salinas from teaching Zen in San Francisco the other night, my room was very cold. My community members had gone to bed without turning on any heat. I had a bit of work I wanted to get done before going to bed myself, and was uncomfortable, and a little grouchy. So I turned the heat on, full blast. It took so long to start taking off the chill that I got up and made sure I had turned the heater on properly. I had.
I fell asleep with the heater on, and when I awoke in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, boy--it was warm then!
Baby is a transsexual who is almost always cheerful and sunny. When I got to the day shelter I saw her, and she didn’t seem her usual self--she seemed a little down. So I said, Baby, where’s that sunshine of yours, where’s your smile, what’s up? “Oh, I’m OK, just cold. It sure was cold last night.”
It sure was.
Baby sleeps outside in a camp, with her boyfriend and her boyfriend’s family.
“A patch-robed monk's authentic task is to practice the essence, in each minute event carefully discerning the shining source, radiant without discrimination, one color unstained…The reeds blossom under the bright moon; the ancient ferryboat begins its passage; the jade thread fits into the golden needle.”
Zen Master Hongzhi
“When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left.”
The Gospel of Luke
I must live with the awkward condition of being a Zen Priest who has a mystical relationship with Jesus. I have tried to ignore this debilitating condition at times. At times I have tried to hide it. A few years ago I decided to come out of the closet with it, to live in solidarity with those others who have a debilitating condition that they must bear, and in the bearing of it face censure from others.
For it is debilitating. It seems at times to threaten the credibility of my vocation. And it jeopardizes my sense of self. (He who would save his life will lose it…Lest a seed fall to the earth and die it will bear no fruit, etc.)
And the price that Jesus paid in trying to show us the deepest truth of love--well, it sets my mind reeling.
So if there is a contradiction in being a Zen student who is passionately in love with Jesus, it is a contradiction that I must live, not resolve.
As a Zen student, my task is to cultivate the capacity to discern or apprehend—in other words, to contemplate--the shining source, the deepest phenomenological quality of what it is to be a living, conscious being. In this place, every little thing is radiant without discrimination; every little thing is provocative of wonder and awe. This is true. This is the truest nature of mind, and it is so easily missed.
As a disciple of Jesus, I contemplate with searing pain the purest human heart that ever lived, broken and bloodied and nailed to a tree.
Is there any place where these two contemplations can meet?
I have an example of the meeting of these two that I wish to share--but before I do, I want to say something about this mystical relationship with Jesus that I asserted above. To some, such an assertion may be alarming.
For a context, let me relate a little scenario from the Gospel of John:
Shortly before his crucifixion, Jesus grabbed a basin and a towel and set to washing his disciple’s feet. When he got to Peter, Peter said, “No lord, I’m not letting you wash my feet!” Jesus said, “Unless you let me wash your feet, you have no part in me--you can’t really know what I am about.” Peter said, “Then not just my feet, wash my head and hands as well.”
Jesus then tuned to his disciples and said, “You call me your teacher. See what I just did? You should be doing it to each other.”
A few years ago I drove from Marin County to the Mission District of San Francisco to gather with some of my Post-Christendom Jesus loving friends. When I arrived, it seemed to me that most everyone there was busy sipping wine and trying to act hipster-cool. It all felt so superficial to me. I was suffering from a baseline low-grade persistent state of annoyance, and was getting mildly resentful for the long drive I had just made. Then I heard a quiet, gentle voice of rebuke inside me say; “Rick, you are not here to judge, you are here to wash feet.” My mood immediately and profoundly shifted, and I was able to have a pleasant time the rest of the evening, and to have a few meaningful encounters with my friends.
I don’t receive this kind of direct guidance often--but when I do, it is unmistakable. It has a trans-subjective quality. What arises is not something I am thinking, not something I am creating within my own subjectivity—it has the quality of something given to me, a spontaneously arising still small voice within.
The quality of this mystical relationship is well expressed by Marin Buber in I and Thou, where he says in a wordy yet profound way;
“What is it that is eternal: the primal phenomenon, present in the here and now, of what we call revelation? It is man’s emerging from the moment of the supreme encounter, no longer being the same as he was when entering it. The moment of encounter is not a ‘living experience’ that stirs in the receptive soul and blissfully rounds it out: something happens to man. At times it is like feeling a breath and at times like wrestling match; no matter: something happens to man. The man who steps out of the essential act of pure relation has something More in his being, something new has grown there of which he did not know before and for whose origin he lacks any suitable words. Wherever the scientific world orientation in its legitimate desire for a causal chain without gaps may place the origin of what is new here: for us, being concerned with the actual contemplation of the actual, no subconscious and no other psychic apparatus will do. Actually, we receive what we did not have before, in such a manner that we know: it has been given to us (italics mine.)”
