I have had a rather rocky relationship with the Zen Center due to issues of accessibility. Sometimes the Center has been very accommodating, other times attending functions there has been a challenge. Visits go best when I remember to bring my own slippers. Unfortunately, on the day of the Anniversary Celebration my slippers were at the office and I forgot to stop and pick them up.
The Zen Center has beautiful, very slippery, cherry floors, and I do best there when I can keep my brace and shoes on. For the celebration the staff of the center provided surgical slippers to those of us who need to keep shoes on. Unfortunately, the surgical slippers proved to be very slippery, and I had difficulty keeping my balance even with crutches. After the formal ceremony we left the Center building to attend a Taiko performance outside. When others returned to the building to listen to a storytelling performance I chose to remain safely outside.
During lunch I spoke about accessibility issues with some of the Zen Center staff. The gist of the conversation was that the Zen Center policy places protecting the cherry floors above providing accessibility for disabled visitors and members. It also became clear the policy is a source of discomfort within the center.
Since the celebration I’ve been wondering about the tension between the lack of access at the center for us folks with mobility issues, and the Buddha’s insistence on making the Dharma and Sangha available to all. I also wonder how it could be that in a structure so lovingly designed and built there could be so little attention to accessibility.
Very much like the monks in one of my favorite zen stories, I’ve crossed that river but seem unable to put this one down.
– Michael Watson, Ph.D.
© 2013, essay and photographs (includes the one below), Michael Watson, All rights reserved
MICHAEL WATSON, M.A., Ph.D., LCMHC (Dreaming the World) ~ is a contributing editor to Into the Bardo, an essayist and a practitioner of the Shamanic arts, psychotherapist, educator and artist of Native American and European descent. He lives and works in Burlington, Vermont, where he teaches in undergraduate and graduate programs at Burlington College,. He was once Dean of Students there. Recently Michael has been teaching in India and Hong Kong. His experiences are documented on his blog. In childhood he had polio, an event that taught him much about challenge, struggle, isolation, and healing.