Ordinary Mind UK
Welcome to Ordinary Mind UK! We are an online-based Zen group working to make a safe, welcoming and inclusive practice space that offers a voice to all who take part. By sitting together online we are not limited by geography, and less restricted by accessibility and time constraints. ‘Ordinary Mind’ means: mind as it is in our ‘ordinary’ lives, and so Ordinary Mind Zen takes our everyday lives as both the subject matter and fulfilment of our practice. We welcome both those new to Zen practice, and those from other traditions who are perhaps looking for something a little different.
Led by our teacher Malcolm Martin, we are part of the Ordinary Mind Zen School founded by Charlotte Joko Beck in 1995. Malcolm is a Dharma heir of Barry Magid, who is himself a Dharma heir of Joko Beck. Barry founded the Ordinary Mind Zendo in New York in 1996, and continues as its resident teacher. Today there are Ordinary Mind groups across the United States, Europe and Australia.
Our sangha meets online in the Zoom Zendo on Tuesday evenings, with two periods of zazen, a Dharma talk and discussion. There is also the opportunity to work one to one with our teacher over Zoom and email.
We run Saturday morning sesshins every two months, and our Precepts Study Group meets monthly. This October we will be holding our second residential sesshin in the Forest of Dean.
For more information please email us or check the WHAT'S ON page
WHAT WE DO
The core of our practice is zazen, sitting 'meditation'. We simply sit still, very still, and observe what happens in our thoughts, our perceptions, our bodily feelings. We become aware of their ebbing and flowing, of their constant shifting and the patterns and interconnections they form over time. We become aware of our desire for things to be other than they are, right here, right now, whether that's the pain in my knee, or the difficulties in my relationships. We work with this awareness in our everyday life, in discussion with other students and individual work with a teacher.
MY ORDINARY MIND
What do we want out of life? Happiness? Purpose? Love? Riches? Whatever we think we want, we all believe our life should work out in just the way we want it to, and to be brutally honest it mostly just doesn’t. In reality all of us suffer — are sometimes unhappy, perplexed, frustrated, angry — worse, for some of us these emotions form a steady background to our lives. We can blame the world as a whole, God, or the people around us. Or we can blame ourselves...I’m too lazy, stupid, naive, or just plain bad to deserve getting what I want. Most of us try both, looking endlessly for the fix that will either make the world do what I want, or make me a better and more capable person.
Zen won’t fix us. A lifelong Zen practice won’t mean I’m always happy, won’t mean I don’t get sad or depressed. It won’t mean I don’t feel pain and suffer when my partner leaves me or I get diagnosed with cancer. But what if, fundamentally, there wasn’t a problem? Not because of the promise of some future heaven, or because I should just rise above my very real experience of pain right here and now. But rather, what if these apparent problems aren’t something separate from me and my life? What if it isn’t a problem to have problems? What if I didn’t really need fixing anyway?
The distinctive contribution to Zen practice of the Ordinary Mind Zen School has been to take the everyday experience of our lives — and especially what causes us difficulty, suffering — as the subject, the raw material, with which we work in our Zen practice. Our relationships with our partners, children, parents and friends are particularly fertile for opportunities to practice, precisely because of their complexities and misunderstandings. Balancing our hopes and fantasies of how we would like our lives to be, with the everyday realities of earning a living, raising a family and caring for those we love. Coming to see how the ways we react to life’s stresses relate both to patterns we formed in early childhood, and the prevailing values of our society.
Understanding that this is so can help avoid the error that ‘my’ practice is, ultimately, all about ‘me’. Feminism and the Black Lives Matter movement, to name only two examples, have shown us the absolute need to understand how our own lives as individuals are shaped by social forces, and how in every sense ‘the personal is political’. If we truly understand that our practice is always about ‘my life as it is’, then it is also true that, in the deepest sense, ‘the spiritual is political’. Which brings us to the Precepts — Zen’s approach to ethics, to how I can best live my life in this world as it is. How does my perception of myself change when I come to see, in Barry Magid’s words, that ‘we ourselves simply are impermanence, interconnection, and perfection.’?
Zen is a slow approach to living. It shouldn't promise to transform your life in a weekend. The word ‘Zen’ actually means ‘meditation’, and sitting still in meditation (‘zazen’) is the core of what we do. While it originated in the Buddhist tradition, today Zen is practiced by people of ‘all faiths or none’, and while both our teacher Malcolm Martin and his own teacher, Barry Magid identify as Buddhist, for many Zen is a part of their life alongside the faith they were born into or have adopted.
Zen began around fifteen hundred years ago in China and was later transplanted to Japan. From the beginning, Zen expressed itself through different schools with variations in their approach. Since the nineteen sixties there has been an explosion of Zen practice in the West, and the development of new schools that try to maintain continuity with Zen's tradition while adapting it to be appropriate to our contemporary lives. Zen makes no promises of any kind. Many who practice Zen long term over years and decades speak of a slow and deep transformation of their relationship to themselves, to other people and to the world, in a way that can be difficult to describe fully. But there can be no expectations.
Malcolm Martin: Ordinary Mind UK Teacher
'Not-separate with ourselves, not-separate with each other'
"OMUK began sitting as a group of people brought together online by the pandemic, ranging from beginners to those with decades of experience with different groups. We are building our sangha, our community, as a shared experience — I offer a talk or perhaps a commentary on something from one of Joko Beck's or Barry Magid's books, and everyone is invited to offer a response in whatever form it arises. Besides our weekly meetings and occasional sesshin sits, I try to meet regularly with students by Zoom and email. Whether you are already part of a group or working on your own, a we are keen to offer support for your practice in any way we can. If you have been interested by Joko or Barry's books, or by my own work on Zen ethics, or are simply interested in trying something new, please get in touch with us!"
Malcolm Martin founded Ordinary Mind Zendo UK in 2019, and is the only Ordinary Mind teacher working in the UK, having studied with and been given authorisation to teach by Barry Magid, the founder of Ordinary Mind Zendo in New York. As well as leading OMUK Malcolm teaches with Ordinary Mind in the United States and Australia. For the last ten years he has worked as a Buddhist chaplain in different UK prisons, and is writing a new guide to the Zen Precepts as a socially engaged practice: 'Prison Face — The Zen Precepts as if People Mattered'