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Buddhadharma : Spri 2013
54 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY SPRING 2 0 1 3 When I first met with the group that we’re partnering with to operate such a place, Northern California Presbyterian Homes, they had just completed a survey to better understand what the next paradigm would be for senior living, and they came up with two words: community and spirituality. It’s interesting that the next thing isn’t going to be senior liv- ing on a golf course or at a shopping center. It will be based on community and spirituality, and that’s what we’re trying to do. BUDDHADHARMA: How far along are you in developing the senior living community and how many people will it accommodate? SUSAN O’CONNELL: We’re actively searching for property right now. When we did a survey, half the people wanted to live in a more bucolic setting, for instance somewhere out in Marin County, and half wanted to live in San Francisco and have more of an urban experience. We’ve been exploring both of these models. The first model would have about 240 units—studios, one-bedrooms, two-bedrooms, and larger units—including independent living, assisted living, and hospice facilities. The community will obviously have a meditation hall and provide teachings and the kind of contemplative care that is at the heart of the vision. The other potential model is something a little smaller, so maybe 100 units in a more urban setting. We’re still working on how that model would work in terms of care—whether there would be assisted care there or nearby. But we’ve done a lot of preliminary work, and we have the funding we need to go into development. Once we have the land, we could be up and running in four or five years. DAVID WHITEHORN: What you’re doing, which the Working Group on Aging began discussing years ago, is sort of the dream of everybody. SUSAN O’CONNELL: I think it’s the Zen Center’s responsibility to do it. DAVID WHITEHORN: I know you have very practical reasons to do it, but there is another model of aging I’ve been more inter- ested in lately, which is called “aging in place.” Basically, you don’t bring people together in a single place but you create a sense of community in some physical locale, and you bring services to people where they are already living. We have a lot of people who like this idea, because it seems more practical for the scattered communities we have in Shambhala. There’s a model that started in Boston, on Beacon Hill, where there were a lot of reasonably affluent people who were getting old and didn’t want to leave their homes. They wor- ried about being able to maintain themselves properly, so they social reasons, but it was also so everybody could keep track of how everybody else was doing, and if people needed help, they could get it. So we’ve had a lot of experience with the spontaneous circles of care that form among friends and neighbors when someone is ill. There’s some interesting literature about how you create circles of care, which doesn’t actually come from the Buddhist perspective, but adding this contemplative perspective is really helpful. Personally, this is what I see happening with Shambhala at this point. We have some people who have spe- cial training in contemplative care, and they’re encouraging others, but mostly people spontaneously come forward when there’s a need. It’ll be interesting to see what happens over the next few years because there’s going to be more and more need. I feel we’re sort of at the beginning of the wave. It hasn’t really broken yet, and probably more structure will be neces- sary as more people need help. ANNA DOUGLAS: I was thinking also that this conversation we’re having right now is a new conversation, and although we have some history behind us, like David was saying, we’re really embarking on a new venture in the dharma world, which is this venture of how do we grow old together? How do we serve each other? How do we awaken through this experi- ence? These are new questions for our Western dharma com- munities, so hopefully if you asked us these questions in five or ten years, we would have a lot more to tell you. BUDDHADHARMA: Yet, there is a fair bit that your communities are already doing. Susan, tell us about the Zen-inspired senior living community that you’re working to create. SUSAN O’CONNELL: Some members of the Zen Center have lived in this community for forty-five years, so it is critical to con- tinue to offer that to people as they age, even if not everyone will be interested in living in that way, with that kind of sup- port. What I’ve been trying to do is combine the Zen Center’s need for more housing for its elders with providing a place for others to experience the benefits of community, one where people can live and practice and learn from one another. There is a tremendous opportunity for older practitioners to get to a deeper level of practice as they experience this stage of their life. Getting people to stop and think about that is important. — David Whitehorn