As many of you know, in the summer of 2017, our friend Joe Zawielski was found to have a brain tumor. The Shintaido community wrapped itself around him, sending messages, positive energy, and love from all over world. After surgery and treatment, he began his recovery.
That fall, Joe came to a Shintaido Northeast event in Worcester. It was the first time I had seen him since his treatment, and it was very hard for me to see the change in this once vibrant man with seemingly boundless energy. During lunch, he said that he wanted to do the Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC), the bike ride that raises money for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI), where he had received his care. At the time, his balance and stamina weren’t great, so I toyed with the idea of partnering with him, perhaps the two of us riding a tandem to complete the ride. I’d known Joe nearly 30 years and this was the least I could do to repay all those years of instruction and friendship.
Joe and Roger kumite
Unfortunately, the cancer returned, and his health declined rapidly. Many of us were lucky enough to attend Joe’s last keiko, which was a truly blessed event. On my last visit with Joe before he passed, I asked him if I could ride the PMC in his place. Though he wasn’t able to articulate his answer, Joe started to cry; his wife Deb assured me this meant “Yes!”
I’m riding this year in honor of Joe. I’m doing the one-day Sturbridge to Bourne route, a 108 mile ride. I haven’t attempted a journey of this length in nearly 20 years, but I’ll have the spirit of my friend and sensei whispering “Gambatte!” (Do your best!) in my ear as I ride. My fundraising goal is $4000. Last year the PMC raised $56 million for Dana-Farber; 100% of all rider-raised funds go to directly support DFCI and the Jimmy Fund, the charity which raises money for adult and pediatric cancer care and research at DFCI.
In 2006, Bela Breslau and Stephen Billias founded the Shintaido Farm, a center for the practice of Shintaido. Many, many Shintaido events were held there during its ten-year existence. In 2016, Bela and Stephen sold the Shintaido Farm. What has become of it since then? The Shintaido Farm is now known as the Windhorse Hill Retreat Center, housing the Engaged Mindfulness Institute. It is a thriving enterprise under the leadership of Fleet Maull, a student and Dharma Successor of the late Roshi Bernie Glassman of the Soto Zen Buddhist sect, and Kate Crisp, who lives at the farm and is the Executive Director of the Prison Mindfulness Institute.
The guest instructor list of the Engaged Mindfulness Institute reads like a who’s who of American Buddhism: Joan Halifax, Pema Chodron, Joseph Goldstein, Rick Hanson, Jack Kornfield, and Sharon Salzberg have all taught there.
Fleet and his business partner Kate Crisp have expanded the house in several interesting ways. They converted the two-car garage into an office. They extended the dojo entryway deck and added a bathroom off it. They finished the basement. They added sconces on the dojo walls, a very attractive lighting change.
The dojo, which Stephen kept empty as a sacred space for the time it was the Shintaido Farm, is now a multi-use space. The front east-facing part with the two big windows is a meditation room. A large statue of Jizo, the bodhisattva who is the protector of travelers and the unborn, stands in the northeast corner of the room, a gift from Roshi Glassman. A set of shoji screens divides the room. The back third of the dojo is now a meeting area with tables and chairs. The piano has been brought into the dojo from the living room.
We like to believe that the spirit of Shintaido still resonates in the space. A young organizer named James Frank told us that he occasionally sleeps in the dojo for the good feeling he gets from doing that. He said that many people have commented on what an ideal meditation space it is. The room still has glowing ash floors and bright yellow pine walls, now covered with many lovely Buddhist scrolls and paintings.
Windhorse Hill meeting area
If you visit the website, you’ll see many pictures of the place as it is used now, with students in meditation and meetings. Bela and Stephen are excited and gratified that the Shintaido Farm has become a lively and active place of spiritual development. All who participated in the Shintaido Farm experience contributed to the feeling that we created, and we can all be thankful and that good and important things continue to happen there.
Buddhist paintings and scrolls
On October 19th, 2019, from 2:00-4:00 p.m., Bela and Stephen are returning to the place on River Road for a book launch/book signing/book party to celebrate the publication of Stephen’s collection of short stories entitled A Book of Fields: Tales from the Pioneer Valley. A local band called The Green Sisters, made up of four real sisters who play and sing Appalachian folk and other musical styles with wonderful sisterly four-part harmonies, is going to provide music, taking advantage of the amazing acoustics in the dojo. See The Green Sisters Gigs web page. This is an opportunity for those who cherished the Shintaido Farm to pay a remembrance visit.
Joe Zawielski Joyful Gorei
Best of all, the Shintaido spirit that flourished in New England before the founding of the Shintaido Farm continues to burn brightly in the hearts of Shintaido Northeast (SNE) practitioners even after the Farm is gone. SNE is still dealing with the loss of its leader Joe Zawielski.
We have hundreds of pictures of Joe giving gorei in the dojo and on the fields of the Shintaido Farm. His teaching and his spirit imbued the Farm with some of its special magic. Gambatte all!
