Darlene Cohen was one-of-a-kind in that way that only a few of us are. I had the great good fortune of meeting Darlene at Green Gulch Farm when my teacher, Katherine Thanas Roshi, recommended I attend her one-day workshop, “A Day of Sitting for People Who Don’t Think They Can Sit Because of Pain.” There were twenty-five or so of us in the room and only I was wearing a Rakusu. Darlene took note that I was a Zen student during introductions. She said it made her happy when Zen students studied posture so deeply.
Zen Buddhism puts great emphasis on posture, and I had been intensively trained for over 15 years in the “traditional” forms by the time I met Darlene. I had struggled to get my body to conform to the ways of sitting that were acceptable at the time. Only a few postures were considered “upright” in the strictest sense, and some places actively discouraged experimentation with posture. It was very difficult to feel like I was struggling with my own Sangha (in the larger sense) to practice with my body as it is. Darlene’s workshop was a breath of fresh air. I wept as she used a model to show lying down posture, with zafu on top of the chest. That was revolutionary! It was as if the temple gate came right over and sat itself on top of the lantern right in front of me. Rather than sitting ON the cushion, the cushion rests on you! It rocked my world.
Later in the day Darlene and I found ourselves sitting together outside and we had an intimate conversation. I knew at that moment that she had to be my teacher and her teaching, her life, would be my focus. Over time and with effort on both our parts, I became her student in Zen and in Suffering and Delight. She gave generously of her time, her mundane life, and her deep understanding of intimacy and living in a human body. Eventually she handed over to me the entire Suffering and Delight syllabi from the time she first began teaching. Ultimately, from her sick bed in the last weeks of her life, Darlene asked me to continue her teachings for the sake of the suffering beings of the world. That is why I founded the Suffering and Delight Institute with the simple mission of continuing and developing this one-of-a-kind body of teachings about living with pain and catastrophic illness.
Learning to be at peace with a frail existence and still living a rich, textured everyday life is a lifelong practice. Darlene’s teachings are here for those with pain or illness that will never go away—you can go beyond the bounds of your suffering and create a life just as you are.
When there is nothing to do maybe it is time to do nothing….this is a suggestion that I can take to heart. Thank you. My pain and grief find me at odds with my usual plan of constant activity. So I’ll stop.” – -JR, Suffering and Delight group member.