I’m sure folks have been wondering what is going on with us since we currently can’t meet on a regular basis. And also – how did we end up with no practice space anyway? Here’s a brief run-down on what happened, where we are now, and what the future may hold for us.
When this website was established in spring 2013, things were looking great for MZC:
- We had a regular meeting space at One Community Center.
- Several core attendees, occasional visitors, and frequent newcomers came to our weekly zazen practice.
- We had held a day-long workshop led by a practice leader from Nashville Zen Center.
- One of our members went with me to a weekend sesshin (meditation-intensive retreat) with the larger sangha in Nashville.
- The Commercial Appeal had done a story on us.
- We established a bank account to hold donations.
- I conducted a class “What is Zen?” at Rhodes College, and several enthusiastic folks joined in, looking for further group practice opportunities after the class ended.
- We were even on our way to thinking about things like establishing non-profit status.
In other words, we had made an excellent start as an organization, and it looked like – at that time, in particular – things were really coming together. The stars had aligned, if you will. Then, as sometimes happens in life, “the best laid plans of mice and men gang oft a’gley” – the bottom dropped out for us, the proverbial carpet was pulled out from under our feet. Namely, we lost our practice space, and with it, all the headway we had made in putting down roots as a group.
This occurred due to the fate that sometimes befalls even the best intentioned organizations: insufficient donations. One Community Center was an ecumenical umbrella organization that had kindly hosted us and several other holistic and community groups since its establishment in 2011. OneCC had its offices and practice spaces in the back of the building owned by Republic Coffee. Sadly, the center became unable to sustain its financial commitment to its landlords. MZC had given half of any donations we received to OneCC, as did other groups in addition to donations by individuals, but the level of generosity shown by practitioners did not meet the center’s needs. Memphis Zen Community found itself suddenly homeless. Yes, zazen and the Dharma should be free to everyone, but we still live in the world, and rent is definitely not free.
We moved on along with OneCC to its next digs, a promising location in the upper floor of a yoga/Pilates studio. Unfortunately, the center suffered the same fate as before, only much more quickly. OneCC and all the groups it hosted had to clear out within a month of moving into the new space. Once again, MZC was homeless.
Last summer, the owner of a new yoga studio approached me about teaching zazen there. The practice space was beautiful, but there was a catch: Zen would be offered just like any other class there, and practitioners would pay the same drop-in or subscription fee in order to attend zazen. Obviously, charging money for instruction in Zen is inconsistent with our tradition, and I never felt okay about it, but I was willing to do so temporarily in order to keep the group alive. Unfortunately, the few months’ gap in our practice routine and the new, anti-Zen admission price led to a stark drop-off in attendance. In retrospect, I realize that was a natural consequence of this set-up, but we’ll just put this experiment in the “error” column and let it go. The owners at the studio agreed this relationship was not working, and we parted ways amicably in February, again leaving MZC homeless.
However, I have not given up hope and continue to search for suitable practice space. One thing I have learned in all of this is that both parties – the host and the group – have to approach the use of space as a committed, long-term relationship. Compatible goals and philosophies are important, but so are practical matters such as financial expectations. And as in any long-lasting, rooted relationship, this is not something one wants to dive into head-first. I have pursued several possibilities that have not panned out, but they clearly weren’t meant to be because our visions were not compatible.
As always, I have something else brewing: I am currently in talks with a Zen-friendly religious organization in the midtown/near-East Memphis area that may be able to host us. Stay tuned. I should know something in the next month or two.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of Zen practice opportunities open to us here in the midsouth. The Nashville Zen Center continues to host occasional one-day sits and weekend-long retreats. Our overarching sangha, the Silent Thunder Order, hosts various practice opportunities with affiliate centers and groups around the South, including our weekly Dharma discussion on Skype. I have recently established contact with Zen in Mississippi, a sangha from a lineage closely related to ours, and they host regular one-day sesshins as well. For those interested in more sustained immersion in zazen, the STO will host its annual Precepts Sesshin, July 9-13, at our home temple, the Atlanta Soto Zen Center.