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the ZEN Aluminati DC Update August 5, 2005 

On Ananda and the need to enclose the work I do within an Alumni Group outside of the SFZC.

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Whom are we thinking about? 
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OUR MOTTO: Remembering friends, visiting the old, the sick, those in need and in time of trouble - even when we don't feel like it - at least now and then.

Click thumbnail to enlarge (photo by Diane Dalenberg)

Ananda was in Davies hospital on Castro and Dubois recently to get an abscess removed. This is the second time he's had to do that. He had this great air bed with constant wave action so he won't get bed sores which is what this abscess was. I read to him there - it was last Friday. We're on the second half of the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. An orderly came in and, possibly making sure that I wasn't a disorderly, asked if I was related. He was testing blood and doing some private stuff. I said I was a dharma brother. He looked at me unsure. He asked Ananda if it was okay for me to stay while he performed his tasks. Ananda nodded. "A dharma brother..." I started to explain, but the orderly cut me off. "I know, I've read the Dharma Bums," he said. "Oh, then you'd probably find it interesting to know that you're working with one of the characters from that book," I said. "Wow," he said and smiled.

Earlier in the day I met with Frank Ostaseski in Sausalito at his Alaya Institute office. Frank was the founding director of the SF Zen Hospice and I was on the ZC board that hired him so I've known him just a tiny bit since then, '86 I think it was - and known enough about the job he's done to admire him a great deal. I talked to him about the Zen Aluminati (only using that name once cause it's a little too silly to keep saying) and about other stuff I'm doing. We talked for two an a half hours and he was most encouraging and helpful. He suggested that I get six volunteers to commit to seeing people, mainly Ananda at this point, twice a month or something like that.

Frank cautioned me not to get involved in more than just visiting - there are many issues medical, legal, financial etc. that will arise that would be too much to get involved with.  His suggestions were a great relief because what he described is exactly what I want to do. He said that there's not much for us to know but there are some guidelines for visitors and that he'd be glad to get together with us and advise us. He also suggested I call his mentor in the hospice work, my old friend Martha deBarros (formerly Freebairn-Smith). I did that and she was enthusiastic and offered more than advice - she wants to be one of the volunteers. Great. But not till after her - I forget what it's called - lay transmission with Norman Fischer  on August 28th.

I'm learning that there are a number of organizations that do this sort of visiting. There are Elder Friends and Friendly Visitors programs going all over. Vera Dalenberg has actually been involved with this kind of social work herself and she gave me the name of a friend who runs a program called Little Brothers (I think) in the Tenderloin in SF (a partially down-and-out neighborhood next to the center of downtown).

So I'm going to continue visiting the people I visit, reading, calling up others, talking to people at ZC about it, and seeing if we can get a few more folks to be volunteers. And periodically I'll put up little reports here.

Incidentally, there's no way to strictly stick to just visiting. I have been involved in financial discussions and can see that it would be good to at least be able to suggest whom to go to for advice. I'm involved with trying to get the wireless card on a laptop he can use to work. I can see quite a future in connectivity and the bedridden, but I think in terms of finding other people to be resources to help with these things - not becoming an expert myself.

Frank did suggest incorporating one task other than just visiting and that was going to hospitals with people to be their advocate. He said that hospitals can be dangerous places without someone to look after you.

What this is all leading to though as I see it is the founding of an alumni organization outside of the SFZC - they already have their hands full and their pockets empty and the ZC board and officers and priests and abbots and elders set the priorities for Zen Center. It wouldn't have to be THE alumni group but it could be AN alumni group.

What could it be called? The Zen Aluminati is too silly. The Zen Alumbrella? I guess that's too silly too. But look - Zen Alumni and the other two all are abbreviated with Z.A. and za in old Japanese means "to sit" like in zazen. Maybe it could be the Z.A., pronounced zee-a (a as in hay). Oh well, no hurry.

The Z.A. would have other functions of course - like collecting oral history and odds and ends - like keeping an eye on the sale of the Horse Pasture or keeping people in touch in many ways - in other words a lot of the stuff I'm doing.