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Lions Roar : May 2009
57 SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2009 The road To Prajna MounTain CenTer can be impassable after a rain- storm—replete with massive potholes and slippery ruts. as our SuV lurched and heaved, i wondered again why roshi joan halifax, who runs a Zen center just five minutes from my home in Santa Fe, would request that i interview her at “the refuge,” as its known, two hours away in one of the wildest parts of new Mexico. it seemed a kind of trial, a koan about a treacherous path to the master’s mountain cave. it did make sense, though, that a woman who once drove a VW van by herself across algeria would ask me to make this trek. a woman who just last winter, at age sixty-five, snowshoed through a blizzard in the dark for four hours to reach the refuge. a woman who in March hiked around China and japan, in the foot- steps of dogen Zenji, on a foot she didn’t realize was broken. “She’s the most fearless person i’ve ever met,” says Peg reishin Murray, roshi joan’s assistant, who offered to shuttle me up the road in roshi’s Toyota 4runner. navigat- ing the deep ruts with ease, Mu r ray told me about the first time she’d made the drive. roshi joan was her passenger and the spring melt had dissolved the road to slippery clay muck. deprived of traction, the SuV’s wheels slid across the surface as if it were ice. every time roshi got out to assess their predicament, she sank up to mid-shin in mud. “i wanted to turn back,” Mur ray says. “But roshi wouldn’t let me. She just kept saying, ‘You can do this!’ She even offered to take the wheel.” Known for embracing challenging, even risky situations, roshi explains, “in- side me there’s this incredible optimist.” Kristin Barendsen, co-author of Photography: new Mexico, writes about Buddhism, yoga, travel, and the arts for international magazines and newspapers. she currently lives in Prague. after a lifetime of contemplating death and caring for the dying, Zen teacher joan halifax reflects on her life’s work and the breaking of her own bones. Kristin Barendsen reports. Joan Halifax Fearless and Fragile PhoToBYgaYBloCK