Why a Nun?

SK w. Amitabha BowlThe question I am asked most often is, “why a nun?” The simple answer is I was in pain.I had been in pain for a long time. My ordination was an amazing blessing; I truly believe it saved my life.

I served as a Buddhist nun in the Tibetan tradition for 15 years. It was a radical choice for a woman in America to make. I shaved my head, said a tearful good bye to my closet full of clothes, solemnly took the first of three levels of vows and donned the simple burgundy robes of a renunciate.It was 1990.

Coming out of the 80’s. Prior to taking my vows, I had big hair and sculptured nails, I worked among the neon and chrome of a Bally’s health club in the wealthy community of Bethesda, MD.I drove a silver sports car with the vanity tag, 4evrfit. I marvel at the ignorance of my youth.I worked, partied and took luxury vacations.

Yet at 29, I had a big hole at the center of my being.Having tumbled through the first decades of my life from one obsession to another I had yet to find any depth of purpose or true passion in my life.Now I am by no means recommending that anyone who feels there is something missing in their lives should wear robes and be a Buddhist.There are many paths to take. This path was great for me but may not be for everyone.

I remember very clearly the moment I decided to become a nun. I had just had my 30th birthday.I had been studying at the temple less than a year.Had my hair and my nails and everybody there in a fitness program.

We were listening to a teaching by Yangthang Tulku, a well-respected Tibetan spiritual master.As I was listening I was rolling a large paper scroll that would be inserted in a prayer wheel we were assembling to be placed in the gardens at the temple. Actually there were 5 gardens with 3 prayers wheels each. As each paper sheet was added to the scroll, I would roll hard against it with my forearms, rolling it tighter and tighter in an effort to fit as many prayers as possible on each scroll.My forearms were bruised and tender.

I remember listening to this respected master talk over the course of days about the needs of countless beings, about hunger and poverty, sickness, the loss of our loved one’s but also of the suffering brought on by our hatred, our greed, our jealousy and pride.I could see those things in the world around me.I could see those things in myself. He spoke about the need for each of us to practice compassion, to pray, to love each other as our own brothers and sisters.That we could start today, right now; that each moment we could choose to plant the seeds of Love and what a powerful difference that would make.

I feel I should explain, this man who sat for days humbly teaching about loving all beings in each moment, no matter what, this man had been recently imprisoned by the Chinese and tortured for 27 years. After he was released, he traveled the world to teach about love and compassion.

Now if we get snubbed by someone or flipped off by another driver we are ready to cop a major attitude.If a neighbor acts in a way we are not comfortable with we may just write them off. If someone’s lifestyle isn’t what we would choose, we are judge and jury and telling anyone who will listen. For this man, there was no bitterness, no hatred.True to his understanding, true to his knowledge that the only choice that really matters is to love.

This blew me away. He opened my hard, little pea sized, self-absorbed heart so wide.I wanted what he had.No matter what happened around him, he remained calm, centered, loving and kind. I found myself wanting, in the face of any hardship, with understanding and with patience, to always be willing and able to choose Love.

We know what it feels like to come from a place of love. It feels good.Even though it’s not always easy. We know what it feels like to harbor hatred, anger and resentment. Not so good. Maybe feels kind of good in the moment when we feel all righteous and justified.We do love to be right. But ultimately we know what is real.

As I sat there listening, rolling prayers for peace and compassion around this scroll, feeling the tender bruises with each turn, I asked myself “how can I help bring more understanding and compassion into the world?” There has been enough suffering, what can I do? I knew I couldn’t work hard enough in the conventional ways.I couldn’t make enough money to take away the sufferings of the world.I decided in that moment, with someone before me who clearly knew how, that I would offer this life and every moment in it.I would offer this life and every future life to learn patience and understanding, to unravel the riddle of our suffering. I would to learn to choose Love in each moment. When I do something I am typically all in. So true to form I decided to focus my life and my study as a nun.One week later I was ordained and my whole world turned inside out.

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Until Loving is the Only Thing We Know How to Do …

IMAG1288As I get this blog rolling I have committed to 2-3 posts per week for now. I intend to talk about a variety of things and am inviting you to join in and make this a conversation.Of the subjects I am interested in, and feel qualified to talk about, art and spirituality are my favorites. It is likely that I will stick to these.I will also share with you something of my story.I have heard it is a rather interesting one and I do feel qualified to talk about that; the story of comfortable middle class kid turn addict turn competitive athlete turn fitness trainer turn Buddhist nun. The story of a woman giving birth to her heart and discovering an artist, a philosopher, an activist, a spiritual warrior, a woman I am finding, that I can love, respect and even celebrate being.

We will talk about art.We will talk about my art, my inspiration.I will tell the stories of what the pieces I have created have come to mean to me, what they have meant to others. I will talk about technique and about my training as an artist; beginning as a sculptor, 12 years ago deciding to try my hand at painting, now I paint and I sculpt.From my work on sacred Buddhist monuments to crafting small pieces of jewelry, it has been a colorful journey. We will talk a lot about color. We will look into pointillism as a contemporary technique of the neo-impressionists and into the ancient Buddhist text prescribing in detail the techniques for bringing forth an image of the Buddha.

We will talk about spirituality, meditation, fundamental Buddhist thought.We will talk about being spiritual warriors alive in a time of a changing world and the opportunity, possibly the responsibility, we each have to bring our best selves forward.I will tell stories of my experiences as a nun in the Tibetan tradition. I will share with you many of the tools I gathered on the path, some of the insights that have dramatically shaped my world, bringing healing and great joy. I will talk of a heart broken and a heart healed, of a heart open, committed to pouring forth.I will talk of my commitment for this life and for future lives, about my hopes for our world.

