We were hooked on the charter school project. It took three years (eventually we did get theplanning grant), and we eventually got our first charter. We opened our first school in 2009 with 75 students in incubation space provided by New York City. We now have three schools with almost 1000 students, one more in the planning process and additional schools on the horizon. Each school welcomes and fully integrates students living with emotional challenges. Thirty-five percent of our studen
ts have been classified for special education. They are all graduating prepared to go to college. We could feel the palpable enthusiasm of the universe for the project from the start, and at each point of challenge and need, at each crisis, the Universe has provided.
In the first Harry Potter movie, Harry is told that the wizard does not choose the wand, the wand chooses the wizard. That is the truth of my experience. The peacemaker doesn’t choose the path to healing; the path chooses the peacemaker. The challenge for all of us is to hear the voices of the universe, and to listen. Zen practice, as we shut up and sit still, prepares us to hear and allows us space to listen. The courage to act, to step into the opportunity opened by the universe, still remains a mystery to me.
Perhaps sitting is enough. Just sitting, practicing long enough may allow us to put away the conditionings which stand in the way of acting with courage. I do not know. Bernie added something to Zen practice. In developing the plunge, which he took from Saul Alinsky’s training programs and developed into Bearing Witness Retreats, he added an ingredient, Street Retreats and the Auschwitz Retreat, which was for me the development catalysts which laid the foundation for the early retirement plunge. On the street with nothing in my pockets ,after years of worrying about losing my wallet; the exhilaration of liberation. In the barracks of Birkenau, with sawdust floor like an old time butcher shop, for sweeping up the blood from the horrific experimental surgeries conducted on pregnant prisoners, the curved pre-stressed concrete fence posts gathering snow, the barbwire long gone, the horror and the shockingly beautiful. One could feel the gathering of so many souls. Noting the birds. The birds had returned to Auschwitz now that the grass had returned.
Looking back on my path, what is striking is that throughout my life doors have opened. And, doors continue to open. The blessing in my life is that I have had the luck or good fortune or karma to walk through them. So many people do not even see the doors, and do not notice the openings. With Zen practice, through meditation (I think 30 minutes a day is enough for most people) over a period of years, people do begin to notice the doors, see them open, even to peer through the doors.
But then they choose not to walk through. I do not know why. Fear, I suppose. It is always scary.
What I know is that it took me ten years of Zen practice with Bernie and Jishu to get to that place where I really realized what I was looking for, even if I still couldn’t see it. And I had already come a long way when I got to Bernie. The doors continue to open as they have always done. And even before I found Zen practice, I had had the courage to walk through the doors. Great good fortune. And now I am aware of the doors as they open. Fear arises. Ah, Fear. So familiar. And to plunge forward nevertheless. Great good fortune.
How to find your passion, the pathway of practice through which you heal yourself and others simultaneously, contributing to the healing of the world. – I don’t know your answer. But I don’t think it is something that you figure out. Your passion will find you, is opening doors. Walk through.