October 2019 Newsletter

October 2019 Newsletter

Honoring the Way of Zazen Sesshin October 17-20  This sesshin is an opportunity for deep practice with no services, no talks, no dokusan -- just zazen, meals and work practice.   Read more and register here by Monday, October 14. 

Have you attended an Introductory Workshop and want to continue learning?  Sign up for Aspects of Zen Practice classes.  The four different classes can be taken in any order and continue throughout the year.  Topics addressed are:  the basics of meditation and zendo forms, our lineage of teachers and ceremony, precepts practice in everyday life and how to become more involved in the GPZC community.

Attending an Introduction to Zen Practice workshop is a prerequisite for the Aspects classes.  Introduction to Zen Practice workshops provide a three hour introduction to Zen meditation (zazen), an overview of  Zen practice, and practical guidance in getting practice started.  The workshops are offered on Saturday mornings in Monroe and Palatine. A schedule of upcoming workshops can be found here

Read about the 8-week Mindfulness program at Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake Girls School in Irma, WI this past summer and other prison ministry programs  GPZC is engaged in here
Save the Dates: 
Rohatsu Sesshin, a five day sesshin commemorating the enlightenment of our original teacher Shakyamuni Buddha, takes place December 3-8.  More information and registration link can be found here

Justice Overcoming Borders will offer Implicit Bias Training, Saturday, November 9 from 9:30 - 3 at the Beloit Public Library in Beloit Wisconsin.  "Implicit bias" occurs when we have attitudes toward people or associate stereptypes with them without our conscious knowledge.  Recognizing our biases is an important part of dismantling both our internal racism and the systemic racism around us.  
For those looking for Buddhist-based training in understanding and combatting climate change, information on the One Earth Sangha Ecosattva Training can be found by clicking on the link.  Thanissara Mary Wienberg also offers a course entitled Dharma in Times of Heartbreak during the month of October.

Educators, be inspired to bring mindfullness to your school! Consider attending the Educating Mindfully Conference (EMCON20)  in Itasca, IL, Feb. 27-March 1.  This is the second year of this highly popular and acclaimed conference, hosted by Coalition of Schools Educating Mindfully (COSEM).  GPZC member Matt Dewar, past president of COSEM, and a current board member was instrumental in establishing EMCON.  Matt will be presenting a 2 day long workshops and a breakout session and Myoyu Roshi will both be presenting a breakout session during this conference with Lincoln Hills psychologist Jennifer Moniz.
Check out our affiliate groups:
Live in or near the city of Chicago? Consider attending Tuesday night zazen at Logan Square Zendo.  More information here

Zen Sitting Group DeKalb meets October 3 and 17 this month.  Details here
Beloit Zen Community meets Monday afternoon 4:15-5:30 on the Beloit College campus.  More information can be found here.   

We are happy that you have chosen to receive our monthly newsletter with periodic announcements.  You can change your preferences or contact information at any time by clicking on the update preferences link at the bottom of this email and following the instructions.  

Do you have something you'd like included in next month's newsletter?  Please call Roshi at 608-325-6248 or email myoyu.roshi@greatplainszen.org.

View or download our August - October  2019 Calendar



In this Newsletter:



Incarcerated Lives Matter: Prison Ministry at Great Plains Zen Center
by Myoyu Roshi

Participating in Eight-week Mindfulness Class at Lincoln Hills/Copper Lake Juvenile Correctional Facilities:  Heather, Jo, Kathleen, Roshi, Max

Note that in order to honor confidentiality and protect the stories of the Lincoln Hills/Copper Lake youth, specific details and names are not provided in this article.  

This summer, five of us led weekly mindfulness classes at Lincoln Hills School and Copper Lake School in Irma, WI. These schools are operated by the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, Division of Juvenile Corrections. About 138 boys and 17 girls ranging in age from 10-25, most commonly in the 15-18 year old range, live at Lincoln Hills/Copper Lake.  While not being given specific information that would violate the privacy of the young adults we worked with, we could see that they have backgrounds with mental health issues and trauma common to incarcerated youth in general. Most are from cities in other parts of Wisconsin or elsewhere, making it difficult for family to visit on a regular basis. Many are youth of color. The youth in our classes were either taking high school classes toward getting their GED or had graduated and were awaiting their release from the facility, either to home or to an adult facility.

