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Lions Roar : November 2018
matter, no other mother in the neighborhood had a job. Bush’s mother had no choice, though. She had to put food on the table. Back then, there was no such thing as day care, so when her mother worked, Bush had to go to mass before school. “Sitting in a beautiful church for years helped me appreciate sa- cred space. I prayed that my father would come back or that things would be okay,” says Bush. “It helped me create a relationship with something beyond the mundane, and I loved Joan of Arc.” Joan of Arc, after all, heard a voice inside herself, telling her what to do. “I yearned for that,” says Bush. “I felt confused about being on this planet, as most of us do. I thought Joan of Arc was bold and didn’t let obvious limitations stop her from what she felt she was supposed to be doing.” After studying for her master’s in medieval literature from Georgetown, Bush worked as chief editor for the National Edu- cation Association and married her first husband, Chip Reeder, an aeronautical engineer. When he was posted to Cape Canav- eral, Bush went with him. “Wives weren’t supposed to work,” she remembers. “They were supposed to shake the martinis, cook good meals, and have chil- dren. The men were working on top secret programs, so they’d work all day and then they’d come home and they couldn’t talk.” Bush defied expectations and got a job editing NASA manuals. She was the first woman to work on the Apollo-Saturn moon- flight, the first to be issued a hardhat and jumpsuit. A bathroom had to be built specially for her. When her marriage fell apart, Bush enrolled in a PhD pro- gram at the State University of New York at Buffalo. She became heavily involved in the political activity that consumed the stu- dent body—eventually there were so many demonstrations on campus that the police took over. “I was a teaching assistant, but it was impossible to teach,” says Bush. “I decided I wanted to travel and see if there was a saner way of living than what we were seeing in this country.” Her traveling companion was her second husband, the film- maker John Bush. MIRABAI BUSH AND SHARON SALZBERG were “room- mates” at the Goenka retreat. Except there weren’t actually rooms, Bush clarifies, just a big open space in the Burmese vihara. So the two women hung saris on strings to obtain a modicum of privacy. The approximately seventy-five students slept on the floor and practiced meditation crammed together without the comfort of cushions. They had just two meals a day and tea in the evenings. Conditions were “pretty primitive,” Bush continues, “but it didn’t matter. We loved the practice.” Looking back, Bush says studying with Goenka helped her find the clarity she’d so admired in her childhood hero, Joan of Arc. “It wasn’t that I knew what to do for the rest of my life,” she says, “but I knew how to listen for what to do.” Bush vividly remembers the first time she met Ram Dass, the Harvard psychologist turned LSD advocate turned spiritual seeker who would become her close friend and collaborator. He was standing outside the gates of the vihara with three or four men around him, and they were clearly drawn to him. “They looked like the apostles,” Bush says. “They were all wearing white gowns, and he had this long beard. It looked like they were talking about something deeply spiritual, and then I found out Ram Dass was trying to decide how many cookies to buy, because he knew there wouldn’t be any sweets once the course started. That’s Ram Dass—that combination of the mundane and the sacred all at once.” While they were studying with Goenka, Ram Dass’ spiritual classic Be Here Now was published, and a copy arrived at the vihara. “It’s hard to appreciate now what a big impact it had,” says Bush. “There were no books for young Americans on East- ern spirituality. There was Autobiography of a Yogi and scholarly books, but there was nothing for people who were trying to fig- ure out their lives. It was a confusing time. Be Here Now was the handbook for living, for trying to make sense of things.” Bush and a group of other students decided to join Ram Dass on a trip to Delhi and on the way, they stopped in Alla- (Above) Mirabai Bush, far right, with her family. In the 1950s, she didn’t know anyone else with divorced parents. “I felt like an outsider,” she says, “and was treated that way.” (Right) Bush (center) was excited to be the first woman to work on the Saturn– Apollo moonflight at Cape Canaveral. “Going to the moon was the biggest thing going on in this country at the time.” LION’S ROAR | NOVEMBER 2018 60