We found that we are changed by our year of practicing remotely. The task now is to shape our practice place and program to include this new reality, while returning to our warm-hand-to-warm-hand way. We have been wrestling with many questions: Is convenience an important priority? How much do we believe in person-to-person practice? How much do we accommodate people who are at a distance? We concluded that the tension is just there: deciding the heart of practice is our practice and the way we relate is our priority.
In one of our recent planning meetings, Hozan articulated a vision of practice at BZC that acknowledges our in-person practice as sound and necessary: the ground for being able to offer something more widely. Likewise, sangha members practicing in-person are inspired by having people attend from far away places, like India and Germany. Hozan writes:
Part of the vision I have, which is coming clear to me, is having a more open front and accessibility to BZC; understanding that we are connected to the larger community and to the world. In-person practice and being open are not in contradiction to one another: one is the ground for the other. We are not looking to be expansionist; we have never advertised in any Buddhist magazines and that’s fine. Rather, we are looking to be open.
Planning for reopening may be the most complex aspect of the pandemic experience to date. In addition to wrestling with our vision of practice under these new circumstances, there are the complexities of: working out the details of the schedule; establishing an Internet infrastructure that is stable and reliable without being overly expensive; upgrading our audio-visual equipment; assessing the ventilation needs of the zendo and the community room; working on adequate sanitary processes in the kitchen; and, working out what requirements we ask of those who attend in person. All of these are being addressed under the realities determined by Covid and its variants, the details of which change week by week.
The current plan, which has been discussed by both the Board and the Practice Committee, is that people physically on the grounds of BZC must be fully vaccinated. We will develop a means of verifying vaccination so that this need only happen once. We will add outdoor capacity for those who wish to distance, orwho don’t have a vaccination card to show when they arrive.
For the “soft” opening, now slated to start August 1, we will take out half of the zabutons from the zendo for distancing, and permit chanting with masks. Some sewing has resumed in the community room among those vaccinated.
Beyond this first stage, we will evaluate the ventilation capacity of our communal spaces, understanding that it is not only Covid, but fire season and other viruses that we need to think about. We have purchased a set of air-monitoring devices, which are now set up in the zendo and the community room to get a picture of the air quality under varying circumstances. The Buildings and Grounds Committee has been working on obtaining a mechanical engineer’s assessment of what the various solutions might be to both spaces. (This ad hoc committee consists of Rob Lyons, Hozan, Gerry Oliva, Ron Nestor, Ellen Webb, Laurie Senauke, Mary Beth Lamb, Ken Powelson, Cheryl Gordon, and Mary Duryee.)
The recent end-of-Practice-Period sesshin included an experiment in both in-person and Zoom practice. New and old residents, all of them fully vaccinated, sat in the zendo. The Shosan and closing ceremonies were also accomplished with both zendo and Zoom participants. This was quite successful and moving to everyone: for Zoom participants to see the zendo in use and for zendo participants to be supported by more than thirty people online, including our members from India and other remote locations. A lot of work on our Internet infrastructure preceded and enabled this experiment. (The ad hoc committee that worked on this consisted of Rob Lyons, Dean Bradley, Gary Artim, Laurie Senauke, Hozan, Charlie Wilson, Carol Paul, and Mary Duryee.)
We are taking a step-by-step approach, figuring out the next thing, gathering information and experience, which then becomes the guide to the next step. Meanwhile, we are feeling grateful that we have buildings to come home to, and the tremendous support of the sangha. Thank you to all who are working on this next chapter.