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Inspiration - Sanghamitta's Spiritual Journey Part 3

I wanted to continue to study meditation. However, sitting in silence was still hard for me.

I no longer remember what my mind was thinking, but it was agitated.

The above 4 experiences were successful because my mind had something else to focus on that was strong enough to keep its attention. The breath, initially, wasn't strong enough. So, I started my daily practice with 35 minutes of walking meditation and 5 minutes of sitting meditation. Once I could handle the 5 minutes of sitting, I gradually increased until I could do the entire 40 minutes sitting.

The leader of that first workshop was Mechele Calvert. She became my teacher until her death. Her teacher was Bhante Piyadassi, a senior monk in Sri Lanka. Thus my beginnings in Buddhism were in the Theravada Forest/Wilderness tradition. I attended 2 retreats with Bhante Piyadassi when he came to Canada on his world teaching tours.

Even though my husband did not join me in meditating, he was incredibly supportive. He was a very relaxed, easy going person. Often, it is suffering that draws a person to the teachings of the Buddha. I don't think he felt much suffering.

I was so inspired by my early positive experiences with meditation. I immediately started a meditation group on the psychiatry unit where I worked. My most memorable experience was with a psychotic patient who thought he was Elvis Presley. When we did the walking meditation, he walked like "The Man". It was all I could do to suppress the surprised laughter that wanted to bubble out!

I also briefly taught meditation to all my individual patients. This was usually a quick 5 min. intro at the end of my psychiatric evaluation with 1 minute of practice. I then informed them of where they could go in Calgary for further instruction and support. I would expand on the teaching in subsequent sessions, if they showed interest. The Holding Technique (Lesson 3, Difficult Emotions) was one of the most helpful meditation techniques for my patients. Another was walking (running!) meditation for those with anxiety.

Mechele, in her 70's decided to return to University to get a masters in Religious Studies. She didn't teach while studying, so I continued my learning of Buddhism by attending retreate with Jayanta (Shirley Johannesen). Jayanta is the founder of the Canadian branch of Sakyadita, an organization that supports women in Buddhism.

When Mechele returned to teaching, I joined a small group of people who met weekly with her, for 3 or 4 years, for Meditation Teacher training. She had been named an Acariya (teacher) by Bhante Piyadassi.

Backtracking a little, my sister-in-law mentioned to me the name of Thich Nhat Hanh. I picked up a book by him and was impressed by the simplicity of his words but the profundity his teachings. He helped me understand some difficult concepts in Buddhism. I was determined to meet this Vietnamese monk.

He came to California to teach in 1995. I attended the 5 day retreat and came back inspired. CTBC, in those early years, had the flavour of TNH's style of teaching.

I had moved from Calgary to Canmore in 1994, 3 years after my introductory workshop. However, when I moved to Canmore I found out that there were no meditation groups. There had been a Hindu based group that had disbanded several years before. I met some of the former members and one of them, Elizabeth, agreed to be trained by me to offer Buddhist meditation.

The idea was, I would lead the group initially and then she would take over. Despite me advertising the existence of the group to all my patients, no one showed up for the first 6 months. Perhaps this was because my home was not yet built and we were meeting in Elizabeth's home in Exshaw. Once my home was complete and we moved the group to it. The first night we had a full house of meditators!

Was this because the location in Canmore was more convenient? Or were people just curious to see the newly built house?

Anyway, over the next couple of years, I only sat alone on a few occasions. Usually a few people showed up and gradually the numbers grew. The group, for years now, has a stable core of regular attendees plus drop ins.

Due to Thich Nhat Hanh's encouragement and to my own deepening commitment to Buddhism, not just to the good psychology of the Buddha's teachings, I decided to continue as the teacher of the group. This was fortunate as Elizabeth moved back East to be with her mother.

Thich Nhat Hanh returned to California about 2 years later and I attended that retreat as well. The first retreat had about 500 participants. The second had 1,300.

Between the 2 retreats I made the personal decision to become a Buddhist. This entails "taking refuge" in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. This taking refuge is usually witnessed by a monastic and I had the opportunity to do this, with Thich Nhat Hanh as my witness, on the second retreat.

Prior to the retreat I had to write him an essay on my that he could choose a spiritual name for me. At the time I was involved with the "green" movement and was feeling a fair amount of anger towards developers who were not respecting animal corridors and habitat patches.

I was given the name "Loving Tolerance of the Heart" . Of course, I was feeling anything but loving tolerance! Buddhist names can either be descriptive or suggestive of some quality that needs to be developed. My name was of the second variety. I have made strides, over the years, in coming closer to my first Buddhist name.

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