Interview With Darlene Cohen [plus more links below]

1-12-11 - Darlene died this morning

See Darlene main page

Tony Patchel (widower)

Farewell dear friend of forty years, great spirit, great attitude, a real inspiration. - dc.


1-15-11 - Darlene Cohen in 1973 with son Ethan (born that year in March) with hubby Tony in background at Green Gulch Farm. Sent to cuke by Darlene's brother, David who says that he thinks Ethan was born on May 27th, the birthday of Daya Goldschlag's (Darlene's close friend and colleague and DC's first wife).

[Darlene Cohen began sitting at the SFZC in 1970 and was recently ordained as a priest. While living at Green Gulch Farm, she developed rheumatoid arthritis, a painful and crippling immune system disease. In her work with chronically ill patients, her approach to healing has focused on the synchronization of mind and body through attention to the minutiae of everyday life. Currently she sees private clients and gives lectures and pain seminars emphasizing mindfulness at medical facilities and meditation centers throughout the SF Bay Area. She also leads two regular mediation groups. Her book, Arthritis: Stop Suffering, Start Moving (Walker and Co.), offers instruction in using the tasks of everyday life to ease pain and reduce restriction in the body. Her second book, Suffering and Delight, will be published in Spring 2000 by Shambhala. She lives in San Francisco with her husband Tony. They have a grown son named Ethan.]

Brief bio of Darlene from her web site.

Go to Finding a Joyful Life in the Heart of Pain, published April 2000.

More on Darlene's books - that's from her web site.

Earlier reports on Darlene's condition

Darlene Cohen's site features
Russian River Zendo  this is her home zendo
Suffering & Delight
Crystal Springs Sangha
Healdsburg Sitting Group

Here's the new web site for the Russian River Zendo

More on her and co-teacher hubby Tony from that site

Tony's Zen Dreams in Suzuki Stories on this site with links to other writings by Tony.

And now, the Interview

March?, 1995

Darlene Cohen reading from a book on her life at Zen Center:

Dar: It's right after my description of Deborah Madison.

We (Tony and I) went back into the hallway on our way with our guide (who was showing us around Zen Center) to the raison d'etre of the entire building. (This is a couple of paragraphs in the middle of my first time at Zen Center.) The Zendo, the meditation hall, where students gathered four times daily for forty-minute periods. As we descended the curved staircase to reach the lower level we were met by a tiny Japanese man flanked on either side by students. He wore traditional Japanese robes. As soon as he saw Tony and me, colorful in our hippie garb and feathers and beads, he broke into a huge grin. He came to a full stop on the stairs, put his palms together in front of his face, and bowed deeply to us. Spontaneously, we imitated his bow. It did not end immediately. The three of us remained bent over in tribute to each other for what seemed like a very long time - long enough for me to enter the present. Long enough for me to feel inexplicably, deeply, hauntingly moved. In that moment, bowing with that kind old man, I understood that it was all okay. I was okay, the world was okay. Maybe not the way I wanted it all the time, but it was the way it was and I would go from there. My heart opened up and spilled over with gratitude and love. Where did that come from? How long had it been since I'd felt that kind of liberation. When at last we raised our heads in unison with his, his eyes met mine. His gaze was direct and steady. I sensed he knew what I had experienced or at least that I had had an experience. He smiled and went on with his attendants.

Our guide was overcome. "That was Suzuki-roshi," he told us. "He's the reason we're all here at Zen Center. He's our Zen teacher. He bowed to you guys."

"Yes," we agreed that it had happened. We looked at the zendo, admired it's spare, severe, Japanese lines and central altar, but for me it was all just detail, the minutia of my new life.

Dar: . . . I didn't know who he was, he just appeared out of nowhere. He had come back from Japan and started sitting next to me in zazen. I thought he was very weird. I was stunned when I went to the Mountain Seat Ceremony and Suzuki Roshi had to be carried in and everybody was weeping, and imagine my surprise when this weird guy who had been sitting next to me in zazen was the one walking in with the whisk. I didn't even know who he was. Just that he was so heavy vibe-wise sitting next to me. I felt very psychically linked up with him. He was so heavy and weird and strange.

I think I have some lectures in here from our first -- he was still lecturing in sesshin when we first came.

After we had sat in silence for some time, enough for my patience to begin to wear, after all this (the lecture) was the only diversion available and time was awastin.' A very small Japanese monk entered the back door of the zendo and approached the altar in the middle of the room. He was followed by a young American carrying incense. I recognized the monk with some pleasure. It was Suzuki-roshi, the one who had bowed to us on the stairwell weeks ago. A second Japanese monk entered (Katagiri). He had a forbidding dour face. He was much younger than Suzuki-roshi. He settled himself on the stage while Suzuki-roshi offered incense. After an elaborate series of incense offerings and bows, Suzuki-roshi also climbed onto his cushion on the stage.