We approached the opportunity to work with these young people, knowing that we really knew very little of their lives and inner experience. We were there first and foremost to be present and just to listen. We would introduce the tools of mindfulness, both the formal meditation practices and the social emotional learning, but it was the human connection and the communication of kindness, acceptance, safety and respect that mattered most in the end.  

We were all there because we cared. All of us were aware that the facility has a history of significant problems, that it is slated to close in a few years and that most criminal justice experts agree that these youth would be better served by a more community-based approach.    Our reason to be there, though, was to do whatever we could to support the young people in front of us -- whatever their circumstances -- who chose to participate in the mindfulness classes. We hoped they would share their mindfulness successes and insights with their peers, who might then be encouraged to try future classes led by the psychology staff and volunteers.  We held the shared vision with the Psychological Services Unit (PSU) psychologists, who graciously welcomed and assisted us,  that mindfulness could play a meaningful role in shifting the culture at Lincoln Hills, through teaching the youth, their teachers and eventually the youth counselors (correctional staff)   We found the psychologists deeply dedicated, despite ongoing challenges, to supporting these young people in developing the skills and insight needed for successful lives.

Feeling a heart connection with the youth was not difficult. They are remarkable, fragile and yet resilient. They are so young and they have been through so much.  There is no easy fix for all of the trauma they have experienced.  They have often become mistrustful of others and especially mistrustful of themselves, their lives now defined by the harm they caused. Even so, as they got to know us, the youth began to talk with increasing candor about their challenges.  Often it was a comment from one of us about our own struggles with being our best selves that prompted the youth to share their struggle with the same issues.  How could we expect them to be vulnerable with a bunch of strangers unless we were appropriately authentic ourselves?  We were, after all, modelling that, too.


The themes of forgiveness, letting go, respect and trust came up often, as did self-acceptance. Youth shared how hard it was to be authentic and true to themselves in the prison environment where keeping a low profile, even trying to be “invisible,” is a survival tactic.  As the weeks went on, some youth reported that the mindfulness classes were helping them to recognize and become who they wanted to be rather than who their peers expected them to be.  They also recognized that after release from incarceration, it would be crucial to seek out people who would support them in that rather than try to draw them back into the attitudes and behaviors that had gotten them incarcerated in the first place.

Many youth found it very hard to accept the goodness within themselves. It was heartbreaking that some could not think of – or were uncomfortable sharing – any positive qualities about themselves when asked. As the class progressed, we saw a visible change in some youth – coming out of their shells a bit and expressing more trust and positive feelings about themselves.  This was heartening.  Underneath their troubled, sometimes belligerent and resistant exteriors, we saw tenderness, courage, resilience, and creativity and hoped they would come to see this beauty inside themselves as well.  Isn't that, after all, the hope I have for myself, the hope we all have for ourselves and each other? 

Still, it was clearly hard for these young people to form more positive narratives about themselves given the preponderance of negative messages from others and themselves. Mindfulness, we hoped, would help them learn over time, that they don't always have to believe their feeling and they can learn to notice the thoughts and feelings that arise with less judgment.  The challenges facing these young people seem enormous:  to heal from the trauma they have experienced, to forgive themselves for the harm they caused and to find a path forward from their own inner wise core of being, no matter how buried it has become in layers of self-loathing, fear, and resistance.  Not to mention that they are trying to accomplish this in the chaotic and uncertain environment of prison -- an especially difficult environment for those undergoing the normal challenges of self discovery, hormones and confusion that befall all adolescents. 

The youth proudly shared with us instances of using self regulation strategies successfully.  When confronted with hostility from a peer, they said, it was sometimes possible to walk away and choose to let it go rather than fight verbally or physically. When tempted to engage in disrespectful or other inappropriate behavior with peers and staff, some found themselves able to use mindful practices to make a better choice.  Mindfulness, when practiced over time, can help us access a crucial moment of awareness between an impulse and the action that follows, allowing us to respond skillfully rather than react without consideration of consequences.


We  saw ourselves as planting a seed that would, given time and nourishment, bloom in the lives of the youth. They did not always like everything in the classes, but they would remember. If nothing else, they would remember that a group of people volunteered their time and came to really listen and share a space with them. That mattered.  Perhaps just being there was the most important thing. 


