The Zen Community of Oak Park will host a “People of Color Retreat” from April 6-9 at its headquarters, 163 N. Humphrey Ave. The retreat will focus on people of African, Asian/Pacific Islander, Caribbean, Latino, Middle Eastern and Native American descent.
“During the last several months of planning the retreat, we were discussing whether we wanted to target either all people or only people of color,” said Robert Althouse, director of the Zen Community of Oak Park.
During the two-day retreat, the participants will spend time together in “silence.” The retreat will also include meditation and lectures on Buddhist teachings.
Diversifying its constituency has been a goal of the Zen Community of Oak Park since it moved from its original location in Hawaii to Oak Park two years ago. Althouse said the appeal of Oak Park was its diversity, allowing him to meet, interface and learn from people of various ethnic backgrounds.
Although Althouse is a teacher by profession, he ascribes to the theory that the truly impactful educators are mindful enough to know what they don’t know and seek to broaden their scope in that arena.
“I hope that the retreat allows me to learn from the participants, and hopefully they can feel they’ve learned something valuable from the experience,” said Althouse.
Thus far, the retreat has attracted almost 20 registrants, and the fact that they are also spread out throughout the West Side and beyond state limits is also satisfying, Althouse noted.
“It’s amazing the level of interest this retreat has received,” he said. “We’ve heard from people coming in from Texas, Wisconsin and Minnesota to learn more about the practices of the Zen Community. We hope that this is just the beginning of
a long series of such retreats that encourage the involvement of people of color.”
Althouse realizes, however, that traditionally people of color do not feel comfortable within Zen communities, primarily because of differences in religious practices, he said. For example, the more social form of worship by many African Americans can sometimes feel “out-of-place” within the more individualistic and structured Zen disciplines, he said.
To counter this conflict, Althouse said, they focus on the more universal advantages of Zen?#34;such as meditation, which allows one to focus on each individual moment in time to create a greater sense of control and involvement in one’s present surroundings. Althouse believes people of color could benefit from such teachings.
“We chose [this retreat] because we felt more of a need to reach out to people of color,” he said, “since people of color are generally underrepresented within the Zen Community.”