Tag Archives: Betsy Lippitt

Spending the weekend with Pema Chodron

I shared her – with 4,999 others. For 2,000 of us, it was an online retreat. The retreat in California sold out after 3,000 registered. Someone had the idea to make it available worldwide through the power of technology.

It was different, sure. I could sit in my rainbow striped flannel pajamas and not get funny looks. I had no long lines to the bathroom. And I had a great seat, up close, on my computer screen.

Pema Chodron is an American Buddhist nun in the Tibetan tradition. She speaks in a simple, clear manner. Her sense of humor can be startling at first. Pema tells the truth and helps you realize it as well.

This woman saved my sanity in 2004 with her book Start Where you Are (first sentence: “We already have everything we need”). I was going through a rough period with work, relationships and direction in life. When I spotted this title at a bookstore, it stopped my mind (as the Buddhists say). Of course! I thought. It really is as simple as this. Where else could one start? I remember reading half the book in one sitting. When a friend called, I said “I can’t talk long – I’m reading a great book and have to get back to it.”

Six years later seems like longer – so much has happened in my life. I’ve contined to be a fan of this wise spiritual teacher. So when I saw the ad on Facebook I was interested. I checked my calendar and decided to do the retreat.

Dogs can be distracting but, overall, mine were pretty cooperative over this special fall weekend. Since the retreat didn’t begin until 9:00 a.m. Pacific Standard Time, I had a leisurely Saturday morning and was able to take the dogs for a ride and walk Sunday morning. I relocated my laptop into my meditation room, lit candles, turned off the phone and email. My two ‘girls’ followed me and got some good dog karma for their efforts.

Pema looked frailer than I’d remembered. She is now in her mid 70s and spends most of her time at Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia. She has been a Buddhist nun for more than thirty years. She has written several books and has had dvds made of her talks. This one would be available for sixty days so I can go back and take notes as I listen again.

The theme of the talks was “Smile at Fear: Awakening the True Heart of Bravery.” Pema was interpreting a book by her former teacher, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. She applied its teachings to troubling situations in participants’ lives currently: “The only real choice is to embrace and befriend the uncertainty of these times.” We need to “open our hearts and extend to others . . . being vulnerable yet strong.”

I thought of times I had been brave. I believe I have taken many emotional risks in my life. Speaking the truth is important to me. Sometimes it has been scary but usually things have turned out alright; in fact, I have made some new friends by sticking my neck out. I have stretched myself as a human being.

There was that time my former employer decided to terminate all the assistant managers. I had only six months until I got my thirty years in for retirement. I recall my supervisor being more anxious about it than I. (She was likely projecting her own fear of providing for her family.) “How can you be so calm?” she asked me one day while Human Resources was working through the plan. “What can I do? I guess my zen training is coming in handy,” I answered. Circumstances worked out that assistant managers would be able to remain at their pay scale for a six month transition period no matter what job they may be able to transfer to in the library system. A few quit in anger, a few retired early, and some transferred to branches. As karma would have it, I was able to remain in the History Department for those remaining months – gaining my full pension as a result.

There was much talk from Pema about getting comfortable with “groundlessness.” There is no question that assistant managers experienced groundlessness the day when we came into work and discovered the new plan the Board had come up with. We were forced to deal with the fear of uncertainty for our future. Not knowing the name for it, I began work toward being a “spiritual warrior,” with confidence and joy.

Pema exhibited deep compassion as she interacted with participants’ questions, many of which dealt with diseases and dying, extremely autistic children, suffering of one kind or another. Always, she proved approachable, wise, and sometimes, witty. Watching her connect with others was a delight. Pema seemed so approachable as she blended harmoniously with the question and the person. She modeled the teachings.

The organizers scheduled stretch times interspersed with meditation periods and the talks so the afternoon went fast. I took a break from the flow of the retreat Saturday evening. Betsy Lippitt was performing on guitar and violin at College Hill Coffee Co. I joined some friends there. Although it was a bit jarring to hear so many voices after sitting alone at home all day, I was glad I went. Still, I noticed how unnecessary many of the conversations were. Some of the silliness and small talk were actually posturing, finding one’s place in the group. Betsy’s talent was more evident than usual; her appearances are rare. I knew I could return to the video on my computer and watch the part I missed.

Sunday afternoon and evening followed the same pattern. Morning was free, then I focused on the retreat via my computer screen. I felt as if I had camped out in my meditation room – which, after all, I had. I reflected on Pema’s presence as well as her words. Uncertainty, groundlessness, fearlessness. She had participants form dyads, two people taking turns listening to the other while one talked without interruption. “What do you fear?” Sitting alone at home, mine surfaced immediately for I have thought of it often: What if I keel over and die at home alone? How long before my absence would be noted? It is this sort of question a spiritual warrior must face.


bye to Betsy

Yesterday was my final session with Betsy. Yep, I can call her that. Even though she’s my therapist, we’ve had a casual, friendly style. I’d know her before–she’s a musician and singer in the community–but not on a personal basis. It was more that we knew who each other was.

She told me she’d miss me and that, if something came up, I could call. Betsy checked my file and told me I’d been seeing her since November 2004. I first went to see her when I was dating T. and I was cast in a net of angst about relationships. Mine was a Woody Allen kind of neurosis. Eventually things settled down and I used my inner social worker to deal with things.

