There is no better way to initiate a series of “WooVoices” than to hear the wise words of a Zen master. Ordained as a Soto Zen priest, Melissa reminds us that “what we have here is what we get to work with” in this present moment and that we can cultivate a true appreciation of the Worcester we live in right now, not the Worcester we wish it to be. She and her husband, David Dae An Rynick, Roshi are resident teachers at the Boundless Way Temple on Pleasant Street.
First hearing about Worcester:
"I grew up in Boston. I remember when I was a little girl, I was watching the news with my father and there was a news item about Worcester. I said to him, “What’s Worcester, daddy?” And he said, “You never need to know about Worcester!” (Melissa laughs)… just a dismissive, ‘you don’t need to know about Worcester, we are from Boston’…. I had a bit of a negative bias when I first came here but what I discovered when I got here was an amazing small city that was a little bit like the Boston I grew up in, maybe 30 years behind Boston. I’ve been here for 26 years. The music scene is amazing – jazz, the arts. It feels like a very progressive city but small and manageable. There’s something about it… it’s so manageable."
Maybe not “Paris of the 90s”. Maybe “Berkeley of the 2020s”
"When I first moved here around 1991, everyone was saying that Worcester was going to have a renaissance and be the ‘Paris of the 90s’. And I thought, “ok!” but that never happened. I’ve seen downtown where nothing ever happened. It’s a little bit better than it was. Seeing the train station get refurbished and then fail – a beautiful building but no businesses down there. I see Worcester as a place where people have great ideas and things kind of get caught in eddies of city government."
"The other thing I’ve seen is a real mix of ethnicities. To me, the richness is that Worcester is a city of immigrants. There are people really everywhere in the world who come here again because it is manageable. They had family members who came here and had a job. So, I think Worcester has gotten more diverse since I’ve been here the last 26 years. There are people from Central America, South America, African countries, Asian countries, Eastern European countries."
"The other thing I love is that there are a lot of young people who have settled here in Worcester. It’s not the coolest place to live but there is a lot of community such as cooperative houses and artist coops down near the Crompton Collective. I have this hope. It may not be the ‘Paris of the 90s’ but maybe it will be the 'Berkeley of the 2020s’."
The city is all on Chandler Street:
"Because it is a small city, you can walk down Chandler Street from a predominantly white neighborhood to the neighborhood where there are Islamic grocery stores to a neighborhood where there are Latino grocery stores. We once had the idea of doing a restaurant crawl starting at the bottom of Chandler Street near the highway and trying all the restaurants all the way up the suburbs. I just thought that would be really fun."
"Here’s another thing I love about Worcester. It’s a really tiny city that incorporates its suburbs so there are ponds and lakes, green areas and woods everywhere! Even the inner city doesn’t go on for long so anyone in a ten minute walk can get to a green place."
"I’m a Worcester booster! Everything is so much cheaper here. So, you can go to a really nice restaurant and pay half of what you would pay in Boston. This temple we are sitting in… a building like this would cost millions of dollars in Boston. It’s a four story building with an acre of land that is all gardened. To find that in Boston would be impossible."
For downtown to thrive:
"It would need an investment promoting smaller businesses opening up down there, closing parts of Main Street to traffic. Other cities such as Portland, Oregon have done that where there are sections of the city where they have really promoted restaurants and little shops and everything in walking distance as a destination place. I would love that to happen for Worcester. Main Street is alive in spots but kind of dead. There are some beautiful buildings down there. The Crompton Collective is a great model. A trolley downtown… that would be awesome. Affordable housing there would be great. Laying down trolley tracks cements an area. The public transportation system isn’t great in Worcester."
Zen approach to city planning:
"What Zen has to offer is a real appreciation of what is really here, that what is here is what you get to work with. Even though we might want a thriving downtown, it isn’t what we have. So somehow to learn how to appreciate what IS here. Worcester is like a jewel but it is buried. You have to be willing to do the work to dig it up. This appreciation of what is here and the willingness to enjoy the parts that are now enjoyable… there is something about meeting the present moment with enjoyment and appreciation that allows a positive change to start moving. If we are operating from the point of view that things are really terrible, then we are living in a life that is really terrible."
"I was involved in leftist politics years ago and that negativity was an attitude that would really poison the wonderful group of people wanting to make change happen. This is the core of Zen practice: being present to what is here, slowing down enough to appreciate the good parts and clearly seeing the parts that are negative but not orienting towards the negative. That’s a lifelong practice to learn how to do that. It’s easy to become discouraged especially if we have a particular idea of what things should be. To have an openness to outcome, that is the key."
Buddhas Over Worcester
Boundless Way Temple invited "anyone and everyone" to submit art interpretations on the theme of "awakening". What does it mean to be "awake"? The opening ceremony of this art community project happened today, a sunny April 24th afternoon. The public is invited to stroll the gardens from dawn until dusk and the exhibit will be showing until June 25, 2016.
What does it mean to be "awake"?