Nancy Petrin on Zen Influence, Teenage Dialogue and the Trick of Remembering


What is Zen for you? Why do you 'do' it?

I began Zen practice pretty full on right from the beginning. My husband was diagnosed with lung cancer and died 4 months later. I was 28 and living in Spain and had been there for seven years. I moved back to my hometown of SF knowing one thing. I wanted to work outside. I took classes at City College in ornamental horticulture, that led me to growing food, that led me to an apprenticeship at Green Gulch Farm. I went there for the farming and stayed for the Zen life. I lived there for nine years. As I said in the beginning, Zen life at Green Gulch is pretty full on. The daily schedule starts and ends with meditation and all day long the residents bring the intention to practice Zen teachings to whatever is in front of them. I still try to do this, meditate first thing and bring my intention to live an awake life to each thing that arises. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail. I try to be compassionate with myself in my failings as it makes me more human with others when they fail. 

How does Zen influence the responses, attitudes, and experience of your daily life?

The trick for me is remembering.  Remembering that I am playing out some kind of story line called the karmic forces which blindly push me through life.  It might go something like this: I'm way down the road of some story in my head, then Bing! awareness that this is going on. Then breathe, pause, opening. New beginning. For example, my daughter just got a smart phone. I hate the smart phone. It takes her away from her studies, her reading time which she used to covet, plunges her into mainstream mediocre teenage dialogue that I so carefully kept her from all her life - right, this is where I go in a flash. When I am not able to catch myself, and believe me many times I am not, I go into this story of the smart phone ruining my lovely daughter and all my hard work and become a martyr, a nag, a self righteous know-it-all.

When I am able to see myself in the situation and "shine the light inward," I can engage with her in a conversation, I can play with her and joke around, I can set clear boundaries and lay down the law in a non-triggered way. I guess that is Zen influence, knowing that with a pause, just one breath, I can turn it all in another direction. We really are truly amazing beings!

I would also say that Zen teachings and practice has helped me accept my life and stop wishing for another one.  That's pretty powerful and has been a wonderful gift.  I am not saying that I am no longer lonely, don't slip into fantasy, wish I earned more money, but I don't stay there very long,  usually. "Ok, this is where I am, do I want to do something about it...or not?"

What's the connection or overlap between Zen and baby dolphins?

Joy, playfulness, ease and readiness to ride the waves, just what I find with you, APQ.  And did I mention love. It all comes down to love.

Posted on September 30, 2014 .