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Mala Again

I am doing a mala again. I am as surprised as you are, probably more surprised. I thought I had retired from fundraising when I retired from organizational leadership.

Here’s how this mala came about. Just a couple of weeks ago, at our Tuesday evening Zen group — our group has been meeting on Tuesday evenings since 2002 and has been meeting on zoom since the beginning of COVID — there was a groundswell of desire from the group to resume meetings in person.

I can tell you, I didn’t like the idea at first, going out on Tuesday evenings in all kinds of weather when I have gotten used to just sitting down on my cushion and turning on my computer. What if it’s bad weather? What if I don’t think it’s safe for me to drive? I was feeling very 80 years old. “I can’t promise to show up every week. And besides I don’t want the responsibility of organizing this.” I was pretty negative.

The group was talking about where we could meet. I was listening, but I wasn’t interested until the idea of Emma’s Place was tossed out. (One member of the group, Matthew Kieffer. is on the board of Emma’s Place. Matthew was absent that Tuesday, but hadn’t he said a while back that we could meet there? That’s what people remembered. His wife, Karen, is the founder of Emma’s Place and the executive director.)

I love Emma’s Place.

Emma’s place provides support and counseling for kids who are living with the death of an immediate family member, most often a parent, sometimes a sibling. Emma’s Place is a safe haven where these kids can grieve in whatever ways are right for them in a community with other kids who share a common challenge. Emma’s Place also offers support for their parents who are trying to help their kids through a devastating loss while dealing with it themselves.

The idea of sitting at Emma’s Place feels very right. Place is important. There is great power in sitting in a place of loss and healing. On the Streets. At Auschwitz. At Wounded Knee. When Bernie was building the AIDS facility at Greyston in the building adjacent to our Zendo, I imagined that we would be sitting zazen with people living with AIDS. I was president of the Zen Community at the time, and while I was wondering how we would deal with infection control issues, I could see the tremendous power and the gift it would be for us to sit week after week with people who were going through the hell of AIDS. It didn’t work out that way. The AIDS facility opened, but we never sat together. Bernie and Jishu moved to Santa Fe, and the Zen Community of New York disbanded.

Over the years I have found that when what we are considering doing aligns with Universe, seemingly unrelated problems, which had previously resisted solution, find resolution. If Emma’s Place solves our where-to-sit problem, it may simultaneously resolve my mala challenge too.

The mala practice which I learned from Bernie has had great transformative power in my life. I have been talking about it since my first mala in the early 90’s. I have been trying to get others to have this experience. Without success. No one has been willing to try it.

My first mala — my ticket to join Roshi Bernie on a Street Retreat; I wanted to get to talk to him and he told me that on the Street he had plenty of time to talk — was 18 small beads and one large bead. The small beads represented donations of $108, the large bead a donation of $1080. Bernie was introducing me to begging and eventually to fundraising. The mala practice was an extraordinary experience. I’ve now done it a number of times, most recently to raise money for school facilities for the charter school network we were building. We needed to raise a lot of money, so that mala had 72 beads, a multiple of 18, and each small bead represented a donation of $5400, a multiple of 108, a little bit of Zen numerology.

But we can start small. I put it out there to our group. We should be giving something to Emma’s Place in return for their taking us in. “Let’s each do a mala. I’ll do it with you.” We’ll do the basic mala that I started out with 30 years ago. It’s an easier lift now. We won’t make any adjustment for inflation, but still our little group will, if we each do our mala, raise over $20,000 for Emma’s Place. They are doing so much with a tiny staff and very limited resources. $20,000 will make a difference.

And, I suspect, I certainly hope that it will take the members of our group to a place they have never been before, that the experience of asking for money will be as transformative for them as it was for me.

Will you help me? It’s easy now. No need to write a check or lick a stamp. Just log onto . In the message space, please write “Ken’s mala.” If you donate $108, I’m going to burn your name on a bead on my new mala. I’ll wear it everywhere. You will be with me on my journey.

I would love that.

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