Zazen, A Community in Daily Care


By Min Yoon, Zazen Manager, Consultant

Living in San Francisco as a secular transplant, I have many friends who I see once a month, once a week at max. I’ve yet to know what it’s like to have a community that knows how I’m doing, on a day to day basis. I love the city but wonder what it would be like to have neighbors and a community that know me. More so, it feels like a fantasy to imagine someone helping someone else on the streets of San Francisco, gridlocked in all our busyness, iPhones, and Ubers.

Then, still in San Francisco, I somehow fell into Zazen’s experiment of creating a collective work environment based on deep care. As a space for healing and growth, we’re trying new ways of relating to one another to cultivate deep listening and care for ourselves. We do this by creating a culture and community of support that holds space for individual healing and transformation through daily practices. These practices allow us to feel supported in doing the work of caring for others once they walk in through our doors. We hope that shifting ourselves and our relationship to mutual care will extend outward to our community of clients, interfaith community, and beyond.

One of our daily practices includes a daily meditation and check-in circle with our staff family. We hold this space three times a day to invite our staff to sit and come into presence, bring awareness to how we’re arriving, set an intention in relation to the whole, state how we may be supported in that intention, and at the end of the shift, reflect on our intentions.

While the form is simple, trying out the practice with intention day after day is what shifts how we decide to be present in vulnerability and act with care and support beyond the check-in meeting. As in any relationship, deep care takes time to get to know one another and build trust. This takes trust and the group’s genuine receptivity to ensure that what we share about our flaws, trials, and hardships will be met with care, without diminishing credibility or working relationships.

Before the trust has been built, there’s this grey gamble of the standstill. Building trust is one of those mysterious phenomenons that seems to be based on thin air. How I would describe what has happened at Zazen is that a hand was offered out in trust first, without knowing whether others will act in trust, as a group of people took a chance in trusting the collective. Then as new people join, they are asked to take a chance with us and see what happens.

Over time, we can have a different conversation when it feels like it’s okay to need support, to feel human, and to make mistakes. Over time, we develop a deeper level of attunement to individual needs and can shift how we can work better individually and together.

David Foster Wallace talks about the time and sacrifices that this takes, in This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life:

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.”

In our daily practice, we’ve created a space where we can reflect and support each other for healing and growth toward deeper transformations beyond individual healing. This allows for something like coming back to ourselves to be able to care for others... receptivity and understanding when something goes wrong during our shift, rather than reactivity and frustration... the openness to ask for support from the community rather than trying to just get through it... the space to grow into new roles as individuals and as a community... In doing this day after day, we create a community that can rely on one another and can do something together, that we couldn’t do alone.

More from our community:

“We are inspiring together.
We can’t be inspired totally alone. It's pretty overwhelming to feel like the only one who is having an experience, an inner conflict, or even a joy.
Disconnection this way I think keeps us bound to that repetitive forgetting; bound to patterning that eventually EXpires our spirit.
We get overwhelmed with solo pattern.
How can you learn anything if you are overwhelmed?
We’re having a different conversation here at Zazen than we might allow ourselves to have outside of this space. When that's allowed, it's remarkable!
Suddenly we get have the chance to gain insight, motivation and knowledge from sharing, and it grows the idea of a connection that is felt. It reveals a need for faith in community, not just ourselves.
It’s different. It’s not really the way that the world is set up, especially this western world. And I think that we all have a deep need to restore that faith in each other. In this tiny little spot, in this microcosm, we're able to recognize that it's not just hope, either.
It's recognition of what BELIEF  can be. Without religion, and what we used to do as a community, there’s a part of the collective that’s starving inside. I see us feed each other a little bit of soul food at a time here. I see us inspire a simple and radical ritual here, forming through us."
 - Darby Erin, Bodyworker

“It’s an opportunity to create space and to create a level of greater understanding of themselves. Every person has their own individual needs in seeing the whole person. Being able to reach out to our communities and create a sense of awareness about ourselves, deeper awareness and inquiry into that and helping to facilitate that, whether it’s in their beginning phases or to further that, at a deeper level. Being able to identify what that is, and offering these opportunities here to go deeper with themselves, or to stay themselves, or to not do the thing, to have the experience where they can be invited to go deeper into their journey.”
- Patricia Kim, Acupuncturist