Thoughts of Wonder

Written by current resident and visionary of Ensō Village, Susan O’Connell

Zen Teacher, Arlene Leuck & SFZC guest
Zen Teacher, Arlene Leuck & SFZC guest

On December 31st Ensō Village held a ceremony for opening and blessing the meditation hall, or Zendo. The process of creating the ceremony was a reflection of where we are in these early days of establishing the ethos or the “animating principle” of the community. The team in charge of the program and the production of the event included those who are newly responsible for the spiritual life of the community, including Head of Spirituality, Malika Bouhdili and Spiritual Coordinator, Nancy Petrin, and a few of us “old timers” who are now residents who have had a lot of ritual experience.

How much Zen ritual would we include? How would the voices of everyone be part of the event? How “dressed up” should the officiating priest be? Should she perform the “water purification” part of the ceremony? Is there such a thing as “too much Zen”? Can we include a song that celebrated the fact that it was New Year’s Eve? Can we meet everyone where they are on the continuum of comfort with ritual?

The best parts of the rehearsal for me were the interactions and the attempt to include each team member’s offering of “good ideas”. And, the apology emails the day after the rehearsal – where I had the chance to acknowledge how attached I am to certain practices being laid down as “foundational”. I can’t imagine how irritating it must be to have someone like me, whose carried this vision for over a dozen years, be a resident!

Inside the Zendo during the Opening Ceremony
Inside the Zendo during the Opening Ceremony

The ceremony itself was amazing. The meditation hall was packed with almost everyone who is part of the pioneer group that has moved in during our “soft opening” phase – plus many of the staff who came on their day off. I got feedback that it seems as if we found the right balance between ritual and free form, joyful participation. And when it came time for inviting people to make a short statement about their intentions for the space, the offerings were from a true and simple place of the wishes for peace and compassion, and the building of authentic community life.

As I listened to those statement from the community, I had the thought: “Who are these people?!”. I had imagined that this idea of Zen-inspired living would be attractive to people from my generation, but I did not imagine the depths of kindness, the spirit of collaboration, the hopeful words, from each and every one.

One person said to me the other day:

I had unrealistic expectations about moving here – and they have all been met!

Now, my expectations have been shattered and in their place is a sense of awe and wonder.

About Enso Village

Ensō Village is a Life Plan Community in Healdsburg, CA, with a focus on mindful aging, the joys of nature, environmental stewardship, contemplative care and healthy life choices for adults 60+. It’s a collaboration between the San Francisco Zen Center and The Kendal Corporation.