Life is a path. We come from Mu and we go back to Mu. Life is long, and our own lives are each a small part of life. Sometimes rain, sometimes wind, sometime life or death. Pretty simple, actually, it is what it is. Ikkyu
Joe and John. I’m sorry I missed a chance to talk to you just before your departures.
In these days, the more I practice Tenshingoso, the more I appreciate the end of the movement (Oooooo~Uuuuuu~Mmmmmm)!
When I was young, I was practicing this part of Tenshingoso according to the text/recommendation written by Aoki-sensei.
I enjoyed it, and I kept sharing my understanding with many people having the confidence of how much I know about the cycle of our life.
Now that I’m 76 years old, I understand that my grasp of this part of Tenshingoso has been rather superficial.
It is always difficult for me to watch those who helped me share Shintaido leave for the next stage of their life. I wish I could have had a face-to-face meeting and express my gratitude in person.
But, I am lucky that I can still communicate with you, through the following ways:
Through the sound of Oooooo, I believe that I can reach you who are now omnipresent in the universe!
Through the sound of Uuuuu~Mmmmm, I can feel you in my Hara, You are gone but I still have many memories of the goodness I have studied from you.
Through the sound of Mmmm~Aaaaa, I can ask you to appear!
I hope you will continue to share Shintaido, and want to ask you to become our “Guardians” in the sky!
Looking forward to talking to you in Ten in the near future!
I AM BEAUTIFUL. That was a sub theme of a gasshuku, which Bill Burtis reminded me was in California in 1990. I am a slow but steady learner. Why could I not say that to myself or feel it in anyway? This was beyond me; it took years of life and Shintaido practice to finally understand—even beyond understanding. I now feel the truth and realize the universal truth that comes with the realization that yes, I AM BEAUTIFUL. WE ALL ARE BEAUTIFUL. We are perfectly imperfect. And that is okay. This is part B of the story that helped me to a new awareness. Part A: The Joy of Love appeared in a previous Body Dialogue.
After my brain biopsy, I woke up in recovery. After lying in isolation with all the beeps and hospital noises filling my senses, praying and trying to just be and feel and experience whatever it was that I was supposed to experience, I was transported to a place that is so difficult to describe—perhaps a poet could describe it more clearly—but I will do my best to put into words something much larger and more beautiful and incredible. I was in a place of infinite space, there was a web that stretched out in all directions and in that web was a place that was mine. I was connected by the web to everything and everybody. When one part of the web vibrated, the whole web was affected. The stuff of the web was made up of Love. That is what connects us together. Nothing can happen to any part of the web without the entire web being affected. This was ALL SHOWN TO ME BY GOD (HIGHER POWER) THE UNIVERSAL ENERGY. For the purpose of this article I choose to refer to this presence as God. Anyway, God showed me this wonder of Heaven, the interconnectedness of everything and everybody.
I have to go back for a second here. Back in Worcester, before they sent me to Boston, I was privileged to have friends, both old, long-time ones and people and relatively new ones express to me their love and gratitude for my place in their lives. I heard things that most people only hear said of others at a funeral or gravesite. What a blessing.
So I am back with God in heaven. My life rolled in front of me and God asked what I thought. I considered and felt that I was content and pleased with my life so I told God that I could stay. I considered my life well spent. I could stay in that place of connection and love. God then showed me a vision: a V-plow with God in front of the V and me behind and in the opening of the V. God went on to explain that I was able to do okay with the little bit of His grace that managed to get over the V that was blocking me from His grace. What would could happen if I were able to open the closed end of the V and funnel the full grace into and through me? He had me then. I agreed to go back. He said that it would not be easy but I figured, what the heck, what is easy anyway. So I decided to return. Before I returned I asked: What is it that is holding the point of the V together? That is the bondage of SELF was the answer. It is all the lies you tell yourself about yourself. You are not enough. You are lacking here and there, you are giving away your power to a false self. Your true self, the God-given expression, that essence, is there inside of you waiting and wanting to BE, and God wants nothing more than for each and every one of us to live it. We just have to get out of the way.
Now when I open up to the heavens in Tenso, Ahh, my hands and fingers and heart/soul open and gratefully receive and funnel the Grace of God, nurturing my True self and truly connect with all that is. The Body is and can be the message of the Universe.
I do not mean to indicate that, in some way, I have arrived. I just have a newer awareness to help me move more (hopefully) gracefully through life. Through this whole process of restoration to health, I realize that, way back, I was guided to Shintaido to help me move and grow through all of my life’s situations. I did not realize what a reserve of energy, support and true feelings of connection I had being part of me. I was so blessed to have countless Tenshingosos, scores of Wakames, Hikaris, Eikos, and numerous, wonderful Kumites to tap into inside of myself. Thank you all for being part of my life. I AM BEAUTIFUL, YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL, WE ALL ARE BEAUTIFUL.