Monday, January 25, 2016

Find Your Grace

In which we fattened her up! (March? 2015)
Dear friend and Dharma sister, Angela Mujaku Senjin Caponigro died very early yesterday morning.  She was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer a little over a year ago.  Her healing became her final project, which she took up wholeheartedly and single-mindedly.

Her first project was dance.  She came to it later in life (as compared to most dancers).  But with that single-minded focus that was her hallmark, she achieved a high level of success.  Here she is performing Tympani, as part of Laura Dean Dance & Music.

(She is the one with the very long hair.) (Enjoy that early 80s PBS vibe!)

Her next big project was to take up kundalini yoga and convert Sikhism.  She studied, lived and taught in that community for decades.  Then she found Zen.  When I met her, she was a postulant doing a period of discernment to discover if she wanted to ordain as a monastic.  She did ordain and eventually became a senior monastic in the Mountains and Rivers Order.

I saw Senjin around the Monastery.  She fascinated me - it was clear that she had "a story" but she had a very regal, almost intimidating, demeanor so I mostly kept my distance.  The first time we really came into contact was when she was appointed to train me to be the altar usher for a sesshin.  It is a service position that prepares the altar for each service during the day - preparing and lighting incense and generally making sure everything is ready and in the right place.  There are a lot of details to remember in this position and, as it is often assigned pretty early in one's training, the components don't always make sense because the flow of the service isn't so clear yet.  At least that was my experience.

Senjin broke the altar usher duties into three dances - first you stand here and make these movements, then you move over here and make these movements, then back to here for the final movements.  It actually made a lot of sense and was really helpful to have it broken down like that.  But the thing that I remember most was that she noticed I had a slightly horrified look on my face as the list of things to do got longer and longer and it was clear that I was getting a little uptight about making mistakes.  She kind of stepped back and said, "Look, I know it sounds like a lot but the main thing is to find your grace.  The rest will follow."

I have kept those three words in my head ever since.  When I am in a situation that feels overwhelming, and not just at the Monastery, I call them up.  It is remarkable just how helpful they are.  I thought of them many times during this year of illness, especially when things got rough.  I'd think, "C'mon Senj, find your grace!"

Although she fought and fought and fought, in the end, she did find her grace.

Thank you my love-love, my Senjilina.  Thank you for everything.


Patti Blaine said...

Deeply sorry for your loss, Robyn, you grace-filled being, you. xo

Robyn said...

Thanks Patti! You would have loved - and been driven insane by - Senjin. She was hugely talented and so complicated...oh my....but at heart she was filled with a deep spiritual longing. XOX

Chris Abraham said...

Thanks for this Ikyo.

Jan Morrison said...

She sounds a lovely person and I'm glad you knew her and she knew you.

Robyn said...

Thanks Jan. I am so glad that I got to know her too.

It's funny - but when I think of her, I don't really think of her as a lovely person. She was so many things but lovely isn't one of them. Powerful, charming, charismatic, talented, brilliant...and at times, manipulative and difficult. She had a challenging and amazing life. She could have turned to drugs or alcohol and no one would have blamed her - but instead she spent her life in a spiritual quest. Deep bows to her for that!