Vancouver Prepares for 2011 Retreat
By Jeanie Seward-Magee in June 2011
Vancouver is preparing for a truly historic event—our beloved teacher, Thay, along with forty ordained Sangha members, is coming to give a public talk and lead a retreat in August 2011. We are so excited! Situated on the west coast of British Columbia (BC), Canada, Vancouver is one of the most beautiful cities on earth. We truly feel blessed to host this special event in a city surrounded by so much natural beauty—mountains, forests, and the sea.
Thay was last in BC in 1987, for a small retreat in White Rock. His teachings were from the Heart Sutra, and led to his wonderful book, The Heart of Understanding. At that retreat, there were only eighty-five attendees. Thay was able to connect with his students in a far more personal way than he can do today. At our retreat this August, we shall be hosting over 800 residential guests at the University of British Columbia, with 2,300 attending Thay’s public talk. He will definitely not be able to come around and correct our sitting postures, as he did in White Rock nearly twenty-five years ago!
The Mindfulness Practice Center
The Mindfulness Practice Center (MPC) of Vancouver was set up in 1998, after my husband John and I returned from the twenty-one-day retreat in Vermont. Thay asked attendees to go home and set up non-Buddhist MPCs. Vancouver’s was the second in the world, after Pritham Singh’s and Anne Johnson’s lovely center in Vermont.
Over the years, MPC has changed from a fairly structured, welcoming space in a nice residential area of the city to a casual, friendly drop-in group in the heart of our downtown East Side. This area is one of the poorest postal districts in the whole of North America. It’s where a large number of homeless folk live, many of whom are drug users and prostitutes. Because there appears to be such helplessness on the streets, it can be a frightening location for some people.
A number of Sangha members who used to come to our first, more suburban location, now no longer come, mainly because of their fears of perceived dangers of the new area. However Thay teaches us that 80% of our perceptions are incorrect! Personally, I do not have a problem with our new location, as homeless folk give me no reason to be scared. Often they ask for money, possibly wanting to purchase their next pack of cigarettes or a bottle from the booze shop. I never give cash, always offering instead to go and buy a coffee with a sandwich.
Having the Sangha meet in this area makes me much more grateful for all the gifts I have in my life: a solid, supporting family, a roof over my head, and food on my table. It helps reinforce one of my daily practices of gratitude, the first always being: “Today I am grateful for my life and breath.” Without these two gifts I could no longer be grateful for everything else in my life.
Growing Our Practice
A very deep practice also comes with our preparation for the upcoming retreat, which requires a lot of hard work from a number of very generous and kind volunteers. When I was a very new Order of Interbeing member, a wonderful senior practitioner told me how family was her hardest practice. Well, my practice and our committee’s practice have been stretched, sometimes to the limit, as old habit energies come up—unfortunately the ones we don’t admire in ourselves. My volunteer family is stretching my practice and helping it grow on a daily basis. I have to thank all of my dear volunteers for this; they are indeed the flowers in my garden, helping me to pull out the weeds in my mind.
This process has been greatly helped by the kind leadership of several of Thay’s senior monastics. The main direction for our mindful decision-making has come from our liaisons with some amazing monks and nuns in Deer Park. We could never have done any of this work without their tremendous loving kindness! We have also received great joy and nourishment from the volunteers within our larger Northwest Pacific Sangha, and I give them a deep bow of gratitude.