A few months ago, Heather was searching for kindness on the internet and came across the "Being Kind" music video. She passed it along to her dear friend Sandra, who then sent it to Joan, who then emailed Nimo to visit the Marblehead Zen Center in Massachusetts. This past week, we had the beautiful opportunity to spend time with the blossoming community there, and the days have been filled with spontaneous and scheduled gatherings, little gestures of care, moments of grace, and shining smiles.
We arrived on Wednesday, and joined in on a half-day retreat. After a circle of introductions, we spontaneously decided to embark on an hour-long silent walk in the gorgeous surroundings—from forested conservation land to a small patch of shore that sits against the Atlantic Ocean to rock carved by glaciers to a road speckled with colorful cars buzzing past. We then regrouped, and shared stories on the theme of inner-to-outer sanitation over lunch. Rayna takes some stunning photos of the day, and shares about her inspired experiences with a volunteer group that redistributes unsold grocery store food to the elderly and disabled, and how an inquiry into Karma Kitchen led to a “Chow & Tell” creative cooking show interview with Siddharth last month.
That evening, nine of us configure in Barbara’s warm and inviting abode for a sweet dinner. As we chop and stir-fry a summery spread of vegetables, we learn about Sandra and Heather’s 20-year friendship, Joan’s six years at a Zen monastery in California, and see photos of Barbara’s elegant mother and daughter. Over dinner, Sully makes us all laugh with stories like how he learned to dance from an animated 75-year-old, Chuck joins late after coming from work and makes us all smile, Nimo and I share about some of our experiences and lessons from serving at the Gandhi Ashram, and Dennis sneakily clears everyone’s plates! When the gentle yet private presence of housemate Brian walks through the door, without skipping a beat, Nimo tosses me a heart pin to gift him. As I step towards him, I share the story of the women who make the pins, and we’re all a little touched as his furrowed lips curve into a smile and he takes out his glasses to view the freshly pinned heart on his sweater.
Next day, Joan, Barbara, Dennis, Nimo and I start fresh with an early morning assembly line to place bags of leaves on the curb for the city to pick up. There’s something so rejuvenating about working together for a job like this—about the can-do spirit of collectively lifting and moving yard items. It’s always the little things—like how Nimo lifts a bag with wet leaves and says, “This is heavy—I’ll just walk it over” instead of passing it on to someone else. Or how we all creatively figure out a way to delicately repack the leaves in a broken bag. Twenty minutes of leaf-moving fly by and we head over to the Marblehead Zen Center.
One of the beautiful things about this center is that it shares space with a church. You can feel the open-heartedness of the sanctuary when you walk into the Zen practice room and see it open out into a majestic church hall. Statues of a female figure of compassion in each tradition (Saint Mary and Gwan Yin Bodhisattva) stand in parallel. We meditate and get to do some temple cleaning before setting up for the day’s events.
That morning, we have the joy of sitting with a bunch of 5-year-olds from the church preschool. When we ask them to share something nice they’ve done or received, one girl tells us she woke up one morning and made breakfast for her mom. Others mention how they play and share toys with their siblings. We watch a video on kindness, and I am amazed by how the children describe the kind acts they see on the screen. Nimo sings “Being Kind” and the children dance wildly with joy to it. Then, with their teachers, they sing two songs for us: one about being together, and the other about being part of “one world”. As the session ends and they move onto their next activity, the preschoolers all agree to do an act of kindness for a parent that day.
In the second round of older kids, Jeremy and Kat come up all the way from Cape Cod— a 2 hour, 2 minute and 11 second drive, he tells us. :) Jeremy had memorized and sang “Grateful” with his church choir a couple weeks back, and he raps it for everyone! Sandra brought her 4th grade grandson, Ned, whose simple smile and grounded, accepting demeanor beams like a ray of sun in the room.
In the early evening, a lively team of young adults from a local Youth Build comes after a full day of painting apartments to help set up chairs for our community event! They start clapping their hands to the beat of “To My People” in the parking lot and it continues into the hall. That night, we have a crowd of all ages—from toddlers to elders—we talk and sing on themes of planting seeds, noble friendship, redefining success, and our shared humanity, all with a little Boston North Shore touch. Rev Clyde shares a powerful story of his daughter, a few young adults from nearby town Lynn share insights on planting seeds, and Sandra talks about different ways she’s expressed and learned about gratitude (like when she was driving with Ned and he went through the whole alphabet listing something he was grateful for that started with each letter)! At one point, Barbara gives me a hug and Heather’s toddler son tugs on his mother’s leg, “Look, they’re being kind” he tells her. :) Towards the end, everyone spontaneously gets up and self-organizes into a circle, linking hands like a beautiful collective blessing.
Just when we think the evening is over, we are graced by a stunning song from Marilyn, one of the beautiful youth who had come with a group from Raw Art Works. In small conversation, we find out one woman had come with her mother who has been low-energy from her cancer treatment, but was smiling wide the entire evening. Shelli tells us about Penny Bears, stuffed bears made with love that started as an offering of hope and reassurance for one hospital-ridden teenager, and generously gifts one for each of us. Aliya brings nutritious popcorn for everyone to enjoy, Vandana-didi’s hand-painted posters beam at all of us with quotes of wisdom, and an interactive sign from the last Karma Kitchen in Berkeley gets filled with more hand-written post-it answers to its question, “We come to this world empty-handed and we leave empty-handed. So, then, how do you want to spend the time in between?”
As we finish cleaning up and turn off the lights to the empty hall, Joan remarks, “It’s like we were never here.”
And as we walk out into the open night sky, I’m reminded of a poem she had shared with us the previous day:
Empty handed I entered the world
Barefoot I leave it.
Two simple happenings that got entangled.
What a beautiful sequence of happenings to get "entangled" in these last couple of days. :)