e/u: meditation. mindfulness. equanimity.


Chaplaincy and Raising a Mala

Before now, I haven’t talked about it much but chaplaincy has been on my mind for awhile. In 2012, my paternal grandmother passed away. She was the first person I ever saw actively dying.

In the process of losing my grandmother, a lot of decisions had to be made. Hard ones. She had Alzheimer’s and so was in no state to make decisions for herself. I mostly remember spending a lot of time in the hospital. A friend of mine was dating a hospice worker and while I don’t remember hospital hospice as much, I do remember that that friend’s girlfriend helped me from miles away. She talked me through a lot and I knew what she did was magic.

Since that time, I have looked at volunteering at hospice, at contemplative end of life care training, etc. I wanted something that put together both Buddhism and the lens it provides as well as the care and training needed to truly be present for those who are dealing with what my family went through. Contemplative care.

I looked for a long time at a training in New York, but it required residency there in order to make it happen. I have not been prepared to make that move, though I do love NYC a lot. I gave up the idea, to be honest.

Then I got cancer. I was nowhere near end of life. A couple surgeries have squared me away from any advancement in something caught so early. But there was still loss and grieving to do. I went on a retreat centered around talking about death, grief, and loss. I started to remember the idea of contemplative end of life care.

I said to more than one friend, “what if we had a center where people could have therapy, massage, acupuncture, yoga, meditation… and contemplative care? What if there was a place where a cancer patient (or anyone who needed it) could have all of these things working together under one roof? What if we could help make these terrible experiences people go through a little better?"

Click went the puzzle piece.

After several years of listening to and reading Roshi Joan Halifax, I found Upaya Zen Center (which she founded) and their chaplaincy program earlier this year. I immediately reached out, but I didn’t meet some of the requirements and I hadn’t been to New Mexico since I was a small child. It was suggested that I go on retreat there before applying. The chaplaincy coordinator would be at one in August.

Click went the puzzle piece.

I thought there was no way I could get to that retreat. It cost money and my working life has been a lot of up and down since last year. I had thought I’d be a licensed and working acupuncturist by this time last year, but I wasn’t. And I still am not. It has been a year of rebuilding myself and my body, so money has been hard.

But Upaya offered me a scholarship to go and friends helped me with to get there (in style, I might add).

Click went the puzzle piece.

On retreat, I fell in love with the New Mexico sky, Upaya, and also Zen practice. More importantly on retreat, I checked the boxes that the chaplaincy coordinator needed to see for my application to be sent in. I got to spend time with both she and another teacher involved in the program and I know there is much to learn from them.

All of this to say, I believe that chaplaincy is the next step. I want that center for people. I want to serve people in a variety of ways and chaplaincy feels like the complement to all the rest that I’ve been working on.

But I actually can’t do this alone. Between this year of recovery from cancer and a car accident that forced my partner and I to replace our one car, it is hard to come up with what’s necessary to secure my spot in the chaplaincy training, though I am working and doing what I can. I reached out to the coordinator and inquired about a scholarship, but there isn’t one for first year students.

Instead, she suggested I “raise a mala.” I first heard about this while reading Roshi Bernie Glassman’s book Bearing Witness (I highly recommend it). This is how the Zen Peacemaker’s describe the practice:

2,500 years ago, it was the practice of the lay congregation to support monks through donations of food and clothing. Shakyamuni Buddha led his monks each morning in the practice of begging for their daily food. Each day’s offering was received with thanks regardless of its nature or size. In this way the Buddha encouraged simplicity, the generosity of both giving and receiving, and undiscriminating appreciation.

We continue this begging practice by raising support for our work by assembling a mala, or beads that are strung together and worn like a necklace. Each bead represents a person who supports that member’s vision and work, and the entire mala represents the Member’s community of support.

This is a practice of giving and receiving. By asking for support from family, friends, and associates, we acknowledge that as individuals, we are limited in what we can do. We depend on the generosity of others.

Raising a mala is a practice for both the giver and the receiver. I don’t think I was raised to ask for help very easily, so I often don’t. But it means a lot when people help and it means a lot to open up and ask. We are connected and I hope through that connection, this work can benefit all.

So I hope you will help me. I am honored beyond words to create a mala with a bead for each one of you and to take that mala with me on my training, which will be two years of work and travel.

If you’d like to donate, I have set up a PayPal Money Pool, which has no fees (unlike GoFundMe) and should hopefully be easy for all: https://paypal.me/pools/c/8i0p9gPbai

There is no donation too small, all will receive a bead on the mala, all is appreciated. If you feel like sharing this, I hope you will. If you don’t wish to donate, I thank you even for taking the time to read this.

May all beings benefit.