To our Blue Heron Sangha,

With the persistence of the COVID pandemic and – most particularly – the emergence of the Omicron variant, a considerable amount of time, energy, and thought have been given to whether and how we offer in-person practice at the Zen center at this time. On Sunday January 2nd the Blue Heron board met to formulate a plan that will carry us through the next few months. Two themes pulled at us during the discussion. First, the Omicron surge poses significant, escalating biological health risks to the larger community and to our community of practitioners. Second, not being able to gather poses it’s own risks, and – for those who choose to do so – gathering at the Zen center is an important source of sanctuary, mutual support, and medicine for our body-heart-minds.

The board and other members of the community met for approximately four hours on Sunday to try find some balance point between these two important areas of concern. Much information was shared, and many possible paths were explored for meeting the needs of members. Taking into account both risks and needs, we are making changes.

First, in-person practice at the Zen center – for those who choose it – will now take place in “pods” of up to 6 people. In order to reduce the likelihood of viral transmission, these pods will be organized as fixed groups of participants with similar health risk tolerances who practice together regularly. Pods of participants can be scheduled practice together weekly, every other week, or monthly. If you wish to join a pod please contact Joanne Ho at joanne@blueheronzen.org to schedule and organize your pod. For those that regularly attend in-person practice on Fridays, Matt and/or Dharma Teacher Gerald will contact you about scheduling in-person practice in a pod. If for some reason you do not connect with them, please let Joanne know via email. We anticipate that at least one pod group will continue meeting on Friday mornings.

Second, regularly scheduled in-person practice on Sundays and Fridays is suspended. Sunday practice will be online-only. Daily AM online practice will of course continue.

Note that the precautions we have been taking up to this point at the Zen center – required vaccination, masks, distancing, and suspension of chanting – will remain in place. One additional precaution is added: entrance and exit from the Dharma room will take place through the exterior / fire door (via the stairs on the South side of the building). This is necessary to ensure a safer space for residents.

These changes are new. They represent the best compromise the board was able to make amid contrasting concerns. They are also now. As circumstances change, we will make changes to try to meet the needs of members and fulfill our mission to practice Dharma together.

For those who might need support you may reach out to Blue Heron at care@blueheronzen.org; someone will be in touch with you. You can also contact one of our teachers directly for one-on-one Dharma Dialogue; go to our home page, click on “An overview”, and scroll down to see a list of teachers. Please remember that Blue Heron teachers do not provide professional mental health treatment. If you are in need of professional help, however, and you share that with us, we will try to assist you with obtaining the help you need. Please also keep in mind that any activity entails risk, and that risks associated with COVID are real, and significant. It’s important for each of us to educate ourselves about these risks so that we can make informed choices for ourselves and for the people with whom we come into contact.

Thank you for being part of Blue Heron. May you be well.

Sincerely,
Paul Gulick – Abbot
Zen Master Jeong Ji – Guiding Teacher