How has the path manifest in your daily experience?
My life is now filled with joy and appreciation and is much less stressful than it used to be, and I owe much of this to the Dharma. I have tools that calm my mind, bring out the positive and help me take the focus off myself and my perceived problems. In the past, I would often blame someone else or a situation if I was having a hard time. I now see how my point of view flavors everything I see and do. I am projecting my habits of mind on everything. One of my stickier habits has been to want someone else to be different. By easing up on this desire, I have learned to laugh at myself and to flow with the beauty of situations and of people just the way they are. I am certainly not perfect at this but continue to improve.
When I was younger, I was a perfectionist. I believed there is one perfect way to do any given task, and I needed to try and achieve that perfect way. Through the Buddhist teachings and reflecting on my way of being in the world, I have been able to relax much more and just let people be who they are, not trying to fix everybody or every situation. As Michael says, “The person trying to fix the problem is the problem.” I like to bring to mind the line from the Medicine Buddha practice of our lineage, “All phenomena are perfect from the beginning.” This calms my mind and helps ease my desire to ‘fix’ things.
One of my greatest teachers was my mom. She lived with my partner and I for eleven years and just passed away recently. After many years of trying too hard to make things better for her according to my ideal of better, I started to work at letting things be. It was funny how much friction was caused by my trying to have things go a certain way. It annoyed my mom and was very stressful for my partner and me. I attribute the change in myself to the Buddhist teachings I received and the practice I have done over the years.
Another lesson from Mom was letting people help me out. I tried to do everything myself regarding helping my mom and for the most part I was able to pull it off. Towards the end of my mom’s life, her capacity to do things for herself changed dramatically and I realized that I needed help. When Hospice showed up, I decided that I was going to start saying ‘yes’ when people asked if I needed help. What a profound change for me. I could tell that when people were helping, they were getting a lot out of it too. How long I had pushed away help not allowing the space for others to experience the joy of giving.
If you explore other lineages within buddhism, how did you come to decide on which lineage was right for you?
Except for reading books written by teachers in other lineages, I have stayed with Vajrayana Buddhism in the Nyingma lineage. I didn’t actively decide on this lineage, I just took advantage of an opportunity that was close at hand. My primary teacher is Michael Stevens from the Natural Mind Dharma Center in Bend, Oregon. I feel very grateful to have a Dharma center in my hometown. Michael is currently supported in his practice by Lama Rinchen who has centers in Nepal, St. Louis and Santa Fe. Lama Rinchen comes to Bend to do teachings on a regular basis often once per year. Michael’s root teacher was Khenchen Palden who passed away in 2010. Both Lama Rinchen and Khenchen Palden were born in Tibet and studied with Dudjom Rinpoche. Michael has the biggest influence on my practice as I resonate with his teachings (which I hear two times a week), and I meet with him regarding my duties as treasurer and email manager of the Dharma Center and as a friend. I appreciate the fact that he is not only trained as a Buddhist teacher but also trained as a Methodist minister. Since Christianity is such a large part of our culture, Michael’s knowledge helps him understand our hang-ups and bring teachings in a way that are relatable to the American mind. At first, I was put off by the deity images of Vajrayana Buddhism. Now I realize that the imagery and the chanting of Tibetan Buddhism work well for me. The practice of visualization and chanting of mantras gives my busy mind something positive to do.
What are some of your practices/rituals that you do to support your spiritual development (meditation/prayers and etc)
The Düdjom Tersar Ngöndro has been my main practice over the years. This practice consists of chanting mantras and generating visualizations and then dissolving them and resting in silent meditation. The Ngöndro practice is an anchor for me and I do it every morning. There have been times where felt I was getting sick or just felt off and by the time I finished my morning practice, I was feeling good again. I appreciate the ancient technology of the mala which I use to keep track of my mantras. It is simple, beautiful and doesn’t lose count. You feel your progress as you make your way around the mala. I suppose there might be some apps for your phone now that will do a nice job of keeping track, but I am sticking with the mala. Ritual items are not emphasized at our center, so I have not used them much. I have a prayer wheel that I use periodically while chanting the Chenrezig mantra. I also have a lapis lazuli mala for Medicine Buddha and a bone mala for wrathful practice. Currently I am doing lama, yidam and dakini practices in addition to the Ngöndro practice. Besides my morning practice, I take time in the evenings to practice before I go to bed.
What is your primarily profession?
At this point, the Dharma infuses everything I do. I volunteer as treasurer and email manager for the Dharma Center and co-lead a Saturday morning Ngöndro practice there. My primary profession was in the bicycle industry and for a long time riding my bicycle was like a spiritual practice to me. It gave me a sense of space and of connection to the moment and to things around me. Cycling still feeds me in this way. I am semi-retired now and besides volunteering, I help take care of rental properties my partner and I own.
Do you think your personality or background influence the lineage/practices that resonate with you?
I have always been a visual person and the fact that imagery and visualization are a big part of the Nyingma lineage of Vajrayana Buddhism works well for me and keeps me inspired. I also love the fact that most of the senses are engaged through incense, imagery, the touch of the mala, and the sound of the mantra. I tend to be in my head too much and having all the “bang shang-a-lang” (as Michael would say) of the Nyingma lineage gets me out of my head and into the moment.