Or we could just say that people crave community. This is something I have heard many times over the years here, and nowhere more so than in Young Urban Zen, which is celebrating its first birthday - well officially it was yesterday, but I didn't get to shape these thoughts in time.
From the start this group has exceeded our expectations, and it continues to do so, as I am sure you will know if you read this regularly (or else just click on the Young Urban Zen label, below right). Being involved in setting it up and getting it underway will rank as one of my proudest achievements at Zen Center, and it continues to be an inspiring and energising activity each week (Monday was not untypical, in that despite having felt horribly tired during the day, come the end of the meeting, I felt completely alive).
There are probably many reasons why the group has worked as well as it has. San Francisco is a magnet city, drawing in a lot of young people from elsewhere, who then sometimes struggle to find social activities that don't primarily involve work or drinking. Some people are interested in practice but have found Zen Center a little too formal or forbidding at first; others have practised in other places and are looking for a group in this city. Some have come because their friends recommend it; others are brought to us by Google. We are focused on practice, and start each meeting by sitting zazen, but we have branched out into so many other ways of being together: retreats at Green Gulch (another one coming next weekend); work period at Tassajara; games nights; book clubs and study groups; a women's group; birthday parties and a dessert party; hiking trips; outings to ball games, yoga classes and ecstatic dance ...
Most of all, I think people enjoy having the opportunity to thrive when they get to be a part of a mindful community where the intention is for non-judgmental and beneficial interactions. Of course not everybody takes to it: we have about two hundred people on our email list, which includes most of the people who have passed through at one time or other in the last year; our largest meeting has been around fifty-strong, but then we would have a hard time fitting more into our space. I hope everyone who has been to one or more meetings has found it a worthwhile thing to have done, and that their lives have been touched by it. Perhaps some regulars who read this might want to add a comment about what the group means to them - which we may get to discuss next Monday as well. I want to acknowledge and thank Tim, Simon and Peter for their leadership of the group as well.
Perhaps here I can haul in that old expression 'imitation is the sincerest form of flattery' - just recently Kosho came to talk to me about the group, and now Austin Zen Center is launching their own version (and I like the format of that page - maybe we can borrow that from them...), which is very gratifying to hear, and I hope their experience is as rich as ours.
I have posted a few pictures of group activities in the past, but this is the only picture I know of that shows a Monday night in the Conference Center, taken recently by a visiting Japanese monk just before the start of the meeting. It may be blurry, but it captures something of the energy of the room.