Finding the still place of peace in the centre


That summer at the seminary was not all about the Kasung and falling in love with Setter San. Something else happened too. Spending all those hours, day after day meditating… Hearing the wind blow and catch the top of the tent and then let go, almost as if the tent was breathing… The hours sitting, sometimes noticing other fidgeting, and sometimes (very few times) feeling at peace herself. And then the one day when the guy with Tourette’s started yelling “Fuck” over and over during the meditation period.

Angie was getting the chance to get closer to her mind – to her heart. She was able to listen in a deeper way to her heart as the speed of her mind started slowing and slowing and slowing, as the days of the seminary went on. When she was walking, she started smelling the sage in the air and the dust on the path. As her mind got more quiet, she started experiencing more through her senses.

Something at this seminary was working on her – changing her.

After two weeks of intensive meditation, the program turned into half days of meditation and half days of study. For the first time in her life she started studying the buddhadharma – the Buddha’s teachings.

She learned about the Hinayana path – the path of individual liberation. The Hinayana was the starting place. In fact, she remembered a few years ago her dad was wearing a favourite t-shirt that said, “Never forget Hinayana…” So she knew it must be important just from Dad’s t-shirt! Now she was studying it for herself, and the focus was on quieting her own mind through the discipline so she could have some relief from all the craziness of living in this world.

And it was crazy! Yes, her parents were great in a lot of ways, but they were also crazy in others! Her dad was an alcoholic, and no one wanted to face that. There was a lot of anger in her home while growing up, and Angie had absorbed it all. She was sensitive, and to be honest, it overwhelmed her!

So now, here at the seminary, for the first time she was giving her heart a safe place. There was something incredibly safe about sitting on this red and yellow cushion in the billowing tent practicing this safe practice handed down lovingly from the Buddha. She believed in this Hinayana – the power of narrowing the focus just to her and doing this practice as best she could. Forgetting about all the grand schemes and helping the world. This time was just for her, to practice this meditation practice.

Angie started feeling good, even with the torments from time to time of falling in love with Setter San. Something good was growing in her, something wholesome. And she was feeling grateful – she was feeling joy for the first time in her life. She sat at dusk on the hill above the Centre, feeling the quiet, watching the sun set, and there was this sadness that came into her chest and almost tears came into her eyes. She felt the stillness of this land, and the life in this land, and it made her feel alive.

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Love attack in the Shrine Tent

Getting through that final year of high school felt like walking through deep mud – Angie didn’t see how she would get to the end. But somehow she made it! And she entered into a very different world that summer – she went to the Vajradhatu Buddhist Seminary held in the heart of the Rocky Mountains at Rocky Mountain Dharma Center. Life could not have changed more dramatically – leaving home for three months to be surrounded by mountain, sage and sun and diving into intensive Buddhist study and meditation. Wow!

In the orientation meeting the seminary participants were invited to join the Kasung, the Buddhist military. Quite to her surprise, Angie felt drawn to sign up for it. She smiled to herself as she stood in line to sign the clip board thinking about the time she had been standing with a group of friends in 8th grade smoking pot saying the last thing she’d ever be is a cop.

Wednesday she was to go to the Kasung meeting at the dining tent to be assigned to a squad and have her first squad meeting. She arrived having no idea what to expect and even a little nervous because the Kasung in their uniforms looked so sharp, and they had this kind of rambunctious energy that Angie had never experienced before – it was really new.

She was assigned to Lion Squad, and her Rusung (the squad leader) was Ann Setter – who indeed looked like a lion with her mane of light brown hair. Ms. Setter, as they were to call her, was about Angie’s mother’s age and had beautiful mountain like features.

Angie took to the Kasung like a fish to water and loved getting up in the morning to press her khaki uniform with crisp creases, using spray starch to seal them in. It gave her a sense of purpose and dignity – and joy – that she had never felt before, and she liked it!

She also came to love Ms. Setter – her Rusung captured her heart.  As she started to show her affections, Angie learned that Ms. Setter was lesbian and had a partner back home. Although there was no hope of a love relationship with her, Angie still pined away for Ms. Setter and found little ways to express her love.

When you get a teenager away from home for the first time at an intensive meditation program, the mind can go wild! And that is eventually what happened with our dear Angie. It seems she was thinking during her meditation and concocting quite the plan!

She knew that Ms. Setter had an overnight shift in the Shrine Tent coming up Saturday night. So Angie prepared an attack for that night. She was so excited, and kept it all strictly to herself.

When Saturday finally came, Angie dressed all in black, including a dark navy beret.  She had managed to get some snapper fire crackers – the ones you throw to the ground and they make a loud snap. She put them in her pocket and at around 11:00 pm, she set out down the hill to the Shrine Tent.

When she arrived, she stepped softly, making hardly any sound as she approached the tent. She peeked in between the sides of the tent flap and could see Ms. Setter already laying down in her sleeping bag in front of the shrine.

Angie roused her courage and reached into her pocket. She threw the first snapper into the tent. Nothing happened – she didn’t throw it hard enough. So this time she really threw the next one, and SNAP!

She saw Ms. Fetter move. Angie threw another one, and Ms. Setter was suddenly standing looking all around in the direction of the snap.

When she turned around the other way, Angie, threw three at once, and there was even more of a melee! Ms. Setter looked like she was going to have a heart attack. Angie got scared and thought she’d better end the attack and enter the tent to explain.

Ms. Setter was not pleased! She yelled at Angie, “I can’t believe you did this! What were you thinking! You scared the living daylights out of me! What were you thinking?!?!?”

Angie felt just terrible, and she dropped to the ground and did a formal Japanese style bow to Ms. Setter, saying, “I’m so sorry Setter San” (Setter San was the affectionate way that Angie had grown to address Ms. Fetter).

Angie ran crying back to her tent. Her ultimate expression of love had turned into a disaster, and perhaps Setter San would want nothing to do with her ever again! This was certainly any young teenager’s worst nightmare!

But two days later when Angie and Ms. Fetter crossed paths in the dining tent, Ms. Fetter gave Angie a soft smile with a playful glint in her eye.

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