WENATCHEE — They sweep, set cushions on the floor, and place cups and napkins for tea and books used for chanting.
They set up an altar with candles, flowers and statues of the Buddha and Tara, a female Buddha.
After the teacups are filled and everyone drinks, the chanting begins. Later, a bell signals the beginning of quiet meditation; everyone remains silent and still until the bell rings again.
There’s a walk in the meditation garden and a story, followed by a dharma talk to bring home the message. The entire service lasts about an hour.
For Allyssa Arnold, this practice has changed everything from doing dishes to having conversations to going for a walk.
“It’s deepened every aspect of my life,” she said. “There’s not one thing that isn’t spiritual. ... There’s just so much more mindfulness in everything I do. A lot of my self-awareness has increased tenfold. I can’t even say how much that’s changed. There’s no endpoint. There’s not an endgame. It’s all taking it day by day. What is it to live — like, really live?”
Arnold’s now-fiancé, Matthew Morgan, introduced her to the Stone Blossom Sangha and she’s been practicing with the Buddhist group for about a year and a half.
Founded in 2002 for members of the Cascade Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, the sangha offers Zen — described above — and Tibetan practice groups. Sharon Petit teaches the former, and Karen Poverny leads the latter.
Services are held in the beige house next to the First United Methodist Church on South Miller Street in Wenatchee.
Arnold said she enjoyed both types of practices: the formality of Zen and the warmness of Tibetan. However, she said the simplistic, experiential nature of Zen particularly appeals to her.
She’s taken vows to help guide her mindset and choices. Although people may repeat the same words while taking vows, each individual makes those vows personal.
“Initially when we look at the vows, there’s things you’d find in many other religious practices — don’t kill, don’t lie, don’t steal,” she explained. “You can say, ‘I’ve got that,’ but we go a lot deeper and you look at all the subtleties of what that means. As we sit with our minds on the cushion and take it out into the world, we see how deep that vow actually is and how often we do fall short.”
For example, Petit said one vow is “do no harm.”
“That sounds a lot easier than it is,” she said, adding, “Karma’s simply cause and effect. A stray thought that is angry or judgmental can lead to you being unhappy, an action you can take that causes someone else to have certain reactions mentally and emotionally. ... In order to do no harm, you literally have to be present 100 percent of the time.”
Loving and caring for all others takes courage and doesn’t make one weak, she said.
Petit’s husband, Todd, is also in the Zen practice group.
Buddhism has been part of the couple’s relationship from the start. His father’s wedding gift to them in 1968 was a Buddha statue that remains on their altar at home.
Todd Petit said he’s come to accept that everything changes.
“Our sun dies, our stars always die, and the universe will die,” he said. “So, how do you think you can survive? We’re all going to die and being OK with that is part of your life’s work: understanding why you’re alive and why you’re going to die. You begin to get the idea that you should be as compassionate as you can possibly be during life and allow things that you probably wouldn’t if you were a self-righteous person.”
When you fail at that, you just pick up and move on, he said.
Morgan said he had studied Buddhism before, but personal struggles and feeling lost led him to the formal practice.
“We all have baggage — a lot of crap, you might even say — that we’ve accumulated through our life experiences which have either been traumatic or just incredibly challenging,” he said. “One of the things I’ve gotten out of the practice, which was really what I needed most, was a way of just sitting with everything I’ve been through and allowing that, little by little, to surface into my awareness so that I could process it. Up to that point, all that baggage had really been controlling my life rather than me controlling it.”
That’s not only given him a sense of freedom and empowerment, but also allowed him to live in a way that benefits others.
Arnold said her first Zen service was intimidating because she thought she was doing everything wrong. She encourages first-timers to stay open to learning without being too hard on themselves.
“Beyond the formal structure that felt harsh is just this glorious love and joy,” she said.