DC: Poor Katagiri having to go to a lecture.

Dar: While he was quiet, he seemed very composed, stern even, but when he started to speak, he lit up the room with his animated features and engaging voice. He was not exactly lecturing, he was talking to us and he seemed to appreciate the difficulty we were having with the sesshin. The Stone Buddha, as I had nicknamed the unflinching fellow sitting beside me notwithstanding, other people besides Tony and me were having trouble sitting still. While I certainly seed to hold the record for number of moves in a period, I had seen many others shifting toward the end of the period. Suzuki-roshi made several references to our pain in sitting. His light attitude towards that pain soothed me, made my resentment a little more porous. I would have expected that I would be offended by any such failure to give my suffering the due I had been giving it, but I found myself willing to shift a little. He was suggesting another perspective from which to view this experience, a wider perspective - that all humans suffer unbearable pain as a matter of course, and we all take our own so personally and seriously. When he said this, I felt tremendous relief. My suffering was not specifically my own neurotic fault, it was just a part of being human. It came with the territory. But, he continued, we could question the source of that suffering - attachment to the thoughts, perceptions, and concepts that composed our identities as individual egos.

Suzuki-roshi seemed to enjoy young Americans in particular. He made reference to the hippie movement going on at that time. He said, young Americans want to throw away all the old ideas of their culture and have a new world. "Well," he grinned, "You stick with me, you will be super-hippie." We all laughed.

DC: What date would that be?

Dar: It would be December 1970.

Here's more on the next day.

The lecture was given this day not by Suzuki-roshi but by the dour one whom it turned out was named Katagiri-sensei. He wasn't a roshi yet but he was working on it. What he should have been working on in my opinion was his English. ... I really couldn't stand Katagiri-roshi at first.

So I go on and on about what an uptight prick he is, then I had dokusan with him. Nothing more about Suzuki Roshi.

When he was sick he wasn't seeing anybody but Yvonne, and some particular people. He wasn't seeing us, certainly. After this sesshin that I just described, the next time I saw him was at the Mountain Seat Ceremony, that was two years later.

DC: What did you do in the meantime?

Dar: Hung out with Reb and stuff. And then went to Tassajara. He died before we went to Tassajara. He died in 1971. So it was just a year then, I didn't see him for a year.

(When I had tea with Okusan or worked on her) ...mostly, I mean when she was mad she said he was a bad husband.

DC: I heard her say that a bunch of times. Don't let me stop you from repeating it.

Dar: She said, "Good priest, bad husband." She told alot of people that. I don't remember anything she said to me about him that was particularly unique.

DC: If you remember anything . . .

Dar: She said when she was in grade school, the teacher said that one of the children was going to have the honor of representing the class in some district event. She was asked to do this. I think she said that someone else had been asked before her, and the other student said, "Oh no, I'm not worthy, I couldn't possibly do this." That was the polite thing to do, she said. But when she was asked, she said she wanted to do it, and she didn't feel she wasn't worthy, she felt she would do a very good job representing her school. So when the teacher asked her to do it, she said, "Oh yes, I would like to do it very much." And she did. The teacher was very shocked. She said, "I always had American way."

Darlene Cohen II 8\30\95

Mitsu Suzuki is very small and extremely strong willed. She has these tiny limbs, when I work on her I can toss her leg in the air like a ball. But her body is so strong. She's going into her 80th year and she hasn't changed appreciably in the ten years I've been working on her. I showed her how to massage her knees and she does so and says "Thank you thank you thank you, for carrying me today." Usually when people have trouble with their knees they get angry with them but not her. She does the other exercises I gave her every morning and she's started doing Chi Gong cause I told her movement was good to keep off osteoporosis. So she started a class and she feels terrific. And she walks in the halls and swings her arms. She still has long black hair, getting a few strands of gray in it - she washes it on Thursdays and dries in the open air in the courtyard. I step into another world when I step into her apartment. It's like going to Japantown. It's cluttered with books and writing materials and is obviously the room of a person concerned with the mind and aesthetics. It has pictures like the one by Lucille Harris that she just gave to Daya. She gave Tony's picture away to Tom Giradot. (DC - where is the frog she gave me?) She's very flirtatious with young men, she was with Ethan at a Christmas party I invited her over to. She wrapped her shawl around him and pulled him to her. And she brought him a key chain that had a naked mermaid on it from Hawaii. When I went out to dinner with her she got so flirtatious that I asked her if I was interfering and should leave. At her grandson's birthday party I said there are a bunch of young men for you and she said, "Little too young, little too young."