By Tova Green
Note: This is the first in a two-part series on families at Tassajara. Part two will follow shortly.
Tassajara residents Lauren Bouyea and Zenko Jordan Montgomery met during the Fall 2016 Tassajara Practice Period. They married in 2019 and their daughter Mirabelle was born on June 26, 2020. Lauren is the Tassajara Director and Zenko is the Temple Coordinator and part-time Treasurer. These positions allow flexibility around Mira’s needs but they still juggle the practice schedule, work schedule, and their daughter’s needs.
What’s most rewarding about being a family at Tassajara is seeing how much joy residents experience around Mira. “They melt when they see her,” says Zenko, and Mira gets to interact with many people. Lauren is grateful to be able to raise Mira in a wilderness area and sees Mira manifesting a wild spirit as a result.
When Lauren was pregnant she went on long hikes and felt a deep connection to the reality that birth and death was happening all around her—animals, plants, stars. With all that is happening in the world—Covid-19, politics, climate change, and so on—being in the natural setting of Tassajara creates a feeling of deep trust that Mira is fundamentally okay and the world is fundamentally okay.
Since Mira’s birth, Zenko experiences “parental mind” more strongly. He finds he is more sensitive to other people’s needs. He can be present for Mira when she is fussy and this ability expands to community members when they seem fussy.
Lauren quoted Suzuki Roshi: “A mother will take care of her child even if she has no idea how to make her happy,” and commented, “Mira is a great teacher in being with what-is and practicing with how to be okay with her suffering. Parents can think that it’s their job to fix their child’s suffering, and all the parenting books say how important it is to comfort your baby when they’re upset, but suffering is inevitable and makes us stronger—how much/what kind of discomfort is okay?
“As Mira gets older, she learns how to soothe herself more and more. Taking care of another human, especially one who is still unable to communicate with language, requires a kind of open and intimate responsiveness, a responsiveness that doesn’t try to control the situation.
“Zen teaches us that there’s nothing to rely on—but the parent’s job is to create trust and a feeling of safety—so we are trying to find some middle way between not hiding the truth of life’s harsh realities, and also creating a feeling of trust and a secure attachment.”
Lauren and Zenko had planned to have a home birth at Jamesburg but Mira was born five weeks early in a hospital. Their midwife was unable to come due to Covid-19 restrictions. It wasn’t what they planned or wanted. Mira was born with a condition that required two cranial surgeries. They had to drive for three hours one-way to get to medical appointments, which were sometimes difficult to arrange.
At Tassajara, it can be isolating not to be able to be part of the schedule and do what everyone else is doing. However, Lauren and Zenko appreciate being able to live and work in the same place and to be able to combine that with the quality time they share with Mira.