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Ghost Ship Fire - Oakland, December 12, 2016

Interior music space at the Ghost Ship Art Collective
After the great fire in the 1374 at the Engakuji Temple, scholars came to see what had happened to the great library. The teacher, standing amidst the ashes and rubble, said that nothing had been destroyed. When queried further, he held up his hand and said,

"The covers were burned but you can still hold the teachings in your hands." 

We can also say it this way, you can still hold the music and the people who played it in your hands and hearts. And that doing that is important, is imperative. The warehouse fire that killed so many young artists and musicians, and destroyed what was by all accounts an absolutely wonderful, unique and beautiful art space in Oakland last week is still burning in my imagination. I feel the depth of the grief and shock. This kind of world is inherently fragile. Artists often live on the edges of things. Like Zen, art isn't something you tend to choose so you will become rich and comfortable. And art is also the creation of a moment, relying on an environment that changes all the time. It survives because it is made over and over again. 

We're living in a time when we need more artists, not fewer. We need more spontaneity and freedom, more experimentation, more heart. Art and music are the greatest forces for social change that we have. We need for artists and for people who are on the edges to be seen and appreciated and have a home in the world. Safety is difficult to assure, but we can do better. The people at the party at the Ghost Ship Warehouse... I'm struck by how much they are my people. 30 years ago, as a composer and multi-media artist in the East Bay, I might well have been at that party. I would certainly have had friends who died there. 

We've had a lot of shocks recently, and we're not at an end of them. How to respond, is a question. Here maybe the answer is to let ourselves feel the world as deeply as we do, and do the work that's important to us. We can be as generous as we know how and love our friends and appreciate strangers and treat them with kindness. We can also make art, play music, write poetry, dance together, laugh and cry together and enjoy our communities. This is the practice, our lives as they are, lived with courage and creativity.   

Rachel Boughton
Pacific Zen Institute



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