Early 2007, I remember pulling to the side of a road and calling her. My words were something like: “I think I need to see you again to deal with issues of loss and grief.” I was driving home from seeing my mother, at home under hospice care. She was dying of lung cancer. At the same time, my girlfriend A. (who I dreamed I could marry) started withdrawing. Either one of these losses could have done me in but both at the same time seemed too much to handle.

By May of that year, I discovered the joy that had been hidden inside (but that’s another story). I owe much of my recovery to Siddha Yoga practices. The fact that I was divine revealed Herself. Iris and daffodils bloomed wildly around me. The first puppy I ever had sat next to me on the garden bench. Birds were chirping. The creek flowed, teaching me about change. I was retired, had a home in a lovely setting, and life was good, after all. Sometimes I even found bliss.

Betsy said I’d grown from “What’s wrong with me?” to a greater acceptance of myself. I told her if I were President of the United States, I’d include a once-a-month counseling session for everyone in the new health bill. How gratifying it was to have someone to hear me out each month and be my advocate (when I couldn’t be one for myself). I have my friends and my writing and meditation: all these are ways to keep in touch with myself. Meanwhile, I’ll see Betsy next month: she’s doing a concert at College Hill Coffee Company. I’ll be there in the audience cheering her on.

crazy ladies gather on a full moon / & poem 38

I went out of curiosity more than to ‘make the scene’ as I told a few friends who may or may not have believed me in the first place. Today Maureen Wood was hosting what would have been the 30th Anniversary of The Crazy Ladies Bookstore. It was held at Off the Avenue in Northside, an old factory converted into a living space and artist studios.

I saw Colleen Ernst and her partner; famous singer-musician Betsy Lippitt; Kathy Prezbindowski; Marie Dennis; and many others (I’m naming only a handful of ones who go way back). My buddy Sue Hull and I had lunch then went over. Expecting to stay an hour, I ended up relaxing and having a good time and stayed more like three hours.

What became fun was watching the video of The Move from January 1989. The Move was a Sunday morning when women (and a handful of men) stood in line along two blocks of Hamilton Avenue and passed the boxes from (rented) bookstore location number two to owned bookstore location number three (and final destination). Maureen and I were the most talkative ones (I couldn’t help but notice); we would comment on our old friends and acquaintances in the movie before us. It felt odd, like a time machine; we were, after all twenty years younger!

Finally I did see me but not Janice, the only woman — person — I ever bought a house with. I was a younger, thinner version of myself. Strange. It wasn’t so much like looking through a mirror unless it was one from a fun house where things are not quite right. Yes, there were the oversized round lenses that were so popular in that earlier era. I was on the gaunt side (I was running back then). Looked caught between a cute little butch and a pensive intellectual.

Anyway, I enjoyed seeing some cute girls I hadn’t seen in awhile. It was likely the full moon because at one point I felt like howling. Maureen threatens to have this celebration again — and convince Carolyn (Dellenbach) Virginia, the founder of Crazy Ladies, to come from out of state to join us for the festivities.


my younger self
looks so serious
but then smiles

the therapist & I tap into my most neurotic fear + Poem #28

It was somewhere near the end of today’s session when I realized I’d never mentioned Betsy Lippitt, my therapist, in this blog. Now I don’t know about the ethics of client – therapist blogging tales but, since I told her I’d make sure to include her and I’m ok with it, here goes . . .

I had caught her up on the past three weeks (we’re in the phasing out phase). There’s probably a term for when the client suddenly blurts out a juicy topic or theme just before the session is officially over. That’s what happened today. I had originally gone to Betsy when my mother died and the girlfriend left the next month. It was a bit too much loss for me to deal with at the same time. And, every now and then, I get a little worried about being a lesbian getting older by the minute and living — and dying — alone.

I told Betsy I had three people listed under Emergency Contacts on my cell phone. Well, they give you that much room so why not be careful? Janice sometimes doesn’t answer her phone and my sister Linda almost always get interrupted by incoming beeps. So I added Eileen because she is home and might be responsible about answering if she got — the call. So I was in this space when I went into a ‘story’ — Betsy pointed this out; smart alec that she is, she had just heard Byron Katie’s talk on Friday night and was showing off — about What If.

The What If story goes like this: what if I suddenly toppled over of a heart attack or went unconscious for some ungodly reason? There I am, living on this rural road with a cow and a horse living less than a mile away. The fear that I unearthed is that I would, well, die — either suddenly or after lying there awhile, unable to crawl on my stomach to my cell phone which wouldn’t be far away but still inaccessible. I’d be lying there for a couple of days. So here’s the kicker: what would my dogs do? Actually, I’m more worried about Bodhi because Mia would take her cue from him. Bodhi is close to his wild canine roots and this German Shepherd – Norwegian Elkhound mix is a ravenous eater. Here’s what I’m worrying about: after a few days, he would be very hungry. Now, he knows where the dog biscuits are. If he got desperate enough, Bodhi would certainly have no compunction about jumping up to the counter and trying to open the upper cabinet door, knocking down the huge bag of biscuits. They would, of course, sprawl all over the kitchen floor and he and Mia would gorge on them.

So that might keep them at bay for a day. But then what? Here’s my real fear: at some point, Bodhi would toss loyalty aside and take a bite — in other words, he might eat me. Mia, looking up so to Mr. Bo, would follow and there you have it. A Woody Allen neurotic story if I ever heard one. Fortunately, my therapist heard a shorter version of this or I would have had to pay extra!

Are you happy, Betsy? You were mentioned in my blog.

Poem #28

fears can be easily explained / they are
not what you think they are / they
bubble up unexpectedly when you’re running out of time