In the back of the room, a crowd mingles quietly, talking softly and sipping tea in paper cups.
A volunteer checks the time, and the sound of a bell resonates through the murmur. Conversations taper as people make their way to seats and meditation cushions.
The focal point in the front of the room is Dana Marsh, who sits quietly beneath an image of Prajnaparamita, an embodiment of transcendent wisdom. Danas eyes are closed, her hands settled in her lap. Bringing her palms together, she recites a prayer in Tibetan, under her breath and mostly to herself. Its the only sound in the silence.
She says: Its a prayer, I pray that I teach the truth and that I benefit beings. That I let myself go, my ego go, and just be here to give people the dharma, the teaching of the Buddha. ...
Its my system to let go of myself, to be aware.
Dana is an ordained Buddhist teacher, and in the Buddhist tradition, that makes her part of a teaching lineage extending back to and from the Buddha.
They say without a teacher, you cant wake up. I dont know if this is true or not, but this is what is said. Because, you know, the mind is really tricky and the ego is really tricky. You need somebody to point out the path and help you when the path is unfamiliar. ...
Like, you know, a guide in Africa is important.
Her teachings resonate. Simple, clear, direct, she teaches ancient wisdom to a contemporary culture.
Compassion and love. Thats who we are. If we stop and sit for a while and let everything go, thats really what remains.
That will be our experience, this openness to life. If youre open to life, then youre compassionate and loving.
And, she continues, if youre around people who embody those qualities, you respond to it.
We just cry. Because you recognize it within yourself. Its not because theyre so awesome, its because they are allowing you to recognize (the compassion and love) within yourself. ...
You cant see things if they arent in you. But sometimes theres a lot that obscures us from seeing this. A lot but with practice, with good fortune, we can see it.
Dana has had a variety of careers over her lifetime (running the tubing rental shop at Barber Park, managing a Middle Fork rafting company, being a flight attendant), but teaching runs through her soul. She taught criminal justice and sociology at Boise State and the College of Western Idaho (Ive always had a care of some kind for the underdog, people who are challenged by life, she says.), and then became a special education teacher, first at Boises alternative high school and, currently, at Capital High.
Kids have a lot to teach us if we are just open to hearing it in the first place. Generally, if we hang around kids for a little bit, well learn something about ourselves. But wow, sometimes they can be very challenging.
In my classroom, I try to give kids some tools for life. Sometimes well stop and spend some time breathing just give them some instruction on how to pay attention to their breath just stop. Sometimes well just check in with ourselves. How are we doing here? What do we feel like?
Those are lessons for everyone, Buddhist or not. When Dana was ordained in 2008, she founded Heart of the Dharma, where she is the teacher.
People misunderstand (what it is to be a Buddhist) all the time. Its about being nobody, which means to let go of ones ego. Were not trying to become something special, like be a Buddhist, because to be a true Buddhist is to be nobody.
We dont need another belief system, in my book, so we can say, Oh look, I am this, and then we behave atrociously. Its much better if we just take the teachings into our heart, try to put them into action in our everyday lives and thats good enough. We dont have to call ourselves anything.
Its hard to imagine that this self-assured teacher was not always this way, but her childhood was difficult and lonely. I wanted a cow to be a horse, she says, describing the relationship albeit loving with her father when she was growing up.
Since then, Ive realized my dad was my greatest teacher. If it wasnt for my father, I wouldnt be a dharma teacher. I dont think I would have met with this path; I dont know, who knows? But now I feel like, wow, he was really a blessing to me. He gave me just what I needed.
Although it didnt feel like it at the time he was gruff; she was sensitive. He loved her, but not in the way she craved.
I kept looking for something, seeking for something, wanting freedom from my own suffering this mental state of Im not good enough, I dont have what I need. I felt like I had this hole inside of me that couldnt be filled.
Shes now 55, but in her 40s and searching, she took a weekend retreat with Tibetan lama Anam Thubten Rinpoche, who remains her teacher. (His Dharmata Foundation is in San Franciscos Bay Area.) I practiced, practiced, she says, and eventually, as he suggested, turned her meditative attention to that hole. (Her father was fighting leukemia at the time.)
As soon as I placed my attention on it, it left. I discovered this insight: I never had this problem, there never was a hole. There was never anything that needed to be filled. Id been complete all along; I just had to realize that for myself. All I had to do was stop identifying with this sense of lack.
Im sitting, doing nothing, watching my breath and life is transforming.
Laughter comes easily to her, and she smiles. This (was) really quite amazing. So I kept at it.
Dana sits in meditation every day for 20 minutes in the morning before school and 20 minutes in the evening. She goes on retreats two or three times a year and, during the day, tries to pay attention to her thoughts.
Where are they leading me? And do I really want to go there? Because Ive discovered I have a choice about where I want my mind to go.
I dont always make the best choice. (Theres that laughter again.)
I get hooked by a thought This is too much or Life is falling apart or whatever and then I remember, I can just let that go. I can just come back to the present moment and be with whats happening right now. Thats so transformative. ...
When you can make a choice about something theres opportunity there for freedom.
On Sunday mornings and Tuesday evenings, the sangha, the community, meets for meditation and teaching. Danas talks are sprinkled with the humor of someone who knows human foibles, balanced with the earnestness of her experiences.
The goal is not to get rid of thought we are thinkers; this is what we do. But there is a different way to view thoughts in a rest area, in the gap between our thoughts.
As we sit in meditation, our mind will think wild thoughts. Just come back to the path, to the breath. Thinking back to the breath; thinking come back to awareness. Over and over and over. Were training our mind to come back to awareness again and again and again.
She refers to great people from all traditions who have embodied human goodness: Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., Anam Thubten, St. Francis of Assisi, Mother Theresa, Thomas Merton.
We are amazing human beings, just a little confused. But its possible to cut through the confusion thats why we meditate.
Its a two-way street, this practice. It takes both of us. I can only share and then, as the Buddha said, you have to take the medicine. He can write the prescription but then youve got to go out there and fill it.
So heres (the) prescription: Sit in the morning. Sit in the evening. Pause throughout the day. You have to take it into your heart for it to be fulfilled.
She laughs again and bows to the community gathered before her.
Thank you for your practice.
Know someone living from the heart? Idaho Statesman photojournalist Katherine Jones spotlights someone in the Treasure Valley who influences our lives not only by what they do, but how and why they do it. Do you know someone we should know? Call 377-6414 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.