When were you first exposed to dharma?

Besides reading a few books over the years, I was first exposed to Buddhism twenty years ago. I was in a transition period of my life, leaving a relationship and moving to a new town. One of my main goals was to find a spiritual community. I felt this was lacking in my life and felt a strong pull to make a change. I found a place called the Spiritual Awareness Community (SAC) through a local weekly paper. I guess you could call them a new-age church. They brought in different speakers weekly, and the focus for the week could be Native American spirituality, Christianity, Abraham Hicks, New Thought, Unity or others. Periodically, Michael Stevens gave Buddhist teachings at SAC.

I was with SAC for five years and was on the Board of Directors for most of that time. Like many organizations, there were benefits and plenty of challenges. By the end of my time at SAC, I was looking for more consistency and depth. The different weekly speaker format was great for exposure to different takes on spirituality but left me feeling stuck in the shallows. My partner, Lisa, and I decided to go on a quest to find a spiritual-home and decided to start at the Natural Mind Dharma Center with Michael Stevens (which happened to be upstairs in the same building as SAC). I had really resonated with Michael’s teachings at SAC, so it seemed like a good place to start, and, as it turned out, I never left. Lisa did not stay with the Dharma Center but is committed to her own practice. She and I grow on our different paths through conversation and shared life experience.

I must admit that when I first walked in the Dharma Center, I was a bit surprised by the Deity images on the wall. Michael’s teachings seemed so practical and straightforward and these images seemed foreign and a bit off-putting. I wasn’t sure if I believed in God, at least not in the traditional Christian sense, and this place seemed to have gods all over the walls. Was I supposed to pray to all these images? I guess I had a more austere Zen-like image of Buddhism in my mind. “Oh well, I like Michael and can hang around for a while and see what happens.”

One of the main draws of the Dharma for me, besides the practical messages about calming the mind and changing one’s unhelpful habits, was the daily practices to be done at home. Other spiritual organizations I attended gave weekly presentations, often on Sunday, some one-time workshops and not much else. Finally, here was an opportunity to dive into the deep end.

Which sangha do you normally attend. Please describe how the role of the sangha has supported/inspired your practice.

I attend the Natural Mind Dharma Center in Bend, Oregon. I have been attending this center for almost fifteen years and have known the teacher, Michael, for twenty. There is something quite beautiful and inspirational when a whole room chants a mantra together in unison. At times each of us gets challenged and it is helpful to share your experience with someone who is on the same path. There is something that hooked me into the Dharma when I started to practice with devotion. Even when I get annoyed with someone at the center, sticking with it and working it out seems like the only choice. Giving up on the Dharma is not an option, as the Dharma has been too valuable in improving my life. And it seems from the feedback I receive that my practice has changed me for the better over time.

I also have a lapis lazuli mala
for Medicine Buddha
and a bone mala for wrathful practice.

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.



"All phenomena are perfect from the beginning.”
This calms my mind and helps ease my desire to ‘fix’ things.

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.

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!