Running Towards the Quiet Roar of the Dharma

I felt swallowed by suffering into the giant maw of a monstrous lion. Over the past few years I’ve lost almost everything but life, and even that was in question at times. In the midst of such suffering I learned to run towards the roar, the roaring of lions mute with fear and rage and cravings. I had to learn to do so or else the Grim Reaper would hug me with his scythe. I learned to run towards the quiet roar, the quiet ROAR of the Dharma, to stay present to the miracle of my life.

An unusual compression of numerous losses traumatized me more than I would like to admit. I even ended up semi-homeless for two months and staying with friends for a few more. I say “semi-homeless” because I lived out of a tent pitched back in the bushes behind three enormous woodpiles and a Native American sweat lodge with access to the facilities of a nearby house. All in the middle of urban North Seattle. In each moment I was awake I ran and sometimes stumbled towards that quiet roar, that quiet ROAR of the Dharma.

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Inner Shifts of Being

Sunset from the bluffs while gazing across the Sound toward the Olympics. Richmond Beach Park, Shoreline, Washington, Sunday 23 September 2012. Foto by William Dudley Bass.

Sunset from the bluffs while gazing across the Sound toward the Olympics. Richmond Beach Park, Shoreline, Washington, Sunday 23 September 2012. Foto by William Dudley Bass.

Something has shifted in me recently. What has shifted is I’ve lost my taste to speak harshly of others.

During the unexpected challenges of recent years I almost crumbled. The past few months were particularly difficult emotionally and financially. I could’ve sunk deeper into cynicism and bitterness and wallowed in apathy and self-pity. Instead I found the strength and the courage to pivot into a field where there are no paths. My life was my own to choose. My life was mine to live.

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Over Meditated

After four days away in the woods of Cloud Mountain, a Buddhist meditation retreat center down near Mt. St. Helens, Washington, I’m back in the Emerald City of Seattle surfing traffic in my four-wheeled kayak. With fiercely serene contemplation my breath guides me to all the sweet spots between grinding dump trucks and vrooming sports cars and teeth-gnashing morons, oops, excuse me, peoplyps, wow, post-meditation Freudian malapropism there smashing together people and polyps! Oops, back to the breath. Breathing in, breathing out. Good thing we worked with our nasal orifices and not any others. Indeed.

During the retreat, we focused on Samatha or Concentration and Tranquility Meditation with Jhana practices. Samatha is “the other twin” to Vipassana, or Insight Meditation, and is little known in North America. It’s beginning to take root, however, as it is rediscovered by many practitioners. My two teachers, Tina Rasmussen, a former nun, and Stephen Snyder, had immersed themselves deeply in these Samatha practices. They mentored under a rare master, the Venerable Pa Auk Sayadaw of Myanmar/Burma.

After studying and practicing Vipassana in Seattle for two years it proved to be the missing link. For the two middle days I spent at least nine to ten hours in sitting meditation, or attempting to, and the rest of my time awake meditating while walking, eating, and during tasks such as brushing my teeth or working as one of two “soup yogis.”

As part of trading work for money to get myself into the course, I set up and maneuvered giant soup contraptions for the cook. It wasn’t hard, especially as a tiny woman with a head-spinning mane of hair who once spent five years as a bald nun on a silent Zen meditation retreat handled those big soup gamdoodles even faster than I did.

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