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Lions Roar : January 2010
63 SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2010 grade, adorning herself in rings and ankh pendants (the Egyp- tian “key of life”). in her family’s kitchen was a picture she had drawn of a whale coming up for air to say: “Save the humans!” Lizzi emails me to say, “i have been on a search for meaning in life since i was a kid. There is more than one bible or Book of Mormon in my bedroom that i ordered off an infomercial for free religious books when i was no older than eight or nine. And i bought books from the Hare Krishna people in airports (when they were still allowed in airports, which makes me feel old to say). i have always been curious about how people discover and pursue life’s most important questions and answers. no wonder i dragged your and Jill’s asses all the way out to the Bahai temple on our bikes back in the day.... i freakin’ love religions.” As we speak on the phone during a break from a Jewish retreat she is helping to lead, Lizzi describes a path i can relate to. “i’m on a spiritual quest back to what feels like home,” she tells me. “people are really hungry to feel a connectedness. They have a desire to get to know their pasts in order to learn how to live now and in the future.” i saw Lizzi in new York last in April on her way to Baltimore to donate peripheral blood stem cells to a forty-year-old Jew- ish man with a rare form of leukemia, whose identity she didn’t know except that she was his only match. Her parents had res- ervations. Yet Lizzi, sitting on my couch sipping coffee with soy milk, said, “i find myself happy to be doing this mitzvah.” i asked Lizzi whether she found the time the five of us spent together spiritual. She tells me she’ll think about it and call me back, and does. “probably a lot of the time we spent together was,” she says. “we didn’t call it that and it wouldn’t look like that to an outsider, but sitting around the table talking and making jewelry, that feeling of things being new and interesting, being happy with myself, my family, and friends, was all very fulfilling.” Later, she writes to elaborate: “i was trying to think of whether our collective friendship contributed in any way to my path as a rabbi, or whether there was a spiritual element to our friend- ship... and the answer is absolutely yes. There’s a prayer, which is all about being loved by an Abundant Love, who expresses that love by teaching us a way to live. what marked our friendship if not a sense of being loved unconditionally by one another, and together exploring a way to navigate the world?” Jill: The Buddhist Like Lizzi, Jill has been searching for answers since her late teens; however, unlike Lizzi, Jill isn’t drawn to the religion of her birth. “i always had a hard time relating to Judaism,” Jill says. “But i know, at heart, that Lizzi and i are both looking for the same thing—the right way to live.” Jill recalls one conversation she had with Lizzi, who was expe- riencing doubt over whether she was ready to become a spiritual leader. “From a Buddhist perspective,” says Jill, “i told her, you’re never going to get to a perfect place but, whatever is in your path, allow it to make you more open.” Jill Eden Spielfogel. writing out her full name, i consider the meaning of Eden, reflecting that while growing up, she seemed to embody anything but the serenity of the legendary garden. Jill was the group’s comic relief. “Jill struck me as carefree, but she has become more thought- ful and introspective,” says Vanessa. “i know she reached out to Buddhism during college, probably because of some insecurity, a need or pressure she felt in her own life. i never remember seeing those qualities present when she was younger and unconcerned with big picture questions.” After two years at the university of Michigan, Jill transferred to naropa university in Boulder, the liberal arts school founded by Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa. while studying contemplative psychology, Jill worked at Shambhala Mountain Center, which became her home base for exploring her inner universe. She is currently working as a project coordinator at the university of illinois, where she earned her master’s in social work, while also volunteering at the Chicago Shambhala Medi- tation Center, where she has been the coordinator of Buddhist Studies programs for two years. inspired during a recent meeting with Vanessa over a bottle of wine, Jill is now considering apply- ing for a grant to create her own child welfare agency. whenever i fly home to Chicago, Jill and i meet. Her apart- ment is sparsely decorated with framed mandalas and weathered Tibetan prayer flags. A small meditation shrine is set on the floor next to a bookcase displaying several photos of Chögyam Trungpa in his horn-rimmed glasses. “i could meditate for hours,” Jill tells me. Then, speaking more in depth about her practice, she reveals that the end of our child- hood and adolescent friendships was a turning point in her own search for self. “i got thrown into the world where i didn’t have the support i was used to and i began doubting myself: who am i now? what is my purpose?” she says. in Buddhism, Jill is looking, like Lizzi, for a way home, for the place where it’s possible in adulthood for life to be always fresh Jill