Each week, we also provided a class for the teachers and  academic staff, a necessity if a real culture shift were to become possible at the facility.    We wanted to support teachers in establishing their own personal mindfulness practice, as a way of generally supporting the very difficult work that they do. We also wanted them to be familiar with and able to support the mindfulness curriculum their students were learning with us.  From the feedback we received, it was evident that many of the teachers appreciated the class time. We had lively small group discussions and received feedback that teachers have felt a little less isolated and engage in more supportive conversation with each other after the experience of the mindfulness class.

Mutual support seems so important given the very challenging role teachers at Copper Lake and Lincoln Hills Schools experience everyday. A teacher shared with me that it is difficult to teach students struggling with so many emotional difficulties, self regulation challenges and trauma. In her heart, she is so aware of their needs in this regard, but at the same time, she said, her role and the expectation of her is to teach them math. She has to plow through the math lessons while seeing how much more is going on with the students. Other teachers spoke of the challenge of keeping their hearts open even though students often vent their inner emotional turmoil by name-calling and disrespect toward teachers. Even knowing that the words are more a reflection of inner pain than an intended assessment of the adult who happens to be in the room, the words can still hurt. Mindfulness, they said, was helping them not take the words personally and continue to be compassionate – a powerful practice day in and day out.  Despite all this, we heard often from both the psychologists and the teachers that they loved their jobs.  


The curriculum for the classes was based primarily on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Teens (MBSR-T), a version of MBSR adapted for teens and young adults by Gina Biegel, MA, LMFT, a longtime MBSR practitioner, therapist and founder of Stressed Teens, Inc. Also included were elements of a curriculum from the Mind Body Awareness Project, an Oakland, CA-based organization specializing in teaching mindfulness to incarcerated and at-risk youth. Each youth and teacher was given their own copy of Gina Biegel's Stress Reduction Workbook for Teens, both to use and keep. Assisting me in teaching this program were Kathleen Rulka, a family therapist and mindfulness teacher from Wisconsin Prison Mindfulness Initiative (WPMI); Max Taylor-Hayden, GPZC member with lived experience in the juvenile justice system; Jo Horton, a retired high school theater and dance teacher and college sociology professor; and Heather Young, a mindfulness practitioner and member of WPMI. We quickly discovered that our combined skills, talents and senses of humor were all essential in this heartfelt, sometimes challenging, always unpredictable and truly rewarding endeavor.


The members of our team of five came to Lincoln Hills to bring this program for a variety of reasons. Max, who spent 10 years in and out of correctional facilities in his younger years, explains, “Prison is where I found meditation and mindfulness. I was able to find peace in a chaotic environment. I’m grateful for the opportunity to teach youth the practice of mindfulness. My hope is that youth understand they can find peace wherever they are.” Heather saw mindfulness as “the key to unlocking [the youths'] capacity to cope and progress with life.” Jo offered yoga breaks during the classes, the highlight of which was the laughing yoga. It was truly heartening to see the incarcerated youth shed their cares for just a moment and laugh like ordinary teenagers at the goofy adults (us, of course).

Kathleen brought her extensive experience teaching mindfulness in adult correctional facilities, her skills as a therapist and her deep sense of caring. At one point, she shared a page of advice given by members of the mindfulness group she leads at Stanley (an adult prison) to the youth at Lincoln Hills/Copper Lake. They were moved by the straightforward but caring advice the men offered.

At the last class, on September 4, youth and teachers each wrote a letter to themselves about where they want to be and what they want to remember and incorporate into their lives as a result of this mindfulness class. Three month later, their letter will be sent to them, and they can take stock of what 8 weeks in the summer of 2019 meant to them and how it will inform their journey forward. We wish them joy, peacefulness, love and freedom in every sense of the word.

The Wisconsin Prison Mindfulness Initiative (WPMI) is a volunteer organization that is devoted to providing mindfulness training to inmates in Wisconsin prisons. It began in 2011 and since then, has spread to 13 Wisconsin prisons. Besides providing programming to general population inmates, in some prisons WPMI also provides mindfulness training to inmates in segregation.

Staff and inmates have widely recognized the benefits of WPMI’s programming. They regularly report that inmates who practice mindfulness are less impulsive and disruptive and are typically more open to making the life changes necessary to succeed while they are incarcerated and after their release.