You may come to believe me a dreamer.I will tell you that I believe with all my heart in the possibility of living in Love with one another. I believe that it is possible that we can each come to know the divinity within ourselves and to see it clearly in each other.No matter how different we appear, we are of the same nature.We all want to be happy.We want to be free of our pain and our fear.We want to be loved.And of course how is this to happen?It begins with each of us making the choice for ourselves to choose love in each moment.When a moment passes and we have not chosen love, we turn our minds to it in the next moment.Patiently, slowly, slowly, until loving is the only thing we know how to do.

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For Now I Practice …

IMAG0871A lifelong philosopher and committed dreamer, I reflect on my passions – my commitment to Love. I am inviting conversation, contemplation, I will not tell you how to feel or to live. What you should or shouldn’t do is completely up to you. I will do my best not to ‘should’ on you.

Regularly I ask myself, “What fundamental outcome are you committed to?”I follow that with, “Are you prepared to pay attention, to live consciously, to abandon what has not served, take up what speaks to the future you are committed to creating? Are you prepared to do this in each and every moment?”

I am committed to Love, if I want love and respect in the world it is very simple: Love and respect others. I love that sentence, Love and respect others. Just period.No “if they do this, if they do that.” If you show up the way I want, need and expect you to then I will love you with all my heart … if not well, go away. This is so not okay.How will we possibly have world peace if there is not acceptance and understanding in the world of our immediate creation?World peace becomes like a story with a Holy Grail. Something that is held by many as a fairy tale, sought after by a few but never experienced as truth by the whole.

I am going to capitalize World Peace. I like to capitalize words I value and words that hold the energy of higher ideals. I know about the ‘shoulds and suppose tos’ in spelling and grammar and such, I am just not sure they always apply in the creative process.Although my sister may disagree because she is committed to preserving the English language as she knows it. Hmmm there is another reflection we must explore, wanting to keep things as they are. You would also love to meet my sister; she is fabulous. I digress.

Back to Love and Respect and ultimately World Peace. So I want love and respect in my life, so love and respect others period. Do not stop at the “yes but you did me wrong.” There is pride all woven in that attitude.I have to ask myself, am I more committed to my pride than to love? So that pride trumps the choice we have in each moment to choose Love? Hmmm. Whatever I need to do, I need to find a way to love and respect those around me.

If I am tempted to choose pride, I need to recognize my fear, what motivates me, what cripples me as a warrior committed to Love considering not choosing it in that moment.What cuts me off? I need to offer the very existence of these things as way of deepening my understanding of those in the world around me.Understanding that others are acting out of their fear, their motivations, their wounds. We are really not that different from each other. Then get off it. Get onto what creates the outcome we are committed to. Committed to World Peace? Well then, what about the one who did you wrong?Are you generating peace or holding on to your pride and self-righteousness?

People will do what they will do. How many of us have really been taught how to Love? If I keep expecting everyone to know how to Love perfectly I am going to be perpetually disappointed.I have spent the last two decades very intentionally studying about the active power of practicing Love, the how, the why, the when and still I have a great deal to learn. It probably comes more naturally to others and of course we all have varying ideas about how it should look, and there is that word again, ‘should.’Not sure what place that word has in my vocabulary. The opportunity to practice choosing Love presents itself in every moment if my eyes are open but I am saying that we are not all real good at it yet. Jesus was really good at it.Buddha was really good at it.When I am that good at it I will know I have accomplished something.

For now I practice.People do what they do; I listen very carefully, often trying to hear many layers down. I consider the truth of what they say and do and feel from their perspective. I think about how I am feeling or reacting (and you can bet that sometimes I have reacted before I can hear another word they say! Slow down Shey.) I share with them how I feel if they are open to that. I reflect on what I can come to understand about them, about myself. I am usually prepared to agree to disagree, I have found this incredibly useful.I ask myself, can I accept any loss and still Love? Can I allow myself to grieve a loss and embrace compassion?What of the mother that forgives her son’s killer? How to understand that? What of making peace with death, the end of this life or the death of a moment, an idea, a dream?Can I, will I, choose Love in each moment? It truly is our natural state.

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Building My Enlightenment

Amitabha Stupa3-4Many profound opportunities presented themselves during my ordination as a Buddhist nun. One such opportunity was to serve as the spiritual arts director for the birth of the Amitabha Enlightenment Stupa. It was 2004 and I lived where I live now – in paradise. I am of course referring to living in the beautiful red rock country of Sedona, AZ. Ground was broken for this project in West Sedona, just under Chimney Rock. As the arts director, I was responsible for the design and creation of the sculptural elements of this sacred monument. This included the sculpture of the Buddha that sits in the gau (the portal or opening at the heart of this Buddhist monument).

The placement of the stupa and many of the design choices in a project of this nature are primarily informed by the Tibetan texts and the specific instructions of the spiritual master overseeing the event. Although the artist must adhere to specifics of the tradition, there is room for creative expression in many of the artistic elements such as the lotus petals, the embellishment of the face of the gau and the umbrella that crowns the spire as well as in many of the finer details. The structure itself has prescribed proportions that represent a sacred mandala. There are ceremonies and prayers of offering, intention and dedication that are performed at each step.

The construction of a stupa is a spiritual event that involves many people, a qualified spiritual master and a great deal of devotion. It has been my honor and my privilege to work with some amazing and talented people, big of heart and long on loving commitment. It has been a profound blessing to be involved in the creation/construction of many stupas here in the United States.

“When you build a stupa, you are building your own Enlightenment”

 

-Venerable Gyaltrul Rinpoche

 

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