One of my favorite resources is dharmaseed.org, which has hundreds of free dharma talks by many of our favorite teachers. This past week, nearly every night I’ve been listening to a different talk by Gina Sharpe.
I first sat with her 9 months after discovering meditation. It was the spring of 2009. Shortly after beginning a doctoral program in Missouri the previous fall, I’d located the campus agency doing mindfulness work and got myself involved with them. The women there provided an island of sanity for the four years I was there.
It was the employee wellness program, and most of the staff practiced actively in the local sangha. The psychologist I worked with directly organized a non-residential weekend retreat with a woman named Gina Sharpe for March, and she encouraged me to go.
During retreats, the leaders commonly make time to meet with the participants individually or in groups. If a retreat is rather large, as this one was, several community leaders will meet with some of the people or groups as well, to lighten the main teacher’s load. When this happens, the leader usually meets only the more experienced groups of participants. Gina, however, graciously scheduled one of her meetings with our group of novices. There were four of us. I sat observing as Gina spoke with each person in kind, asking about experience with meditation and checking in about how the retreat was going.
I’d become a high strung student in the doctoral program: far from home and thrust into an academic environment in which students appeared open and connected–we were training to become psychologists, after all–but were actually behaving in ways I’d not seen since my time in the corporate world. (Out of eye- and ear-shot of the faculty, of course.) As an example, three years in I was speaking to a mentor about a wonderful opportunity in mindfulness-based CBT at a local hospital. A classmate overheard and texted her friend to quickly call them before I did, which she did by 5 minutes leading the interviewers to initially question my timing until we’d pieced together what actually happened. Another example: a fourth year ordering a first year to go get her printouts two flights up and the first year, cowed, doing it. And another: a student whose friends covered up her taking notes home from the agency for weeks as she lied to her supervisors about it multiple times.
Contrary to the confounding reality I was living, my expectations of doc-level training had been that we would delve deeply, transparently, earnestly together into the art and science of our craft: explore the soul, the psyche, the true inner workings of human beings. Yes, although I was older than most of my classmates, I was clearly more naive. I was also feeling more and more disconnected each day from my long-held dream even as it was becoming a reality.
Thankfully I’d found the wellness women. And there I was in March, 2009, sitting in front of Gina Sharpe, a real meditation teacher whose inner space was palpable. I sat before her so full of self-doubt and frustration, tears streaming down my face. A negative bit of self talk would arise, and I’d literally watch it dissipate as I sat in Gina’s presence. I softly cried, feeling a sense of home in this process; understanding for the first time what meditation could offer at a deep spiritual level. The work she’d done, the space she’d cleared was truly an offering to those of us she was teaching. I experienced it.
The past several nights as I listen to her talks on dharmaseed.org, I once again feel the soft spaciousness she’s cultivated infusing in me. Providing the ground as I, the figure, move about through my day.