The lead teacher and volunteers are required to be regular mindfulness practitioners, to undergo training in WPMI’s prison mindfulness programming and to participate in the required Department of Correction (DOC) orientation for all volunteers.  To learn more about the Wisconsin Prison Mindfulness Intitiative(WPMI), contact David Haskin

In Touch Prison Ministry (IPM) is a program for formerly incarcerated people in Rock County, Wisconsin founded by Rev. Michael Bell, a minister at New Zion Baptist Church in Beloit and member of EXPO (Ex-Incarcerated People Organizing).  The program attempts to connect formerly incarcerated people with needed services in the community, such as potential employers, food and financial assistance and housing to help ease the difficult transition from prison back to the community.   Additionally, Rev. Bell offers classes in Janesville and Beloit to support his clients emotionally and psychologically as they cope with putting their lives back together after incarceration.  As part of this program, I teach weekly mindfulness classes. Michael practiced mindfulness meditation while he was in prison and feels strongly about the benefits of it during and after incarceration.  I am constantly learning from him and from the clients as they share their stories and perspectives. I feel honored to be a part of their life's journey.  IPM has applied for a University of Wisconsin Community Partnership grant, which would allow for an expansion of these critically-needed services. 

Educating Mindfully Conference (EMCON) Feb 27- March 1.  As a result of the collaboration at Lincoln Hills/Copper Lake Juvenile Correctional Facilities, Jennifer Moniz, a Psychological Associate at Lincoln Hills/Copper Lake and I will be presenting at the Educating Mindfullly Conference in Itasca Illinois, Feb. 27-March 1. This conference, which includes nationally-known speakers and many wonderful breakout sessions is highly recommended for any edu
cator from preschool through college interested in incorporating mindfulness into their classrooms.  





Honoring the Way of Zazen Sesshin

October 17-20 2019
Honoring the Way of Zazen Sesshin is an intensive retreat with periods of zazen (sitting meditation) alternating with 10 minute periods of walking meditation throughout the day. As with our other retreats, there will be silent meals with oryoki bowls, a work period and time for rest. However, unlike other retreats, there will be no talks, no chanting services, and no dokusan (face to face) instruction with the teacher. Sitting on the Buddha's seat, we immerse ourselves in our practice throughout the day with determination, great faith and great questioning. Sesshin begins Thursday evening with informal dinner at 5:30, procedures instruction at 6 and Fusatsu (Renewing Vows) at 7 PM. Sesshin ends on Sunday morning with Gate of Sweet Nectar at 7 AM. Please bring non-perishable items for the local food pantry. The suggested donation is $150 for members and $180 for non-members, which includes lodging and all meals. Part time participation is allowed. Register here by Monday October 14. 

Dates for Upcoming Retreats and registration links: 


Introduction to Zen Practice Workshops:

Great Plains Zen Center offers monthly Introductory Workshops especially for those new to practice.  The workshops provide basic, practical information including how to do zazen (Zen meditation), how to establish a home practice, how to make everyday activities practice, the aims of practice, and what programs are available for practice through GPZC. 

Upcoming Introductory Workshops at GPZC, W7762 Falk Rd, Monroe, WI 53566:

 All workshops take place  8:30-11:30. Register here:

Upcoming Introductory Workshops at Countryside UU Church, 1025 N. Smith St., Palatine, IL:

All workshops take place 8:30 – 11:30. Register here:




Aspects of Zen Practice at GPZC  This series of four classes helps those who have taken an Introductory Workshop review the basics and continue to learn about the various elements of practice and ways to participate at Great Plains Zen Center.  Classes are held once per month in Monroe and in Palatine and may be taken in any order.  The class series repeats throughout the year, so you can take a class you missed the next time it is offered. These classes provide a great way to continue learning after the Introductory Workshop.  All classes are 1 hour with optional zazen following. Saturdays at 9 AM in Monroe and Sundays at 5:30 PM in Palatine.  The cost of each class is $5. 
Forms of Practice Review the basics of zazen (body, breath and mind), zendo procedures, and the teacher-student relationship.11/ 9 (Monroe), 11/17 (Palatine)

Liturgy and Lineage:  The role of ceremony and ritual in Zen, our teaching lineage, an overview of services (including prayer list, memorials, baby blessings and weddings) and the Gate of Sweet Nectar.  12/15 (Palatine), 12/21 (Monroe)

Everyday Life Practice:  
Practicing the precepts at home, at work, in the community and throughout our lives.  Sharing practice with our children and families., 1/19 (Palatine),  1/18 (Monroe)

Being a Part of the GPZC Community:  Shared stewardship circles and opportunities for volunteering and leadership, Council Practice and GPZC Vision, Mission, Guiding Principles and Practices.   10/13 (Palatine), 10/26 (Monroe)