Now, on to the contemplation of the Bright Moon and the Broken Christ.
Sam is a broad-shouldered guy. He seems to possess the jersey of every team in the NFL. Once, I was giving him a ride home, and he asked me to stop at the cleaners so he could pick up his laundry. Out he came with a stack of freshly laundered Jerseys. He is always spotlessly clean. I think he spends all the money he gets from his assistance check on his housing and his dry-cleaning bills.
He has no use for drugs or alcohol.
I know it grieves him to see his friend Billy smoking crack on the sidewalk. He has mentioned it to me several times. “Man, that stuff is poison! It’s eating him alive, from the inside out.”
One day, I heard Sam ask me for some scissors and bandage tape. I turned around to see him dressing Billy’s ankle. Billy had fallen asleep in the Victory Mission a few nights previously with his ankle up against a heater. It was badly burned and suppurated. When I returned with scissors and tape, I looked down to see Sam wrapping Billy’s ankle in gauze with such tender care.
Time stood still. The light in the dayroom shifted. Everything was bathed in a soft, radiant glow.
I knew I was witnessing a holy event.
A few weekends ago we had a wonderful retreat experience here at Eyes of Compassion Zen Center that we called RETURN to the Sacred Heart. A weekend experience of contemplative prayer and loving action. My friend Mark Scandrette and I co-led the experience. For me personally this was a culmination of a three or four year journey to find a meaningful way to incorporate my love of Jesus into my life of practice.
On one occasion during this retreat I referred to myself as a perpetually relapsing Jesus Freak. Try as I may, I just can’t stop loving that homeless guy from Nazareth. I keep going back to that New Wine of his, that Living Water of his incredible love. In the 70's I was a bone fide Jesus Freak, and I continue to think of him as The Greatest Lover of All Time. (Sorry Don Juan)
In searching to find a reasonably coherent way to incorporate Jesus into my practice, or, perhaps to put it better, to let him back into my life, I came across a phenomenon called the Emergent Church—not really a church in the conventional sense, more a network of like minded seekers who wish to free the teaching and example of Jesus from centuries of abuse and misrepresentation, and who wish to live by his teachings, and who earnestly seek to learn to love as he loved.
My kind of people.
So, that weekend I was surrounded by many dear friends I have grown to love, dearly, and made some new ones.
We talked about Jesus and sat zazen together.
I felt like a kid at Christmas.
You can check out my friend Mark’s organization, REIMAGINE, here.
I'm sure I'll have more to say about that homeless guy form Nazareth in the future.
He just won't leave me alone.
I am working on an essay on the deepest meaning of the Bodhisattva Vow. A great talk by Suzuki Roshi can be found here:
SR Bodhisattva Vow
Yesterday I was sitting outside of the soup kitchen with Billy. The mid-morning sun was dissipating the concrete chill of the previous clear night. He sneezed, and said that he wished he had some paper towels to blow his nose. I said I would go and get him some—I got up and used my key to open the front door of the kitchen.
Billy has Parkinson’s. He is perhaps about half way into the degeneration brought on by the disease. He walks with difficulty, using a cane. His mind seems as yet unaffected.
When I returned with the paper towels, Billy was contracting a deal on the street. It looked like he was scoring some crack. When his supplier left he looked at me, and said with a mixture of tenderness and embarrassment that broke my heart, “Man, I don’t want to do this in front of you!” I offered to go someplace else, and he said, “But I like having you around, it feels good.” After a pause he gave me a sidelong glance and said, “And I know why you are here.” I laughed and, probably wanting to hear good things about myself, asked, “Tell me, why am I here?” He looked at me directly for a moment and said, “We’ll talk about that later sometime.”
I hung out with Billy for perhaps another fifteen or twenty minutes, talking about various things. He said that the disease was getting worse, and it was harder from him to get around and to take care of himself. He fell in the shower the other day. Last night he couldn’t get himself up to walk across the street to the Men’s shelter, and slept right there on the sidewalk--didn’t move from that spot.
I remembered how cold it was last night.
He said he didn’t like to sound like he was complaining. I said I knew that, and that it didn’t sound like complaining to me. He said, “Yeah, but it has a sour ring in my ear.” “That’s how I know it isn’t really complaining,” I said to him.
Then he gestured to the drugs still in his hand and said, “These days it’s more about pain-management than getting high.” I told him that I would go and check in with some other folks and maybe see him before I went home.
“What time do you go home?” he asked.
“About three or three thirty.”
I went upstairs and used my key to Robert’s office and cried for a while.
Later when I was walking to my car to drive home, I looked for Billy. I saw him across the street, smoking more crack.
I went home without saying goodbye.