Friday, December 18, 2015

Milwaukee Outliers: An Interview with Diana Sullivan

At Nina Robinson’s Mandarava Retreat here at Tsegyagar East, I met up with Diana Sullivan--long time member of the community, who with her husband Michael, often attends Rinpoche’s retreats. This time she decided to come and stay in the dorm on her own and learn more about the community........I was interested in hearing her story although we've been acquainted for over 20 years - Jacqueline Gens

How did you meet Rinpoche?
My husband Michael and I were students of Trungpa Rinpoche from the late '70s until his passing. H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche attended the US cremation ceremonies and then gave teachings at several stops in North America. We were returning home from his teachings in Boulder, CO in 1987. On our way to the airport, we stopped off at Ziji bookstore and discovered a copy of Crystal and the Way of Light. Within a few days, we knew that we wanted to meet Rinpoche and learn about Dzogchen. We contacted Tsegyalgar to find out if we could bring him to Milwaukee for teachings. We were told, "probably not". But, by some auspicious circumstances - Leila Gaidash, an older "new age" woman living here had a friend who had met Rinpoche in Italy and he enthusiastically told her about him. She decided that he must come to Milwaukee; so she went door-to-door in a very snowy winter to gather 3,000 signatures to petition him to visit here in 1989. Leila booked the teaching space at a music venue called the "Wild Thang". This is an older building which was originally known as the Eagles Club. Coincidentally, this was the place where my parents met each other!!!

Nancy and Barry Simmons accompanied Rinpoche here, as Nancy is from Milwaukee. Rinpoche gave teachings on Saturday at the Wild Thang and a local Church, and was invited to the local Shambhala Center to give a presentation. We were fortunate enough to be able to attend all those teachings. Another vajra brother (and former Milwaukeean) Andrei Lazlo also attended Rinpoche's teachings here. Barry and Nancy stayed in Milwaukee for a number of weeks after Rinpoche's visit and they were very kind and generous of their time to help us learn about Rinpoche and Dzogchen.

Our Group Practice in Milwaukee

Since that visit we have been hosting community practices with people in our home, following the community schedule. Typically, we do a ganapuja on Padmasambhava / Dakini days and then do the other recommended practice on new / full moons, to get more familiar with the range of practices.

When our daughter Alison entered in-home hospice and for the 49 days after she died in 2009, we opened our home for practice each evening. Rinpoche was very kind to us and recommended a specific practice. Up to 15 people (people from other sanghas and family and friends) came to our home many evenings to join us in practice for Ali. We also received much support from our world-wide sangha. This was very helpful to us. Thank you for your love and support!

Over the years people have come and gone. When sangha members visit the Milwaukee area, we try to get together to practice as much as possible. We also have done some remote group practices using Google Meetings / Skype. We have participated in the webcasts since their inception, as well as the World-wide transmissions. This is really a most excellent gift from our precious teacher.

Practice at Khandroling

We have not done personal retreats at Khandroling yet; but we hope to have more opportunities to do so now that I am retired; and Michael will be retiring in the next year or so. We each have done dark retreat many years ago.

What Was Your Experience Visiting Tsegyalgar East this Year?

It's awesome that there are offerings of Yantra Yoga, Vajra Dance and Khaita dancing at Tsegyalgar regularly, as well as the community having great, local teachers along with hosting of many excellent teachers from other places, like Nina Robinson and Fabio, and others. I have some experience working with paper-making; so it's exciting to know there is interest in working with this medium as a practice discipline too. Visual arts and music are big parts of our lives.

Further Thoughts
I traveled to Tsegyalgar recently to learn/practice Mandarava Long Life with Nina Robinson. I stayed at the Schoolhouse as I wanted to get to know more about how the community functions; and to get to know more members. It was a very enjoyable stay and I liked taking part in karma yoga - helping to clean the lower level. I really had a sense of being a part of the community - practicing, working, and playing together. It also gave me a better sense of what it takes to make this community run. This is a big deal! Many dedicated people with many different kinds of skills collaborating with each other have kept Tsegyalgar going; and unless people come there in person, they may not recognize all of what it takes.

On a more personal level I felt like I was able to connect more readily with other sangha members at this smaller retreat. I know it's not always easy for people to come into a group or organization that is already established; so this retreat provided me with these opportunities. I recommend it to others living outside of the area!

Please tell us your story too. Put a face to our community!

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