Monday, April 07, 2008

Retreat to explore the Zen of homelessness

Below is an article from last Monday's Victoria Times-Colonist about the upcoming Victoria Street Retreat. See below…

BTW – if you are interested in joining us on the retreat, please let me know. About half the spots on the Street Retreat are already gone.


Retreat to explore the Zen of homelessness
Buddhism practitioner gets a taste of challenges faced by those on the streets
Judith Lavoie, Times Colonist
Published: Monday, March 31, 2008

Entrepreneur Eric Jordan never realized he would be a lousy panhandler until he found himself in an area of Vancouver where, a few years previously, he had raised $35 million in venture capital for his company.

Jordan, 38, founder and former CEO of the software company PureEdge Solutions, was on a street retreat with a group of Zen Buddhists and it was his first shot at panhandling.

"I found panhandling very ego-destroying," said Jordan, who noted it was one of the few situations in life that demand you talk to people who then pretend you do not exist.

"I got a grand total of one root beer can," said Jordan, who is the executive in residence at the University of Victoria business faculty and an active member of the Victoria Zen Centre.

What was even more alarming was his realization that, even though he thinks of himself as a generous person, he would not have given money to himself and would have questioned why an apparently healthy person was asking for spare change instead of working.

"I realized how many judgments I would make," said Jordan, who lives in an Oak Bay home with his wife and three children.

Jordan found the experience so powerful, as he struggled to make a bed from cardboard or socialized with drug dealers, that he is organizing a street retreat in Victoria this summer.

Jordan and 13 other volunteers will live on the street from July 31 to Aug 3, avoiding shelters so they do not take beds from those who need them, but eating in soup kitchens and mingling with the street population.

Under the leadership of Zen Sensei Genro Gauntt, the group will meditate twice a day, and, in a non-judgmental way, bear witness to what is going on.

"Most people think it is odd, but sort of odd-good," Jordan said.

Others accuse them of being no more than tourists, but even tourists gain some understanding of the places they visit, he said.

The first thing each volunteer has to do is raise the $400 cost of the retreat by going to friends, family or associates and asking for donations.

"To sincerely engage in this experience we need to humble ourselves at the outset, attempt to explain to others our reasons for participating and beg for their support," say the instructions.

One third of the money goes to the organizing group -- Hudson River Peacemaker Community -- and the rest will go to street agencies used during the retreat.

Everyone brings emotional baggage to the retreat, and Jordan knows what propelled him into it.

"The short answer is I was abused as a child and many of those abused as children end up on the street," he said.

Jordan did not take the path of drugs, alcohol and street life, but the retreat was like walking the path he could have taken.

"It brings a level of empathy you didn't have before," he said.

Rev. Al Tysick of Our Place said more awareness of street problems is always good, provided people realize a four-day retreat does not replicate the reality of people living on the street indefinitely.

"They're not going to be slugging on in the cold December nights," he said.

Street agencies will welcome donations from the group, but the bigger question is what happens afterward, Tysick said.

"Are they going to be doing political activism to change it? Are they going to do something regularly downtown on homelessness?" he asked.
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2008

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