Monday, April 20, 2015

Earth, my dearest, I will.
Oh believe me, you no longer need your springtimes to win me over — one of them, ah, even one, is already too much for my blood. Unspeakably, I have belonged to you, from the first.

— Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Reclaiming the Fallow of the Year

adjective: fallow
(of farmland) plowed and harrowed but left unsown for a period in order to restore its fertility as part of a crop rotation or to avoid surplus production. 
uncultivated, unplowed, untilled, unplanted, unsown, unused, dormant, resting, empty, bare.

In our northern climes, before the advent of artificial sources of light, the months of winter were a long dark time. Nature too, took her rest and for our farming ancestors, there wasn’t much to do on the land. Long nights and cold days meant folks got a break from the busyness of life and entered into a more timeless time, where the stillness without, encouraged a slowing down, uncovering a stillness within. It’s the place before the formation of ideas; before an opinion or comparison arises. It's the origin of intuition, inspiration, improvisation, and creativity.

What did our ancestors do during the long winter months? Told stories, stoked the fire, made love, slept, painted, played music, cooked something hearty, and bundled up and took walks.

Modernly, the lights are always on, figuratively and literally. Some agree that we have lost something important to our well-being when we convert all of our time to the activities of the light.

Practices for the Dark of the Year

Slowing down.
Doing a single task with all of your attention gives you a needed break from the jar of constant distraction. Doing a thing, wholly, brings its own kind of joy and you can learn to rest again in the gentle peace of everyday things. When you’re sitting with a friend, give them your full attention. If you are walking, just walk. If you are sautéing onions, notice their color and smell as they cook, the rhythm of the spoon in your hand.

Give yourself time to do nothing.
This winter sit in candlelight, stare into a fire, go outside and watch the moon and stars, listen to the rain falling, sit by the ocean and watch the waves roll in and out, sit on a bench and watch birds and passersby, sit by a lake or a river and notice the insects and trees.

Put down your electronic devices.
Of course. Of course! A couple hours before bedtime, or for a period of time early in the morning as you are waking, put away your devices and the sounds they make to alert you of emails and phone calls.

Sweet sleep restores our bodies and allows the mind to rest, to dream, to let the intelligence of all things find its way into our consciousness.
Anywhere. A short nip out, or a long walkabout, it’s what our bodies are meant to do. It reminds us of the true pace of life and shows us the aliveness of the world.

Make Love.
No explanation necessary, right?
Be quiet and listen. Notice when judgments and opinions arise, when you are comparing yourself to others or complaining about unimportant things. Then, just return to the place where you are standing and keep listening.

Cook simple meals and share them together.
Find a local farm, bakery or supplier and and gather some things that look good to you. Learn to cook a few seasonal meals that you will enjoy making. The simpler, the better.

Notice what has already been given to you.

You are given this life as a human being, each of your senses, this fine body, the moon and the stars, the green leaf and watery sea, and each other.

You may notice that I didn't mention meditation once. That's because when we pay attention, all of these things are meditation.

May you truly enjoy the blessings of this season,

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Our home here in the northern hemisphere is tilting away from the sun, the early morning and evening light is taking on a honeyed tinge, and we can sense that the long summer is ending.
It's becoming the time of equinox, of equal days and nights. We come together to sit in silence to witness this turning and acknowledge the changes that are happening even as we speak. Though we'll have many days of Indian Summer yet to come, the changing light tells us it's time to begin to gather in, to assess what has been given, to offer gratitude. Please join us in this gathering as we sit together on Monday Nights.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Almost Spring Japanese Brush Calligraphy Practice 

with Brian Fuke Howlett 

March 22, 2014          10:00am-1:00pm 

Held at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation 547 Mendocino Ave. Santa Rosa, CA
Cost: $45 Materials Provided
Registration: Gary Brandt
This event will be limited to 20 persons.
Payment upon registration is appreciated.

Upcoming 2014 Half-Day Retreats
March 22  Almost Spring Calligraphy Practice
April 19   Spring Equinox
June 21    Summer Solstice
Sept. 20   Autumn Equinox

Dec. 6     Full Day Buddha's Enlightenment Retreat

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Dead of Winter Half-Day Zen Retreat

February 8, 2014

During the winter we naturally seek time for quiet reflection. We invite you to join us for a morning of sitting and walking meditation.

6:40    Set up and Arrival
6:45    Optional Meditation Instruction
7:00    Welcome and Working with Koans
7:20    Meditation (25 min each) interspersed with Walking Meditation (5 min each). Sosan is available for those who wish to meet with a teacher.
10:00  Break
10:10  Tea, Snack, Dharma Talk & Discussion
   Continued sitting/walking 
12:00  Close
12:15  Walk to lunch at Sizzling Tandoor

COST: $40.0
Invite a friend to come for an intro to Zen practice (free) 
Meditation instruction offered at 6:45am
Please pay at the door with check or cash. No one turned away for lack of funds. 
BRING: Zafu and zabuton. Chairs provided.

