Postcard 62 from Robina: New York, NY, November 8, 2015

Nov 8, 2015

After saying goodbye to Dechen and the rest in Portland on Thursday, October 22, I spent the day in three airplanes, ending up in the evening at Burlington, Vermont, staying the night with old friends Shelley and Jim Hagan, on my way to a weekend at Milarepa Center. Until recently Shelley served for years on their board, and Jim has successfully run Wisdom Tours, taking people to Nepal and other places in Asia.

The center’s new spiritual program coordinator, Kiira, picked me up at the airport; Felicity, the director, joined us later in the evening after her management class at the local university. Great that she’s studying management skills! She got the job last year, appointed by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, of course. She’s young, not yet 30, but she’s eager – and wants to learn. I admire that.

Kiira, left, and friends greeting me at Burlington Airport, Vermont. Photo Milarepa Center.

I’ve observed over the years at our FPMT centers that our being appointed to this job, especially the job of center director, doesn’t mean that we are qualified to do it. From the beginning, in my arrogance, this used to make me go nuts! I didn’t understand why Lama would appoint a particular person: it was surely obvious to anyone that they weren’t qualified! I’d think. I’ll never forget my own humbling experience doing my very first job for the lamas, working for Wisdom Publications when Lama moved us from Kopan Monastery in 1977 to Manjushri Institute in England.

As I’ve mentioned in a couple of previous postcards, as soon as I arrived at Kopan Monastery in Nepal, a year after I first met the lamas, I made a beeline for what was called the Publishing Room. It was run by Nick Ribush, who was in charge of transcribing and duplicating the teachings on those old-fashioned Roneo machines. I felt right at home. I’d spent my life involved in publishing, printing, design, editing. I felt as if my work until then was an apprenticeship, preparing me for this. I remember Nick asking me if I’d like to “work for a year” with publishing and see how it goes. I remember thinking, “What’s he asking me for? It’s my job!”

In London in 1986, when Nick Ribush (in the plaid shirt, center) was director of Wisdom, here in our West End office with Lama Osel and his parents Maria and Paco. Even though I’m in lay clothes, I was a nun. Photo Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive.

I worked with Nick in Delhi, visiting printers, coming up with lists of titles of the lamas to publish. I loved it. Then Lama moved his publishing activities and many others to the north of England. We were going to start Wisdom in the West. Nick would carry on in Delhi running the newly established Tushita and I would go on to England. (Eventually we’d work together again, in the mid-1980s, in London, when he was director again.)

I just assumed I would run it. It was job, my expertise. And I had huge enthusiasm for it. So can you imagine the shock when Nick told me in a note the name of the new director and that, “Fantastic! Robina can be the secretary.” I was stunned, speechless. I simply couldn’t believe that Lama wouldn’t appoint me. I didn’t think of it as arrogance; it just seemed as if the job had my name on it. My real practice had begun! Not sitting on a cushion, believe me, but in daily life. Working with my delusions.

Rinpoche said one time to a newly appointed director, “You think you got this job because you’re good at it? No! You got this job because you created the cause to do it.” It’s taken me years to understand this. The job we get has to be the job we need to learn: that’s practice. Well, clearly I needed to learn how to serve, how to help others. Still learning! I don’t mind helping people – I love helping people! – but throughout my life the way that manifested was as me running the show, leading the way. And Lama stopped me in my tracks! Wow.

Milarepa’s director, Felicity Noel, center bottom row, and the rest of us after our course. Photo Milarepa Center.

Anyway, I admire Felicity in her aspiration to learn how to be a good director. If we haven’t had the training in a job, of course we should learn how to do it! But often we get up in the view that, “Oh, Rinpoche appointed me director,” and we just leave it there, not realizing that we might just have to learn the skills. In fact, often when it comes to good management we don’t even realize there are skills to learn.

If Rinpoche appointed us the architect of the new center, I bet we would realize that we’d better go and learn architecture before we started designing the place! Or if we’d been appointed the accountant: same. “Am I a qualified accountant?” No. Then I’d better learn it. Not just, “Oh, Rinpoche appointed me to do the accounts,” and then stumble blindly along, making a mess.

Anyway, for the record, I’m still learning how to be a good secretary, a good helper.

This time around at Milarepa it was Fall. For years my schedule had me there mid-Winter. There was snow, and there was the sub-zero temperature. I could never understand how anyone could choose to live or even visit such a place! I’d walk the half-dozen steps from the car to the house, spend the week or the weekend there, then back into car and leave.

In Milarepa’s attic gompa. Photo Milarepa Center.

Then to New York. I had agreed to spend two weeks here, for Shantideva Center, Rinpoche’s center. They’re doing a great job in my opinion: really growing their program, their activities. They had their first auction/party and raised $8,000, roughly their goal, Jennifer Kim their director said. It was a good night, a party, and everyone enjoyed.


