Our January–and very first!–Member Spotlight is on our newest board member, Felicia Sy (she/her).
Felicia is a psychotherapist in private practice in south Minneapolis and is adjunct faculty in the social work department at the University of Saint Thomas. You can find Felicia in the BIPOC sangha, Clouds board meetings, and sitting with sangha members on Sundays.
We had great fun chatting on Zoom about anything and everything. Our transcript is below!
One of the teachers at our center, Kyoku Tracey Walen, will sometimes greet someone at the sangha with, “Hello, Buddha.” This is a way of acknowledging the other person’s Buddha nature. So…Hello, Buddha! It is nice to have you here with us.
Heather Demetrios Fehst
Clouds Blog Editor
How you identify: African-American
How did you discover Clouds? It was really when Reverend Angel Kyodo Williams was doing a special kind of BIPOC gathering. Thew BIPOC group at Clouds had brought her and it was open to the whole community. I believe I first got exposed during that time and then I began attending mostly the BIPOC meetings that were happening pre- pandemic. I’m still part of the BIPOC group at Clouds.I started with the BIPOC group and then over that time, I started attending just the regular sangha meetings as well for the general group, and then the pandemic happened. All through the pandemic, I continued to meet virtually, with the BIPOC group primarily. Now that we are in a different stage of the pandemic and life is more active again, I am attending more of the Sunday Dharma talks and have, as you know, joined the board because I had a very positive experience. The BIPOC group really supported me in those two years of the pandemic–it was a community that was wonderful to me and really supportive and I wanted to be able to give back.
If your life was the title of a book or movie, what would it be called? Women Who Run with the Wolves!
Why do you practice zazen and mindfulness? For my own well being. I first came to practice – first started meditating seriously and having a regular practice – in 2007, the year before my daughter was born. My daughter was born in 2008, and in 2007, I started practicing. I don’t think I would have called myself a Buddhist. I was going to Common Ground Meditation Center at that time, and really wanted to prepare myself for the challenges of being a parent. And I really wanted to have a grounding practice. I wanted to be able to get a grip on most things, and I really thought that certainly meditation, and then over time that Buddhism was a pathway to end my suffering. That’s why I do it. And that was spurred on in preparation for the birth of my daughter and wanting to be the best parent I could be.
What excites you? I’m really passionate about social justice issues, particularly around the ending and the transformation of white supremacy culture–as a social worker and a psychotherapist who primarily sees BIPOC people. I’m also a Diversity and Equity and Inclusion trainer. That’s part of my consulting business. And so just all of the ways in the world that we confront white supremacy culture, and whether I do that through psychotherapy, or whether I do that as an adjunct faculty, or whether I do that as a consultant. My passion is ending racism and limiting the impact of racism on the people that it most affects.
If you had to recommend one Dharma book, what would it be? The Shamanic Bones of Zen. Minna [Aranya Jain, Clouds Executive Director] had recommended it to me and I got it and I just have fallen in love with it.
Do you have anything on your bucket list? To do before I die? There’s lots of things on my bucket list. I want to go to Antarctica. That’s on my bucket list. I want to fly in a hot air balloon–that’s on my bucket list. And I want to continue to deepen my practice. As someone who does identify as Buddhist now, and as Zen Buddhist–that’s a big step. That’s a big leap to actually take that on as an identity. But I feel like after many, many years of practice, that that’s an identity [I have]. And so my bucket list is probably to go through priest training.I still have so much to learn, though. I mean, it’s a bucket list for a reason. I don’t know that I’ll be on the fast track.
What are you listening to right now? Oh, wow. That’s a good one. So, as a Christmas present, my daughter–who is fourteen-years-old, has this amazing ability to know music from all of the decades. I would say, starting in about 1970 to the present and most familiar with the 80s and 90s. She’s got a really great ear for music. And so she made two playlists for me. And it’s all music that I have never actually heard. It’s the best Christmas present ever. I listen to the playlist every day.
One is kind smooth and for relaxing. And she’s got these really mature tastes for fourteen! The other one was for listening to when I am jamming in my car. I‘m going to pull up the song by Little Simz, a rapper from the UK…and the song’s called Gorilla. And that’s what I’m really diggin’. It’s playing right now. The playlist my baby created for me.
Summer or winter? Summer!
Tea or coffee? Tea.
Evening with a book, or night on the town? Evening with a book
What or who is nourishing you most right now? Now this is a tricky question. When can I say that is appropriate for a blog at Clouds? My response is not appropriate for a blog post at Clouds!
What are you most looking forward to at Clouds in 2023? My board work, understanding more how the board works and my contribution to it. I’m really looking forward to my year as a board member.
Any Twin Cities community organizations or efforts you’d like to highlight?
Nexus Community Partners. Right now they’re doing work on establishing sabbaticals for BIPOC activists. And so they’re going to pay a significant sum of money to some people who are activists and meet their criteria, in order to be able to take three months off of work.
Anything else you’d like to add to help us get to know you better?
I have a beloved dog named Ruby that I got at the start of the pandemic. Ruby is a morkie, which is the combination of a Maltese and a Yorkie – and a significant part of our family. During the pandemic, one of the ways that I survived was I started raising chickens in my backyard. I love the fact that I got to raise chickens. And we planted an amazing garden. I’m a vegetable gardener.
And I absolutely love travel. Like, just in the last year I’ve spent a month in Mexico, and that was amazing, and the year before that we spent a good chunk of time in Costa Rica. I love international travel. As soon as 2022 came and we were allowed to travel again, I made some big plans for travel and have been all around the country and really all around the world. I’ve been to Russia and all over Europe and the Caribbean. I just really love travel.
Clouds in Water Zen Center is a vibrant urban community in the heart of Saint Paul, Minnesota. We practice in the Soto Zen Buddhist tradition, dedicated to awakening the heart of great wisdom and compassion. We welcome people of all backgrounds and faiths.
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