October 15, 2013
Mining Maturity: An Interview with Jeffrey Schneider on Older Men and Sailing to Byzantium

F.-Brody---SFZC-CC-030_crop_x100Looking back over many years of life, what do we glean from reviewing the many joys and losses encountered, and how does this maturity relate to practice? One of the best ways to assimilate the answers to these questions may be in group reflection, sharing stories of lessons learned, as proposed by Jeffrey Schneider, who has been practicing at San Francisco Zen Center since 1978.

Sailing to Byzantium
by W. B. Yeats
That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.
O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.
Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

Jeffrey will lead Sailing to Byzantium: A Day-long Gathering for Men Over 55 at City Center on Sunday, November 10, which may include topics such as love, work, health and spirituality. Sangha News Weekly asked Jeffrey a few questions related to the upcoming gathering.

SNW: Can you explain why you chose the literary reference in the title and how it relates to what we will experience in the workshop?

Jeffrey: I wanted to call it Love and Death, but couldn’t get it past the program department.

SNW: Is there a particular phrase or line from the poem that you feel speaks most directly to Zen practice?

Jeffrey: Not really. It can’t be twisted into any sort of Zen statement without doing violence to the poem itself. It is more the feeling tone that draws me (as well as the sheer beauty of the language). And Buddhist or not, we all deal with the realities of aging and death.

SNW: What is it about a workshop just for men that is important or supportive (as opposed to a group that included elders of both genders)?

Jeffrey: There is some comfort and safety, I believe, in practicing and speaking about serious concerns with those who have a common experience. This is why we also have groups for women, for young people, for people in recovery, etc. It doesn’t do away with the benefit of practicing with others who do not share a common reference of age, gender or whatever; but it’s good to be in a place now and again where you don’t have to explain quite so much of your experience.


Jeffrey Schneider (photo by Marcia Lieberman)

SNW: At a recent Dharma talk, you mentioned that this year marks 35 years of practice for you. What do you appreciate most about growing older in or with your practice?

Jeffrey: Thirty-five years at Zen Center, yes. I don’t take myself, Zen Center or even practice quite so seriously.  My belief is that real practice doesn’t begin until we are thoroughly disillusioned. It needn’t take 35 years, though.

Set sail with Jeffrey deeper into the issues, stories and poetry of maturity, in Sailing to Byzantium: A Day-long Gathering for Men Over 55.