If you have ever been to a Family Day at Spirit Rock, there’s a good chance you’ve seen Jean Kinsey, one of our long-time volunteers. On those days, she can often be seen in the little Family Program garden by the meadow, bent down under the ‘Hiroshima Tree’ tending to the plants and kids alike.
Jean has lived in the San Geronmio Valley near Spirit Rock for the past 30 years, so she is intimately connected with the area. She has hiked all of the nooks and crannies of the valley, raised her son here, worked at various schools in the area, and her partner was a county supervisor. Given all of this, Jean has a very unique perspective on this community and place. And she has been a part of the Spirit Rock Community since before its inception!
In 1978 she began to hear about the practice of Insight Meditation and about a group in Massachusetts that was forming a center (which became IMS). “I wanted to know about these people,” she said. She read about the Eightfold Path and felt instantly that was how she wanted to live, too. Many things started to point towards this path. Then Jean started to hear a buzz that people from the Massachusetts group were looking for land on the west coast to start an Insight Meditation center here—never dreaming that it would end up in the very valley where she lived! She was part of the first meditation classes Jack Kornfield taught at the Fairfax Community Church and came to class every week when the first trailers were put on the Spirit Rock land. She has been involved in different capacities over the years but says that she always comes back to Spirit Rock as a touchstone, where she can remember the principles of how she would like to live.
Eleven years ago, Jean started volunteering in the Family Program. It was while her son was in the Teen Program. She started talking with teacher Heather Sundberg about a small patch of sunflowers that looked like they needed some love. She said, “How about if I plant something here with the kids?” The first project was a bean ‘tee-pee’ with scarlet runner beans. Then other people were inspired and soon a fence was built to mark off the little garden. Wendy Johnson, the renowned Zen gardener from Green Gulch, planted veggies and a tree that had survived Hiroshima, and it slowly grew and became a place to teach from.
Jean learned gardening and a love of plants from her father, who had an organic garden. She even had her own vegetarian restaurant at one point. As she explained, “When I feel overwhelmed with what a crazy world this is, I walk down to my garden and it helps me to feel connected again. I wanted to give this to the kids. You don’t need to talk about the Buddha directly; in the garden the interconnectedness is transmitted to the kids just by being with the earth, nurturing it, nurturing ourselves, nurturing others. This is where I am in my strongest, calmest place, where I am most present. This is what I can offer to the kids and they can feel that—I really don’t have to talk about Buddhism at all.”
It is this kind of embodied wisdom that Jean brings that makes us so fortunate to have her as part of the Spirit Rock Sangha. Thank you Jean!