May 29, 1984
It’s a beautiful Tuesday here in Seattle. The sun is shining, the snow-capped mountains are shimmering all around the city, and I’m seated peacefully on a park bench at the Seattle Center (the site of the 1962 World’s Fair), surrounded by gorgeous flowers, trees, fountains, laughing children, sparrows who beg for my food, and all the activity of a busy urban park. And within me, I aware that my “sits bones” are in contact with the hard wooden bench and that “I am breathing.” Also at this moment, I want to share my gratitude with you for all your guidance and tireless reminding, so that I (and each of your students) could learn to appreciate the beauty and richness of being alive in the present moment. Rutchen, this gift you give with your whole being, is the most precious of all . . . thank you.
Gradually the practice has led me to awareness of more and more moments of the day when I’m interacting with my environment, other people, as I wait quietly in line or on a street corner, as I eat my breakfast, go to the toilet, write letters . . . Vipassana is becoming a way of life. And unless the dharma can be integrated into everyday life, it often becomes a prideful, egotistical practice, lacking the depth of heart and wisdom that makes it complete. Rutchen, your teaching and your everyday life is a model of the integration, diligence, tireless effort, egolessness, compassion and wisdom—and has been a source of deep inspiration for me and many others.
Gradually over the past five years of practice and experiences with suffering, I have finally begun to taste pain as the necessary sculptor of wisdom and compassion. Before that time, I also experienced pain, but in a very different way. I used to try to avert it. I was afraid of it, didn’t understand it, and never had the inner strength to really come face to face with it, experience it and acknowledge it. I can remember one night a few years ago, being so overwhelmed with emotion about my husband’s love affair with another woman that I rolled up inside a sleeping bag and started screaming like a wounded animal. Your advice to me that evening was that I still hadn’t understood it fully. And when I did begin to delve into that pain during the next few days I saw the root of the pain—the constriction, fear and insecurity involved in trying to protect a threatened ego. Along with that insight, I also saw that compassion has a much wider understanding and requires more inner strength than just soothing someone who is in pain. Thank you for that gift too, Rutchen. When the ego begins to take things less personally and the wider view is understood . . . This is the heart of the practice.
All my love,
Click here to read Barbara Gates’s interview with Ruth Denison.