Live a Life of Wonder – Vicara Satya Mary Connelly Roshi
by Shoan Victoria Montanez
“I saw a mouth!“ Vicara relays to me a story of her early practice days, when she volunteered to clean her guru’s teeth. She slowly, even intensely, shares that no one received permission to touch the guru, and yet, in her then-profession as a dental hygienist, she had volunteered to clean his teeth. Awe emerged from her cohorts; they wondered if she would see the “universe” while cleaning the guru’s teeth. In contrast, Vicara perceived reality; her experience, to use her own words, provided a Zen answer.
As I prepare for this conversation, Vicara’s passionate mission in life seizes my attention, through a vision she reifies in the following statement: “To live a life of openness, no matter what. To bring that energy to those whose lives I touch.” Inspired, I then begin our conversation by inquiring the mission’s meaning and application.
The yearning for silence has been long recurred for her, and the desire to fulfill that need drew her to meditation practice. Fulfillment would require dedication, but during med school, she discerned ways to practice even in more conservative parts of the country. “The reality is that, back then, there were no public offerings of Zen practice – but then I asked this professor who, rumor had it, had a ‘secret’ sitting practice”, she opined. “I knocked on his office door & asked if we could sit.”
I reflect then on the openness required to discern one’s own true identity, accept reality, refrain from throwing a pity party, and respond appropriately. “What does respond appropriately mean to you?” I ask. She reveals her truth: “knocking on the door of the universe and being willing to accept the consequences, many of which we don’t know.”
Hearing her response, I think about Campbell’s in The Power of Myth: “If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take.” None of us knows where we are going but it is important to take the next step. My ego screams at me in disagreement: “We know our path!”
Vicara expands “You, of course, want to be prepared as much as possible, but the truth is that most of us do not know where this path will take us.” Our meditation practice offers the clarity of mind to face bumps on the road- a capacity to deal with the unknown. Mondo is a very important way to practice opening, letting go and seeing the truth of what is. I bring this into my work with my staff and patients.”
After creating her own path, step after step, Vicara would then cofound the Charleston Soto Zen Center in South Carolina and underwent studies with Jun Po Roshi for several years starting in 1994. In 2015, she would receive Inka Dharma Transmission.
As we discussed these experiences, the answer to my initial question then emerges clearly: Vicara remains committed to perceiving and maintaining awareness of present reality and cultivating a non-judgmental non-preferential attitude about life. Things exist as they exist, and we must remind ourselves that such acceptance does not mean an absence of pain.
Vicara’s experience exhorts us: Be open and be who we are, whoever that may be. Let us not be afraid to love someone. Let us befriend death – for such will occur no matter what. Let us continue to allow our practice to support us while we step into the unknown, over and over. Let us be surprised. Let us live a life of wonder. Shall we?