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Awakin Calls » Mushim Patricia Ikeda

Mushim Patricia Ikeda: Buddhist teacher, author, mentor, and community activist
Jan 14, 2017: Taking the Great Vow Not to Burn Out



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Mushim Patricia Ikeda is a sansei (third-generation Japanese American) poet and writer, social justice activist, diversity and inclusion consultant, secular mindfulness coach and core Buddhist teacher based in Oakland, California.  She teaches primarily at the East Bay Meditation Center (EBMC) in downtown Oakland, where she also served on the board of directors, known as the Leadership Sangha, for seven years.  She now works part-time on EBMC's staff as the community coordinator. Born in 1954 and raised in rural Ohio, Mushim was among the first Asian American poets to publish (under her secular name Patricia Y. Ikeda), in a volume of poems published by Cleveland State University in 1978 and in the 1983 anthology Breaking Silence: An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American See full.
Mushim Patricia Ikeda is a sansei (third-generation Japanese American) poet and writer, social justice activist, diversity and inclusion consultant, secular mindfulness coach and core Buddhist teacher based in Oakland, California.  She teaches primarily at the East Bay Meditation Center (EBMC) in downtown Oakland, where she also served on the board of directors, known as the Leadership Sangha, for seven years.  She now works part-time on EBMC's staff as the community coordinator.

Born in 1954 and raised in rural Ohio, Mushim was among the first Asian American poets to publish (under her secular name Patricia Y. Ikeda), in a volume of poems published by Cleveland State University in 1978 and in the 1983 anthology Breaking Silence: An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American Poets.  After receiving her MFA in English (poetry writing) from the University of Iowa Graduate Writers Workshop, she jumped the tracks of a potential career of teaching creative writing and contemporary literature in colleges and universities.  An increasingly urgent spiritual quest led her to renounce what belongings she had and to move in May 1983 into the just-starting-up Zen Buddhist Temple in Ann Arbor, Michigan, as a full time resident under a vow of poverty.  Designated the office manager, she began with a landline phone, a small wooden bench to write on, some pens, the temple checkbook, and a shoebox for petty cash and receipts, and over the next several years helped to build the temple along with a diverse Sangha (spiritual community) that included Zen practitioners from the U.S., Mexico, Canada, Korea and Japan.

A period of spiritual seeking throughout the U.S. and to the monasteries of South Korea and back from 1986 through 1988 came to a close and a new chapter in Mushim's life began with the birth of her son in 1989 in Northern California, and the instruction from several Asian Zen teachers to direct her spiritual practice toward raising her child. She also received encouragement to begin writing again, in whatever small periods of time that she could carve out from parenting, and slowly began to publish new work, including a quarterly column on Buddhist family practice published in the Buddhist Peace Fellowship's magazine, Turning Wheel, over a period of ten years. 

Mushim volunteered for 11 years in the Oakland Unified Public School District, which her son attended K through 12.  "People who know me know that being a mother and having spent a lot of time as a classroom volunteer in the Oakland Unified School District is hugely important to me," she has said.  "Anything I'm doing right now, I'm doing with children in mind. The stories and memories we pass on to them are political -- these stories and memories need to be fresh, empowering and liberating!"

Mushim has become widely known for her down-to-earth, humorous, and penetrating approach to spiritual practice and social transformation.  She has taught residential meditation retreats for people of color, social justice activists, and women nationally, and her work is based in values of cultural humility, acknowledging the wisdom that is ever-present in individuals and collectives, and the need for expression, empowerment, and co-creative self-determination in marginalized communities. 

In describing her approach to training, she says that "I've been training mindful social justice activists for the past year and two of my questions to them have been: What do you do for fun? What makes you increasingly joyful? Wherever I go, I emphasize the importance of taking a vow to not burn out, choosing instead 'to celebrate, celebrate, celebrate' -- as activist Paul Kivel says in the 'Resistance' chapter of his magnificently useable book, You Call This Democracy?: Who Benefits, Who Pays, Who Really Decides."

Mushim is the recipient of the 2014 Gil A. Lopez Peacemaker Award from the Association for Dispute Resolution of Northern California, recognizing her innovative one-year program, Practice in Transformative Action (PiTA), mindfulness training for social justice activists, at the East Bay Meditation Center.  PiTA trains change agents in how to skillfully spread mindfulness practices in all of their spheres of everyday activity.  In September 2015 she received an honorary Doctor of Sacred Theology (sacrae theologiae) degree from the Starr King School for the Ministry.

As a writer, Mushim is the recipient of the first Alice Hayes Fellowship from the Ragdale Foundation to support a one-month residency for a writer working on social justice and environmental issues.  Under the name "Patricia Y. Ikeda," her poems have appeared in groundbreaking Asian Pacific North American anthologies such as Breaking Silence (1983) and Premonitions: The Kaya Anthology of New Asian North American Poetry (1995). 

Mushim has been featured in the award-winning documentary film Between the Lines: Asian American Women's Poetry and as one of three subjects in the documentary Acting on Faith: Women's New Religious Activism in America, distributed by the Pluralism Project at Harvard University.  Mushim has published nonfiction essays on Buddhism and diversity, and taught a one-month online retreat on that topic for www.tricycle.com in August 2013.


Five Questions for Mushim

What Makes You Come Alive?
I love it if my mindfulness and meditation students have an "aha" moment, when a whole new way of perception and being suddenly opens up to them.

Your Greatest Inspiration?
Going head to head with a Korean Zen master on a remote mountaintop in South Korea in the summer of 1988.

An Act of Kindness You'll Never Forget?
On my birthday, January 1, 2010 my friend Max presented me with a video Max had made, containing messages and songs of love and birthday greetings from some of my friends. I was going through a rough patch in my life, and the expansive generosity of this act helped me in my process of regaining courage and hope.

One Thing On Your Bucket List?
Skydiving. My father trained to be a parachuter at the end of WWII, as a soldier in the U.S. Army occupying Japan. He used to set me and my younger brother on top of chairs in our living room in Ohio, and yell "Jump!" and we'd have to simulate parachuting and landing, retracting our arms and legs and rolling when we hit the floor.

One-line Message for the World?
My original Zen teacher said this: "The universe is vast and our life is infinite."


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