PLACE: Unitarian Universalist Congregation 547 Mendocino Avenue, Santa Rosa, CA

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Santa Rosa Monday Evening Program Autumn 2013 through January 2014

The evening begins with two 25 minute silent meditation periods interspersed with a period of walking meditation; sutra service, tea, dharma talk, dedication and discussion follow. 
Time: 6:50pm to 9:00pm
Place: Unitarian Universalist Congregation 547 Mendocino Ave. Santa Rosa, CA. 
Bring: Your own cushion and mat or meditation bench. Chairs provided.
Suggested Donation: $10.
If you are new to CityZen: Please arrive 15 minutes ahead of the 7:00pm opening bell to receive orientation on zendo protocols.
For questions or to receive more information about CityZen: Please contact our Head of Practice, Michelle Brandt, at


Oct 7   CORE ZEN Rev. Christopher Bell, Chant Leader
Oct 14 Rachel Mansfield-Howlett, Roshi
Oct 21 Michelle Brandt, Head of Practice
Oct 28 SAVE A GHOST – REMEMBERING THE ANCESTORS Rachel Mansfield-Howlett, Roshi  (Hot cider and pumpkin pie will be served)
Nov 4  Rachel Mansfield-Howlett, Roshi

Nov 8-13 AUTUMN SESSHIN at St. Dorothy's Rest, Camp Meeker, CA. 
  • Seats for the EVENING SITTING AND FIRESIDE DHARMA TALK with Rachel Mansfield-Howlett, Roshi Sat. through Tues. are available. (6:50 to 7:20pm meditation and arrival; 7:30-8:30pm Dharma talk.) Cost: dana donation for teacher is appreciated; no reservation needed.
  • Seats for the MORNING SITTING AND DHARMA TALK on Monday (Megan Rundel) and Tuesday (Michelle Brandt) are available. (8:50am meditation, sutra service, and arrival; 10:00 to 11:00am dharma talk) Cost: dana donation for speaker is appreciated; no reservation needed.
  • JAPANESE BRUSH CALLIGRAPHY SESSIONS with Brian Howlett, sensei on Monday and Tuesday afternoons. (1:50 to 2:20pm meditation and arrival; 2:30 to 3:30pm calligraphy) Cost: $50. Pre-registration required.
  • REFUGE CEREMONY (Sunday afternoon, 1:50 to 2:30pm meditation and arrival; Refuge Ceremony 2:30 to 3:30pm; Refuge Reception 3:30 to 4:30pm. Cost: no charge, reservation required.
  • FULL TIME RESIDENTIAL retreat spaces are full.
  • For reservations, please CONTACT: Gary Brandt at
Nov 18  Rachel Mansfield-Howlett, Roshi
Nov 25  CORE ZEN – Deanna Hopper, Dharma Hall Practice Member
Dec 2    Michelle Brandt, Head of Practice
Dec 9    ON BUDDHA'S AWAKENING – STORY OF THE BUDDHA FROM BIRTH TO AWAKENING – Rachel Mansfield-Howlett Roshi (Lemon ginger cake and our house tea will be served.)
Dec 16  CORE ZEN – Rev. Christopher Bell, Chant Leader
Dec 23   CLOSED
Dec 30  108 BELLS – Michelle Brandt, Head of Practice – We'll take turns ringing in 108 bells for the New Year (Sparkling cider and Italian wedding cookies will be served.)

Dec 31 AFTERNOON OPEN HOUSE and OPEN STUDIO at the home of Mansfield-Howlett in Santa Rosa 1:00pm to 5:00pm (RSVP to receive directions.) Activities: make your own Winter Weathergram to take home. (pictured left)

Jan 6    CORE ZEN Deanna Hopper, Dharma Hall Practice Member
Jan 13  Rachel Mansfield-Howlett, Roshi
Jan 20  Michelle Brandt, Head of Practice
Jan 27  Rachel Mansfield-Howlett, Roshi

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Saturday Morning Half-Day Retreat with Rachel Mansfield-Howlett, Roshi

July 13, 2013 
Unitarian Universalist Congregation 547 Mendocino Avenue, Santa Rosa, CA
COST: $40.0

Part-time: Donation only, for those attending an hour or two.
Invite a friend to come (for free) for Introduction to Zen practicePlease pay at the door with check or cash. No one turned away for lack of funds. 

BRING: Zafu and zabuton. Chairs provided.


6:40am        Set up and arrival
7:00-7:30    Introduction to Meditation and Koans

7:30-9:30     4 sitting periods (25 min each) interspersed with walking meditation
9:30-10:30   Tea, snack, Dharma talk & discussion
10:30-10:40  Break
10:40-12:00  Continued sitting/walking 
12:00-12:15  Close
12:15-1:15    Walk to lunch at Sizzling Tandoor
Sanzen (meetings with teacher) will be offered during meditation periods.

Sitting together in this way is always a nice boost for our practice and the sangha as a whole. 

We hope you will join us.