Ever So Much More Human – Embodying Community at Kintsugi Sangha

Sangha community writer Christine Henson recently asked Shokan Erich Moraine Roshi about his beginning as a student of Zen, and he generously offered some insight about his path and the way it is currently manifesting in his work within the Kintsugi Sangha, located in Hartland, WI.

Kintsugi is a Japanese art form that focuses on enhancing the beauty of a broken object by applying gold to areas that have been repaired. When this concept is applied in human terms to the work of their sangha, the result is a group of people who support each other through life’s challenges and celebrate the opportunity to make broken parts whole with compassion and grace.

Shokan’s contemplation of the human experience began as a teenager, which for him was an unpleasant time in life, and caused him to be keenly preoccupied with what Krishnamurti considers ‘the ultimate question’– “Who Am I?”

In the quest for this truth, he explored many different philosophies and modalities, including T’ai chi, Esoteric Healing energy work, and training offered by the Mankind Project. His work continued with psychotherapy training informed by Internal Family Systems and The Developmental Model of psychotherapy. These studies helped him understand his ability to help others was dependent on his ability to see and work with his own ego distortions.

During the early 2000’s in Wisconsin, Shokan worked closely with Jun Po, Mehru, and Vimala in the early days of Hollow Bones, and learned that the study of Zen “wasn’t something I was going to outgrow.” His years of searching had revealed a spiritual practice that provided no limit to the depth of insight possible, as well as a completely unique way of engaging those deeply embedded ego distortions he witnessed in himself and in the world around him.

He recognized the possibilities of combining what was originally called Ego Deconstruction practice pioneered by Jun Po with the psychotherapy modalities he was studying to help people transform their suffering by supplementing traditional approaches to emotional koan training. In time, the Ego Deconstruction process has matured into the elegant Mondo Zen process.

After studying with teachers Jun Po and Mehru, who was head of the Stillpoint Zen Center in Random Lake, WI, Shokan was ordained as a Hollow Bones Priest. In those days, the expectation of all priests after ordination was to go out into the world and start a sangha.

Shokan had been a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church for decades and took the step of giving a sermon to the Universalist congregation on the topic of his ordination as a Zen priest. Interest was enthusiastic and soon evolved into a workshop where participants were facilitated through each of the Mondo Zen koans, one per week. Interest continued to build and further blossomed into what he called The Zen Studies Group (unaffiliated with the Zen Studies Society in New York.) After about a year of continued meeting every week with a core group of interested people, Shokan realized, “I think this has become a sangha!”

The group continued to evolve, practicing the Evening Service and considering topics that were important to them, with service and internal support within the group continuing to grow. At every step, Shokan’s concept of stewardship as a priest was to respond to the needs expressed by the group as they unfolded.

Now in its tenth year, the Kintsugi Sangha is firmly dedicated to organized, transparent leadership and a communal response that determines all content and actions taken on behalf of the sangha. It includes both members and non-members of the Lake Country Unitarian Universalist Church, where it currently meets.

In addition to community activities supporting fellowship, the sangha consistently focuses on being “ever so much more human” and authentically sharing the experiences and strength found within the collective group. Some sangha members come for a general mindfulness practice that benefits their bodies and minds. Others choose a deeper dive into an existential query and the exploration of spiritual life from a multi-faceted Zen perspective.

Most of all, the sangha offers “the experience of being in community at all times.” They offer an online discussion group via Google and meet in person and live via Zoom for services. This has proven to be helpful for those who live far away or simply cannot attend in person for various reasons. Because of the diverse offerings for connection, an important beacon of community is kept alive as the world around us becomes increasingly “tribalized and factionalized” as Shokan puts it.

The value of a safe space is deeply appreciated by all, and the core tenets of Zen’s open-mindedness and willingness to explore “alternative ideas” facilitates this flow, resulting in an important oasis of compassionate inquiry within this Wisconsin community.

Christine Henson is a volunteer writer and sangha member of Hollow Bones Zen.

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