Shantideva’s director Jennifer Kim, auctioneer Steve, and auction organizer Leilani-Kali Rivers at The Lodge Gallery where the center had the party. Photo Christina Martin.

Jazz musician Piers Lawrence, who performed at the event, and guests. Photo Shantideva Meditation Center.

Guests mingling at The Lodge Gallery. Photo The Lodge Gallery.

A Shantideva member overjoyed at winning a raffle item. Photo Gigi Salomon.

The center kept me busy during the two weeks, but I had plenty of extra curricular activity as well. One night Tara Baltazar took me to Birdland, a jazz venue since the bebop days of Charlie Parker and the rest. Ron Carter, whom I knew as Miles Davis’s bass player in one of his bands in the 1960s, played very beautiful music with a group of nine of others. What was truly a delight to see in the front row were the four cellists, four older white women. A rare sight in a jazz band!

Ron Carter playing with Miles Davis in the mid-1960s.

The first time I heard Miles live was in London in November 1969; I wrote about it in Postcard 7. I’d been listening to him since I was 16, nearly 10 years. I’d only ever heard classical music until then; my mother was a singer and pianist, as I’ve mentioned before. She was shocked when we started liking Elvis in the 1950s! The first record I ever bought, for five cents at a school fair, was a seven-inch LP of Billie Holiday – I wondered who “he” was. My second was Miles Davis’s “Sketches of Spain.”

At Birdland, above, hearing Ron Carter, and his amazing lady cellists; and with Jim Cameron at the 11th Street Bar.

On another night in New York, Jim Cameron, the husband of one of the center people Lauren, who himself is a jazz trumpeter who’s been playing gigs in New York since the 1950s, took me to the 11th Street Bar, on the Lower East Side, a nondescript little place that has musicians come in on a Monday night to play – people come and go. He says they play “straight jazz,” which it seems is what bebop is now referred to. He sat there throughout and I asked him why didn’t get up to play. He said, no way! He wasn’t qualified, he wasn’t at the level of the people playing. Another man there, one of Liza Minnelli’s band players, came every Monday, Jim said, but he never got up to play either.

An old guy called Barry Harris came in and sat down. Jim said that people have such devotion to him. “He is one of the last masters in the Charlie Parker/Dizzy Gillespie/John Coltrane lineage. He knows!” He runs an open class every Tuesday night. In a recent email Jim told me, “I went to Barry’s class recently. He starts with piano students at 2:30 PM. Then vocal students at 6:30 PM and finally horns at 10:00 PM. It was over at 11:30 PM. He had 80 students in a small room, all just happy to be in the same room.”

My first night in New York I went to the Carlyle Cafe at the posh hotel of the same name on the Upper East Side with my sister Julie, who was in town with her husband Ian for two weeks. Woody Allen and his band have been playing there nightly for a few months. Julie’s a fan of his. She didn’t care what it cost, she wanted to be there. The only night I could go in my two weeks, and the only night that Carlyle had a table available, was the Monday I arrived from Vermont. I’m not a fan of traditional jazz, but it was good to hear these human beings playing music together. Julie shook Woody’s hand!

Every year I come to New York I spend time with Michael Rogan and his group of Gay Buddhists. For years he ran the Queer Dharma group at Shambhala but he’s moved them to West 23rd Street to Zen Care. A lovely group. Every Sunday night of the year, even if it’s Thanksgiving, or Christmas, they meet. And they share a meal afterwards.

On the way I bumped into Tamding, a Tibetan artist who works as a tattooist. That must be a first! He lives in LA and I’ll see him soon at the new group started by Kate Macdonald in southern California, Medicine Buddha Orange County Study Group.

Enjoying supper with the Gay Buddhists; and having dinner earlier with Michael Rogan, left, and David.

We had packed two weeks at Shantideva. Teachings every night, as well as the auction party.

They haven’t got their own place yet; they use Gelek Rinpoche’s center downtown, Jewel Heart, and Tibet House, a lovely venue on West 15th Street.

The Refuge group in New York above; and other events with Shantideva below. Photos Shantideva Meditation Center.

I also bumped into Darren, an Australian friend of one of the students in Copenhagen. You can tell he’s tall from the angle of the selfie!
Below, with Leilani-Kali Rivers, a lawyer who serves on Shantideva’s board and who helped organize the auction. She and I discovered that we’re both “old girls” of the Sacre Coeur nuns: she in New York City and me in Melbourne. That always feels like a strong bond.

Sunday night November 8 we finished the day early with my trip to LaGuardia for a flight to Nashville, where my old friend John Flandrick would pick up and drive me to Eddyville in Kentucky to visit my old friend Mitch Willoughby on death row there.

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