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Lions Roar : September 2014
too many poses before concluding that models were treated like pieces of meat. Moving to the West Coast, Sharpe became an assistant to a movie producer and worked on the films Little Big Man, Alice’s Restaurant, and Paper Lion. She introduced her sister Alma to the sixties’ sex symbol Troy Donahue and the two were married for a couple of years. In 1970, Gina Sharpe returned to Barnard and completed her degree in philosophy with a minor in psychology. As it hap- pened, on the day of her graduation Duke Ellington was across the street at Columbia. Though she did not speak with Ellington, Sharpe sat in the audience and watched as he was awarded an honorary degree. nIGht hAS FAllen, and through the windows at New York Insight all I see is darkness speckled with light shining from other windows near and far. Tonight Sharpe is offering a few Buddhist meditation point- ers, which are in essence all about being at ease without collaps- ing. I try to “breathe the breath” as she recommends, and then she shifts into what she calls “the underpinning of the prac- tice”—the Buddhist teachings. About her meetings with students, Sharpe says, “I want to understand how the practice is manifesting in their life and thinking, because I believe that practice should permeate every- thing. It shouldn’t be that you sit for forty-five minutes or an hour in the morning, and then you get up and there’s no more thought of it. In every moment, there’s a dharma lesson.” So when a student comes to Sharpe with a real-life concern such as “My mom is dying,” Sharpe’s response is twofold. First there is the simple human piece, which is, “Oh my God, your mom’s dying. How are you and how is she?” Then Sharpe shifts into her role as a teacher, leading her student to explore deeper questions in the vein of: How does impermanence work in your life? What was your relationship to your mom? Are you holding resentment toward her and have you worked with that from the point of view of suffering and the end of suffering? Sharpe may point students in a certain direction, but, she says, “The student is wise enough to get it. I don’t have to lend my wisdom because they’ve got their own wisdom that they can work with.” Sharpe’s approach leading tonight’s dharma talk is similar. In fact, as she puts it, it’s not so much that she’s leading a dharma talk but rather that we’re all creating the talk together. The for- mat is inquiry, and it’s not a one-way street. A woman sitting cross-legged on her chair takes the mike and explains that she’s been meditating consistently for quite a while and she can feel how the practice has transformed her life. Yet, she says, “I have a hard time with actually landing on the teach- ings. They don’t stick.” “What do you mean?” Sharpe probes. “like the four noble truths. I’ve heard them a million times, but every time it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s what they are!’ Somehow I’m not super connected to them.” “Is it okay?” The woman adjusts her hat. For her, she says, it’s okay. Yet she wonders if it really is. She’s just happy doing what she’s doing. Shouldn’t there be a next step? Sharpe pauses. “So what can I do for you?” “I love your questions!” The woman smiles. “I guess the ques- tion is... I mean... you don’t know me well enough to give me the answer on a personal level.” “Even if I did, I probably wouldn’t!” Sharpe laughs. “Every- body learns differently. Maybe you don’t need to know what the four noble truths are.” The woman persists: “Is it important to find a teacher?” “Is it important to you?” “I guess I’d want to have a reflection at some point.” “When it becomes a heart’s desire—if it ever does—then you look for a teacher.” But for now, Sharpe asks, what are other ways to seek the answers to life’s big questions? “There’s a lot,” the woman says. “Meditation is one.” “Beautiful.” “Therapy, friendships.” “Beautiful.” “Nature.” “Go for it!” says Sharpe. “live your life fully. It doesn’t have to look like anybody else’s.” There is skillful means in Sharpe’s teaching. It’s not one size fits all. When a man in a grass-green shirt and glasses asks a related question, she gives a much more tempered, traditional response. The man, who identifies himself as Ken, explains that he appre- ciates how meditation focuses the mind. Yet he’s unclear how this leads to what he defines as the larger objectives of meditation: devel- oping compassion and understanding no-self and impermanence. “How long have you been practicing?” Sharpe asks him. “For a few years but not consistently. Sometimes I give it up.” “Have you ever been on a silent retreat?” Statues of the Buddha on a shelf in Sharpe’s home. For as long as she can remember, she’s been drawn to the sacred. SHAMBHALA SUN SepteMBer 2014 34