“She’s very easy to love,” Greg Fain, 53, says from the couch at the San Francisco Zen Center, where he lives, works and shares his life with Linda Galijan, 51. Both are priests here at the mother ship of American Zen practice; they teach meditation and hold various service positions in this large spiritual community.
“Greg cannot hold a grudge,” Linda replies. “He’s just not able to.”
Often during the telling of their story, these two circle back to their genuine appreciation for each other, and for the path they share. “Our practice comes first,” Greg says, “and from that our relationship is naturally supported.”
Their is “practice,” both explain, the routine of meditation and service within a community to which they’re dedicated. Practice, Linda continues, includes a commitment to compassion and the relief of suffering. It also includes being an early bird: Morning meditation begins at 5:15.
Neither seems surprised by the course their lives have taken since 2000, when they first became involved. Both were students at the Berkeley Zen Center and were sharing a ride to a San Francisco event, when, as Greg puts it, a light went on.
“Greg’s face lit up” says Linda, who was driving. (mid-Bay Bridge.) “But I felt it, too.” It was, they both say, a kind of love at first sight – though they had previously seen each other at the zendo. Yet there was a glitch.
Greg was due to move to Tassajara, a Zen monastery east of Big Sur, in only a matter of weeks. He did so, and there, in the center’s one phone booth, he made nightly calls to Linda, often shivering in the cold in his thin robes.
“Plus, 9 o’clock is like Zen midnight,” Greg jokes, explaining that the couples’ conversations cut into precious sleep time. (At Tassajara, wake-up is around 4 a.m.) For two years, with frequent visits, the two grew closer. Finally, in 2002, Linda moved to Tassajara as well. “To practice Zen,” she says, correcting an assumption that she moved for Greg.
In 2005, well after both had been ordained as priests, the two married at the Berkeley Zen Center, in full robes.
“Many relationships start here,” says Linda, a former psychotherapist. “The practice provides good relationship skills.”
“We do fight,” she admits, and Greg laughs. “But on any given day, our relationship is not about whether we happen to like each other; there is a larger container that is more reliable than that.”
This month, the two will spend their anniversary in Japan, at the monastery from which their tradition sprang. “We’re really Zen nerds,” admits Greg, noting, with a smile, that it is quite possible that they’ll be housed in separate rooms.
On what they admire about each other:
Linda: “Greg has an amazing ability to let go, to be present with an open heart.”
Greg: “Linda doesn’t do anything by halves. She devotes herself to everything she takes on, including the relationship.”[Louise Rafkin: San Francisco Chronicle]