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Lions Roar : September 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2008 83 She looked at me like I was deranged. “Natalie, chicks be- come chickens. Ducklings be- come ducks.” I was yet another example of the incompetence of adults. She was ten, already in the double-digit years. “Well, I think it might be pos- sible.” I motioned over the teen- age help and asked my question. “No, ma’am, these here in this cage will all become chick- ens and hens.” Poppy snickered. I put my nose in the air. “You have a lack of imagination.” WEEKS EARLIER A FRIEND had had a medical emergency, and I was asked at the last minute to pinch hit for her at a week- end workshop. It appealed to me because of the easy coincidence that I was already on the East Coast visiting my mother and be- cause I wasn’t going as “Natalie Goldberg.” Of course I would teach what I knew and not my friend’s work, but I had none of my accoutrements with me and there had been no buildup of months of advertising. Expectations on both sides hadn’t had a chance to escalate. This created a little space, some possibilities for all of us participating. The hundred and five students were hastily called to inform them of the switch; fifty-five elected to delay till September, when my famous friend would teach again. The weekend was held in Lenox, Massachusetts, the summer home of Edith Wharton. In Stockbridge, the next town over, was the home and museum site of Norman Rockwell. I went a day early to acclimate, so I hired a cab to go to both places. We drove on the narrow country roads through deepening snow and past bare maples, hickory, and birches. The cabdriver told me that Tanglewood, the famous summer music festival, was also held in Lenox. Suddenly I was that skin- ny-legged girl in navy blue shorts and white T-shirt, driven in a bus from Camp Algonquin in the Adirondacks in mid-August to partake of the cultural experience. I remembered the green, green grass, the crowds, and the paper cups of soda. That Jewish camp held the happiest memories of my childhood. I had my own sen- timental link to this fresh and curious area called the Berkshires. I dashed into a clothes store with a sale sign out front as the cab idled at the curb and I bought a wool coat just before the sales- girl closed up early, ahead of the growing storm. Next door I found a bookshop with a Jack Gilbert poetry collection. I forgot he lived in nearby Northamp- ton. The wind howled outside as I paid for the book. The course was held in what was once an old Jesuit monas- tery that had burned down and had then been rebuilt to house the yoga institute. We began on Friday night with sitting and writing practice, and then on Saturday morning I added a walking meditation lesson. For some reason I taught the bell system I’d learned so long ago in formal Japanese Zen practice. “Three bells begin meditation, two mark the end. If I ring once it means we leave the hall.” I adjusted my position in the chair. “Now you’re all set to enter the monastery for the rest of your life.” From the very beginning, the sitting was deep and settled. Maybe it was the storm outside; maybe it was weary Eastern- ers finally arriving for a weekend reprieve. Always curious about the migration patterns of Americans, I asked the students where they were born and where they lived now. A remarkable number in this group hadn’t moved far from where they’d been raised— from New Jersey to Connecticut, from one town in Massachu- setts to another, all in close driving range. They were so different from those of us in the Southwest, who moved long distances. I always thought our need to get away from what was familiar expressed our wide-reaching hopes. Sometimes, though, a tad of desperation was in these big moves—we were going a long way to find ourselves. Perhaps these Easterners’ rooted nature explained their ability to settle more quickly during this first sitting. The students were responsive and receptive, and it pulled thir- ty years of accumulated practice out of me. I experienced deep and ordinary pleasure in teaching them. I was happy to share as much as I could. On Sunday we ended at eleven. At ten-thirty evaluations were handed out. I went to the bathroom and afterward lingered in the hall, thinking the students should have some privacy in fill- ing out the forms. They were done when I returned. “Let’s do a final short sitting before we leave each other.” I rang SEPT 80-99.indd 83 SEPT 80-99.indd 83 7/3/08 1:34:39 PM 7/3/08 1:34:39 PM