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day, not just on Sundays. Through the years, she meditated occasionally. Her interest in Buddhism resurfaced much later, while working with terminally ill patients. She remembers talking with a man whose wife, in her 40s, was suffering a painful, protracted death from cancer. The couple had saved all of their lives for an RV they could use to see the country when they retired. “His whole life was wrapped up in that dream, and now she was dying,” she says. “And I thought, ‘I don’t want that to happen to me. I don’t want to live my life for something future.’ ” Soon, everything in her life was flowing toward the monastery. She began practicing more intensively and helped start a priory in the Seattle area. She had separated from her husband; her son was grown. She’d done most of the adventurous things she wanted. At a point where she had the freedom to decide what she wanted to do, she slowly decided on a monk’s life. Being a monk might seem selfish—after all, the point is to look inward to find the truth. Hicks, who was active in the civil rights and peace movements, says people wonder why she’s not working in troubled areas such as Haiti. As a monk, she says, “you’re looking at yourself in a mirror all the time.” But the mirror is one of the biggest challenges. Before, she could forget things that troubled her during eight hours at work. As a monk, one’s inner life is under constant observation. This practice lets Hicks respond to those around her in a more helpful way. Her now-adult grandson, who was struggling with some difficult decisions and had a new baby, asked for her advice and she responded from her Buddhist learnings—advice he later told her had been useful. And over the past year she has noticed she responds to news that once sparked her anger with a deeper sense of sadness and grief at how much suffering people experience.

ings. When asked if he’s found what he was seeking, Rev. Berthold pauses, then says that since he arrived, he hasn’t once felt that he’s tossing his life energy away. “I think that’s a clue.” These monks speak of the real enlightenment coming not as halos and lightning bolts, but in small moments in which one thinks, speaks and acts from tenderness, from patience. Each moment is a chance to connect with the divine, to experience enlightenment—a deceptively simple idea, Cummings says, making each moment a choice of how to respond.

OUTSIDE THE BUDDHA hall, a line of shoes and jackets waits for the monks as they go about their work inside, trying to return again and again to the elusive place of compassion and kindness from which they hope to live. A pane of glass in the entryway looks to Mount Shasta, where a skirt of cloud lifts to reveal snow-covered slopes. Then the mountain disappears again. n

—Cameron Walker is a California-based freelance writer.

MANY PEOPLE ENTER Buddhism to look at their own suffering, Olson says. “But the more you do it, you realize that by doing it for yourself, you’re actually doing it for others. You live from a place that can benefit all beings, and you happen to be one of them.” Some talk of the world’s troubles as a giant fire; each monk tries to take his or her own piece of wood off the fire. There are plenty of chances to get burned in the process. Life at the abbey demands living with extreme weather, a rigorous schedule and what one monk calls “the joy and ascetic practice” of living so closely in a small community. The drone of passing semis is silenced only during road-closing snowstorms. This winter, a storm snapped 40 of the abbey’s trees, which smashed fences and punched holes in roofs. “Sometimes I think, ‘why aren’t there more people here?’ ” Olson says. “And sometimes I think, ‘Why is anyone here?’ ” Some do not remain. This year, the abbot left the monastery after 14 years at its helm, citing differences with the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives; later, he revealed a romantic relationship. Despite the difficulties of life in the monastery and as a monk, these alumni feel they are doing what they were meant for, no matter how imperfectly they feel they’re following Buddhist teachSeptember 20 10

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Columns - September 2010  

New in Columns, the University of Washington Alumni Magazine: Off the gridiron with Jake Locker, one of the country’s highest-rated college...

Columns - September 2010  

New in Columns, the University of Washington Alumni Magazine: Off the gridiron with Jake Locker, one of the country’s highest-rated college...

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