By David Ochoa
Walking into the Sweetwater Zen Center (SWZC) one immediately feels a separation between the building and the road just 20 feet away. A single row of buildings that house residents of the center. For the last six years, 11th and 12th grade English teacher, Sean Meisner, has lived at the Zen Center with his family of four.
“We lived in a typical three-bedroom house. The owners of the place we were [first] renting decided to sell it and we needed some place to go. I was in a hurry and we had to be out of the other place so we decided to go to the zen center, thinking that it would be short-term. At the same time [my wife and I] wanted to try community living, so we decided to try it,” Meisner said.
Being first introduced to the center by a friend of Meisner’s, Alan Mobley, who is also a teacher who stayed at the Zen Center, Meisner originally moved as a temporary living arrangement until he could find new housing. According to Meisner, many of his personal beliefs are in line with the center’s dominant practices, making it easy to adjust to life there. Meisner practices a sect of Buddhism that is practiced by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk.
“We are more aligned with Thich Nhat Hahn, but we also follow aspects of Zen Buddhism. Something that they practice is non-violent communication, where you express to others how you feel and how others have made you feel. I think it’s a combination of those types of values,” Meisner said.
At the center, one of the prominent values practiced is community living. Helping one another, as well as working around the center to ensure everything is organized, is a part of several requirements to stay at the center. Since his arrival, Meisner has seen changes in how he and his neighbors interact with one another, as opposed to when he lived in a suburban household.
“I’ve noticed Sean talk more since I first met him. He already had a warm and welcoming personality. I think moving into SWZC gave him a chance to really show that to everyone here,” Buddhist priest and SWZC steward Richard Cummings said.
Despite getting closer to many of his neighbors, Meisner and his family still live separated from the rest of the residents of the center. Each residence is separated from the other and are able to function on their own.
“Some people think, ‘you live in a commune, [so] you all eat dinner together,’ but it’s not that way. All of the residences have their own kitchen; sometimes we have potlucks when we come together but for the most part everybody’s on their own. The differences are that you become closer to your neighbors. Most people who live there are [somewhat] like-minded. I think that you have the ability to communicate with those people [who have] similar ideas and topics that you are interested in,” Meisner said.
Meisner, as well as other members of the center like Mobley, say they try to bring what they learn at the center into their everyday lives. The lessons they learn at the center are applicable to issues outside of the center.
“In my teaching, I’ve integrated mindfulness practices and an emphasis in research methodology of looking inward at oneself, as well as outward at the world. Also, the concept of beginner’s mind, or approaching issues with an open mind, rather than thinking like an expert and believing that you have all the answers,” Mobley said.
Being a teacher in particular, Meisner tries to take some of what he has learned and parts of his own practice and apply it to how he manages the classroom.
“I definitely think that [what we learn] plays a major role and also trying to stay pretty level you know trying not to get too high or too low because students start to try to feed off that as far as meditation and things like that I haven’t found a way to bring that into the classroom yet but that would be nice to,” Meisner said.