I don’t keep track of dates well, so I have to think back to events. I moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, in August 2004 just before beginning my firstyear at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Also that August, just beforemoving, I made my first trip to Shambhala Mountain Center in Colorado. It was both better and worse than I had ever thought it could be. I loved the mountain center. I hated meditation.
Perhaps ‘hated’ is too strong a word, but I really really really didn’tlike it. I still don’t, to be truthful, but I am getting better. So why would someone keep doing something they really really really don’t like? Well, I didn’t, not for a long time, and even now only in fits and starts. Meditation is not one of my skills, but I am getting better. So why bother?
I figure it’s like sex. Many women, maybe even the majority, don’t have agood first sexual experience. If it is not outright bad, at least it isnothing good. (I got lucky, but many of my friends can’t say the same.) So why bother trying again? Because it feels good, really good. Obviously sex and meditation are different. They are both good indifferent ways. Meditation is good for the mind, and sex is good for, well…sex, I guess. It is not exactly the best analogy, but it is what comes to mind at the moment. I’ll explain why later.
I spent that first year in Lincoln working and attending school at theUniversity. Prior to that trip, I had spent quite a bit of time in the past year reading about Buddhism. Now my college studies consumed my time. I had been admitted into the College of Architecture professional program after having completed my pre-professional studies at a sister college, the University of Nebraska-Omaha. I took things a little differently, delaying my third year architectural design studio classes to finish a minor in Japanese while taking the third year structural and building systems classes. I think it was good thing in the end, since third year can be overwhelming to most architecture students, but it enhanced a sense of isolation, of separateness.
I needed a sense of belonging badly by the time I was able to return tothe mountain center. I found it in the set up crew. People, mostly young, come from all over to stay at the mountain center beginning during the first week of May. In exchange for room, board, and program credit they set up the hundreds of residential tents and dozens of large program tents over the course of five weeks. Many stay on for the entire summer, being hired by the center to work in various departments.
I think I learned a lot during those two weeks and I returned to Lincoln with a resolve to begin making new friends and start a real social life. That has worked to a greater of lesser degree. I have experienced more camaraderie and gone out more often, but I am still slightly set apart. It is something I am used to and will probably always experience. I am alittle older than most of my classmates, and often have a different mindset than your typical college student.
I started design studio in the fall of 2005, which is a hard experience to describe. All I will say now, is that you spend many sometimes frustrating hours in the same space with the same people, all being slowly driven mad by our professors. I felt for the first time a real need to get away from this place, these people. I used the credit I had earnedthe previous year to spend spring break at the mountain center.
It was a lovely time. It snowed almost every day, but it was a gentle white place. I was not part of a program or a crew. When asked what Iwas doing there, I simply answered “Nothing.” I made many friends, some new and some I’d met before. One in particular is Dickie (Richard), who saw me doing homework on my laptop in the dining hall. (There are no true vacations for architecture students, I’m afraid.) This sparked a conversation which has led to a strong friendship and new opportunities.
I was scheduled to return in May 2006 to work on the set up crew, but I was stolen by Dickie (with my enthusiastic permission) to work on a special project. I spend two and a half wonderful weeks hiking the length, breadth, and height of the seven hundred acre valley. I added new structures to the out of date map and created floor plans for cabins which had gone thirty some years without building permits, a fact the county hadrecently become aware of. Being built by hippies in the 1970’s, some of them were quite unique. Most had been made into lovely and cozy homes for the center’s staff. Luckily, the county is allowing them to stay, provided they are not dangerous and obtain building permits, for which a floor plan is required.
Before leaving and since returning, Dickie and I have been working to create a collaboration between SMC and the College of Architecture at UNL. Today, on the summer solstice, I learned SMC has approved the project and added it to the Expansion Department budget. It seems some kind of celebration should be in order, and while my coworkers dutifully congratulated me, it was still obvious that this was simply another one of Monica’s odd ideas. (Not that I mind. ‘Odd’ is a compliment in myfamily.) I find myself happy that this project is going forward, yet sad that I have so few to share it with you truly understand. I have been able to bring together two of the greatest loves of my life: Buddhism and Architecture; Shambhala Mountain Center and the University ofNebraska-Lincoln.
It is hard being a Buddhist in Nebraska.