In our Faith Journal area, we've gathered some surprisingly candid and moving reflections on spiritual life by Buddhists from across the country. Read their stories and add your own.
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Home Base: Seattle
Occupation: Yoga Center Director
I was raised Protestant. My father is a Protestant minister. I always liked the fellowship and ritual of church, but even as a small child I didn't understand or connect to the concept of an external savior or theism. In 1971, I went to a small private college in Southern California. There, I took my first yoga class. Because I was a dancer, I thought it was easy, but it didn't sweep me off my feet. When I came to New York in 1978, I started teaching yoga at a health spa. I basically taught myself by reading a book by Richard Hittelman. When I formed my own dance company, I started to incorporate yoga into my warm-up and my choreography, but the yoga was still secondary.
When I was 39, I started getting really bored with having a dance company. At the same time I had become friends with Philip Glass, the composer. I used to go over to his house and notice that he had a lot of Tibetan thangka paintings on the walls. I didn't come from a broken home and I wasn't a victim of abuse, but at the time I suppose I felt some basic existential emptiness that many people experience. I was also unsatisfied in my career. I didn't really have a revelation that I would become a Buddhist, but it was in the environment that I was hanging out in, so I became interested in the practice.
In 1991, the Dalai Lama came to New York to give a five-day teaching. I decided to pay $250 and go. I saw my friend, writer Rudy Wurlitzer, there and he became my Dharma brother. He gave me my first Buddhist reading list, which included Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior by Chogyam Trungpa and Zen Mind, Beginnerís Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. Rudy told me that I needed to find a teacher. He suggested Gelek Rinpoche, who is an incarnate lama and the director of the Jewel Heart Sangha. In Buddhism, it is said that the students of the teacher will reveal what the teacher is like. I trusted my friends, so when I met Rinpoche in New York for the first time, it seemed natural to me that he would be my teacher. I felt like he knew me. He's been my teacher ever since.
During the same time, I was doing a lot of yoga. I started to incorporate yoga into my choreography and all my dances. I even did a concert with Allen Ginsburg called Dharma Dances in which he sang some Buddhist-inspired songs he had written, and accompanied himself on the harmonium.
Looking back, I think I turned into my father. He is a minister, and his religion informs his life. At the time yoga and Buddhism was informing everything that I did. I started teaching yoga at Jivamukti Yoga Center in New York. I was a bit subversive there because I was incorporating a lot of Buddhism into my yoga classes. It seemed organic for them to connect the ideas about developing the mind, compassion and patience. In 1998, I opened OM Yoga Center. From a physical point of view, yoga makes you strong, healthy, harmonious. It's not like a self improvement program. I might still feel crabby when I do it, but it is a practice to wake up the mind. It helps you become aware of, and maybe let go of, neurotic states of mind. Buddhist meditation is a practice of watching your mind. But because I identify with my body as a dancer, I like to incorporate my body into meditation. I used to only identify with my body as a thing outside of myself. Now they are more synchronized. I think that comes from combining Buddhist meditation and yoga. I still don't really know what drew me to Buddhism, but I do know that it stuck.
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