Fusatsu (Renewal of Vows)

All are welcome to join us for monthly Renewal of Vows ceremonies.  We begin with a short meditation followed by a council circle.  Council is a practice that teaches us to speak and listen from the heart. Fusatsu ends with a chanting ceremony.  Pre-registration not required. Upcoming dates are as follows:

  • October 17 7 PM (Monroe - at start of sesshin but open to all)
  • November 10 7 PM (Palatine)
  • December 29 7PM (Palatine- Joya no Kane)

Gate of Sweet Nectar

In this ceremony, the main liturgy of Zen Peacemakers, we offer nourishment to those who are forgotton, marginalized and not cared for.  The ceremony includes raising the Bodhi Mind and inviting all those who hunger to partake in a meal to ease their distress and includes singing, chanting and musical instruments.  Participants are asked to bring non-perishable food items which will be taken to the local food pantry after the ceremony.  Pre-registration not required. Upcoming dates are as follows:

  • October 20 7AM  (Monroe - at end of sesshin but open to all)
  • November 24 (Monroe - at end of zazenkai but open to all)
  • December 8  (Monroe - at end of zazenkai but open to all)

Teisho (Public Talks by Myoyu Roshi)

  • October 6 7:30 PM (Palatine)



No registration or fee is required to attend weekly sitting at any location.  

Great Plains Zen Center, Monroe, WI

  • Zazen at 5:30 AM and 7 PM on Fridays
  • See calendar for classes scheduled on Saturdays
  • Chanting service at 8:30 AM followed by Zazen at 9 on Sundays
  • For those new to practice, a brief orientation is offered during the first sitting period.

Palatine, IL at CCUU

  • Zazen at 7 PM on Sunday nights. Periodic special events (see calendar). For those new to practice, a brief orientation is offered during the first sitting period. 
  • Beloit Zen Community meets every Monday from 4:15 -5:30 PM during the Beloit College academic year.  The schedule is as follows: 
                4:15 zazen (sitting)
                4:45 kinhin (walking meditation)
                4:55 short talk/discussion
                5:10 zazen (optional)
  • All are welcome to come and participate, not only those affiliated with the college.  Whatever your religious affiliation (or if you have none), experience or interest in meditation, we'd love to have you. 
  •  Instruction provided for those who are new to meditation. 
  • Held in the Spirituality Room in the basement of Pearsons Hall. 
  • For more information, please contact Bill New
  • Zazen every Tuesday night at 8 PM.  For those new to practice, a brief orientation is offered during the first sitting period.  
  • For further information, please visit the Logan Square Zendo website here.


Zen Sitting Group DeKalb (ZSGD), a new affiliate of the Great Plains Zen Center, continues to meet at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of DeKalb, 158 N. 4th Street. The steward for the group is John Genshin Knewitz, a student of Myoyu Roshi. ZSGD meets twice monthly on a variable schedule which can be viewed on the Zen Sitting Group DeKalb Facebook page.   There will be no dokusan or teisho offered on a regular basis, but there will be regular formal sitting and some instruction regarding basic Zen practices and philosophy. If you have interest in this group, please check out the ZSGD Facebook page, or feel free to email John directly at birdsfan53@yahoo.com for further information. 

  • Variable schedule.  Check Facebook Page:  @zendekalb
  • Meets October 3 and 17 this month.
  • Meets at UU Fellowship of DeKalb.
  • 6 PM Instruction, 7 PM Sitting followed by discussion. 
  • For more information, contact John Genshin Knewitz 


Several types of membership are available.  More information about membership can be found here.

Support our community by making a donation here.

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You can also ask to join the Facebook Group, Great Plains Zen Center Sangha


Phone:  (608) 325-6248

E-mail:  myoyu.roshi@greatplainszen.org

Our postal mailing address:

W7762 Falk Rd • Monroe, WI  53566

Website: http://greatplainszen.org/


Recognizing that systems of power, privilege, and oppression have traditionally created barriers for persons and groups with particular identities, ages, abilities, and histories,  Great Plains Zen Center strives to foster a climate of purposeful inclusion of all people. We pledge to do all we can to replace such barriers with ever-widening circles of solidarity and mutual respect. We strive to be a Sangha that truly welcomes all persons and commits to structuring our community in ways that empower and enhance everyone’s participation.