Monday, July 1, 2013

Kindhearted Companionship

by Anja Tanhane

Charlotte Joko Beck
I’m in an unusual position for a Buddhist, as I belong to Ordinary Mind Zen, a Buddhist school founded by a woman, Charlotte Joko Beck, in 1995. This means that even though my teacher, Geoff Dawson, is a man, his teacher was a woman. One of Joko Beck’s innovations in Zen was to emphasize the importance of working with everyday emotions, rather than trying to escape them. It’s no coincidence that several of her dharma heirs, including Geoff Dawson, are practicing psychologists/psychiatrists.

We learn in our guts, not just in our brain, that a life of joy is not in seeking happiness, but in experiencing and simply being the circumstances of our life as they are, not in fulfilling personal wants, but in fulfilling the needs of life.  Charlotte Joko Beck

Earlier in my life, I had another opportunity to step outside traditional gender roles. I was living in Germany, and had received first communion in the Catholic Church, when I was invited by the priest to be an altar girl. This was very new in the Catholic Church, and still hasn’t become the norm. Yet here I was, in the late seventies, a young girl standing on the altar, being an active participant in the ceremony, not merely an onlooker.

Ordinary Mind is the Way, Kobori Takugan (1931)

I often work with men, either in the Zen group, or co-facilitating mindfulness groups and retreats, and enjoy the energy they bring to the practice. I don’t have a sense of having to carve out a female space among male dominance. Sometimes the men I work with are more experienced; other times I take on a leadership role. There’s a great deal of mutual respect in the groups I’m involved in, and whether someone is male or female doesn’t seem to matter much. I would find it difficult to belong to a religion which tried to limit my role simply because I’m a woman, but I’m aware that for many women around the world, this is unfortunately the case.

To me, there is a tenderness at the heart of Buddhist teachings which doesn’t fit with a view of women being less capable Buddhists practitioners. This tenderness comes out of a deep understanding of the vulnerability we all have in common—anicca, anatta, and dukkha. We share virtually everything about being human with men. The five recollections, for example, apply exactly the same to men as to women:
  1. I am of the nature to age; I have not gone beyond ageing.
  2. I am of the nature to experience illness; I have not gone beyond illness.
  3. I am of the nature to die; I have not gone beyond death.
  4. All that is mine, beloved and pleasing, shall one day be parted from me, shall one day vanish.
  5. I am the owner of my actions
         Heir to my actions
         Born of my actions
         Related to my actions
         Abide supported by my actions.
         Whatever action I shall do, of that action I shall be the heir.
         [AN 5.57: Upajjhatthana Sutta]

In my work, I see uniqueness more than male or female. As a musician, music therapist, and mindfulness teacher, I’ve known many men who can express themselves with tenderness and warmth. I feel very fortunate that some of my best working relationships and friendships have been with men. It brings out the best in us, I believe, when men and women can work well together.

Not all the men have been Buddhists. I’ve been working for some years now with the Christian chaplain at work, running breakfast gatherings for staff where we practice mindfulness meditation and discuss a wide range of issues. As it is a workplace, the group is not overtly spiritual. But because both the chaplain and I have been committed to our own religious practices for many years, the group has developed a spiritual depth, as well as being accepting of a wide range of spiritual experiences in those who participate.

It is worthwhile for us women to seek out the companionship of men who respect us, who are strong enough within themselves to not seek to diminish us. These men could be within our religious tradition or from other faiths. When we find them, our hearts lighten, and we know we are valued in a kindhearted companionship.

Serenely wade the stream and become one
with the sound of flowing water;
leisurely gaze and track the flight
of soaring birds.

Anja Tanhane: Music Therapist, MBSR Teacher, and Tai Chi Instructor

Anja Tanhane has been a long-term student of Geoff Dawson in Ordinary Mind Zen Melbourne. She is a registered music therapist, qualified Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) teacher, and Tai Chi instructor. She has also completed the two-year post-graduate professional training in Buddhism and psychotherapy with the Australian Association of Buddhist Counsellors and Psychotherapists. A meditation and Tai Chi practitioner for over twenty years, she has provided workplace training in mindfulness to a wide range of community health and service providers, hospitals, and public service case managers. She has also offered rejuvenation days, incorporating mindfulness and self-care for community leaders and volunteers in bushfire-affected areas, as well as teaching mindfulness to carer groups and people with a disability. She has been interviewed on mindfulness for the Australian Women’s Weekly website, and has given presentations about mindfulness including for AMTA and at the "Meditation Matters" day at the University of Melbourne. She has published an article about her Zen practice in Prajna magazine, and writes a weekly blog on mindfulness for her website, www.mindfulnessmeditation.net.au.

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