"Everything is based on our own uptightness. We could blame the organization; we could blame the government; we could blame the food; we could blame the highways; we could blame our own motorcars, our own clothes; we could blame an infinite variety of things. But it is we who are not letting go, not developing enough warmth and sympathy - which makes us problematic. So we cannot blame anybody." - Chogyam Trungpa
Attendance has been erratic at the Zen Center. Last week, I opened on Wednesday and Thursday mornings before leaving town for the weekend. Only two people showed up on Wednesday, and that was after I was there alone for a half hour. Only one person showed up on Thursday, and she left with a half hour still to go. I didn't let it bother me.
Monday, only one person showed up for the evening service. That's cool, I figured, and we sat together in silence for an hour. About five minutes before the end of the evening's service, a second arrived. I offered the opportunity to stay for a discussion after the service, and the young lady who was there for the whole service left, and the late arrival stayed. We wound up going out for a late-night latte and had a great conversation until nearly 11.
Wednesday, I got a call asking if I could fill in for the Wednesday night beginner's instruction. I agreed, and we had six newcomers arrive. I always enjoy giving instruction to newcomers. Several stayed afterwards for a half hour or so, but as the last to leave were heading for the door, a seventh arrived late. He had come quite a distance, and said that he had trouble finding the street we were on. Although I was tired, I gave him a quick newcomer's orientation starting at 9 pm, and reminded him of our regular Wednesday hours (7.00 - 8.30 pm).
I've heard others complain about people arriving late or leaving early. I don't see what the problem is. Human interactions are always chaotic and messy, and rarely do they conform to a schedule. We should sit and we should share the dharma with others who want it, and we shouldn't be concerned if the audience is large or small, early or late, attentive or bored, passive or aggressive.
If no one shows up, that's merely an opportunity to deepen our own practice - both by undistracted, silent sitting, and by examining why we cling to wanting an "audience."