I’ve had many teachers, since I awoke enough to want one. For some of us, our hearts have to be broken before we become conscious of the pain and, as one teacher says, “go belly up.” My own heart was shattered by the sudden death of my elderly mother. While the reader might find it strange that a 47 year old woman did not truly grasp that her mother, at age 82, just might be at death’s door, that’s the way it was. When that news came, that she had passed away, the initial pain was almost unbearable. My whole world changed in that instant, and I heard myself say, “The world will never be the same. I feel my heart has opened.”
What a gift! Amazing changes began to take place within me. Through Grace, that inexplicable state of being that allows the most wondrous things to happen, I was led to first one teacher and then another, beginning with a wise, intuitive woman, a psychotherapist who declared she’d never learned anything in school. She had, however, earned the legal right to practice what she was so good at which was to work with people like me, as we searched for the meaning of our lives. Who was I really? Was I my beliefs? Were those beliefs even “mine,” or had I simply acquiesced to the beliefs of those around me? Once my eyes opened to the reality that much of my life, as I was living it, did not represent my Truth, I began to question everything. My heart was wide open to the answers, and they came. They came, one after another.
I stayed with my “root guru,” the wise woman who birthed me spiritually, for seven years. During that time, I met and studied with another wise woman who practiced shamanism. I sat in circles of women, listening and learning. I participated in the Native American Spiritual practice of the Sweat Lodge, particularly intense healing experiences.
Eventually, I made one of the biggest decisions of my life…up to that point. I left my career which I loved, the husband I loved, and the community of which I’d been a part for years. I boarded a plane for India. With no firm plan other than to make my way to the Northwest where I hoped to live with the Tibetan nuns, I, essentially, threw the deck of cards into the air and let them fall where they would.
Never, ever underestimate the power in letting go of the illusion of being in control! Those six months in India were, every day of them, a miracle of mindfulness. By simply letting life take me while paying attention moment-to-moment, I encountered Mother Teresa and was blessed on my first day in the country. In my last week, I had the priviledge of a private audience with HH The Dalai Lama. Every day in-between those two events was filled with miracles. Teachers were everywhere. Everything was a teaching. My nights were filled with vivid dreams, metaphors for my inner life. My days were filled with images, people, and events that I could also identify as metaphor. I experienced nothing as insignificant or without rich meaning.
As I was leaving India, the wise and delightful Rinchen Khandro, sister-in-law to HHDL, with whom I had become friends, advised that I “should find a teacher.” She meant, of course, a teacher of Tibetan Buddhism, a natural suggestion, since I had just spent some months studying in that tradition. I took her advice. I made phone calls to this and that lama, but nothing clicked.
Later the next year, I happened to be in Nova Scotia, with a weekend to spend alone. I drove to Cape Breton Island and found my way to Gampo Abbey, the remote practice center of the great Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron. Perhaps she’s a teacher for me, I thought. I arrived unannounced. It was a Saturday, and there were quite a few people around. I walked in, walked around, poured myself a glass of water, used the toilet, and left…without having spoken to one person. Nope, not my community, I thought.
I did eventually find my teacher, but I had stopped looking, thinking I’d return to India and His Holiness. A friend suggested I should attend a retreat led by the Vietnamese Zen Master Thay Thich Nhat Hanh. I resisted, wasn’t interested. Finally, she faxed me the registration material. Hmmm….time to pay attention!
I drove for two days, without enthusiasm, to Key West, Florida, to attend a five-day retreat. Following the first full Dharma Talk, I knew. This was it. I felt called. “What are you waiting for? When are you coming up here?” I heard those words in my ear, as Thay (means “honored teacher”) looked at me.
A few weeks later, I was in Plum Village, France for three months. I had “found” my teacher, or, remembering the Truth of Interbeing, we could also say that he had found me.
Looking for a teacher, consciously looking, has just never worked for me, yet, I’ve been blessed to have so many powerful teachers enter my life. We each do what works for us. Paying attention and letting the Universe work its magic has been my way.