Did you ever wonder how Dharma Zephyr Insight Meditation Community got its start? Find out below as as blog editor Anne Macquarie interviews Christy Tews and Kathy Schwerin, our beloved Community Dharma Leaders.
Anne: How did you two meet?
Kathy: In 1986 I was a hiker on a trek through a remote part of Bhutan. It turned into quite an adventure. There was a late monsoon so we had a lot of rain and snow. We ended up stranded and most people were helicoptered out. Four of the trekkers plus Christy continued to the end; we bonded with each other as well as our Bhutanese logistics guy Tenzin. We invited Tenzin to the US the following summer for some outdoor skills training. A few months later Christy came to my going-away party in San Francisco and I moved to Nevada, subletting her room in the cabin at Washoe Pines; Tenzin moved to Nevada in 1990, finished school from 4th grade to a Masters in Electrical Engineering with help from the original 5 of us, and married Christy’s niece.
Christy: Kathy was barely on the 1986 Snowman trek in Bhutan. Someone dropped out at the last minute and she was chosen from the wait list. When we got on the trail I noticed immediately that she was easy and interesting to talk to. At our first weather difficulty I checked everyone in their tents to be sure they were OK. As I stood in the falling snow at Kathy’s tent door she gazed at me with her beautiful blue eyes and said “I feel fine. Should I be worried?”
And 5 days later, when she was felled by nausea brought on by prophylactic use of tetracycline she did not feel fine. My position was always sweep on the trail, partly because I’m a slow walker and partly because I want to be sure everyone got to camp. I found her lying in the trail.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“I’m going to die here” she replied,
“Oh no, you can’t, you’re not at home.”
“Oh yes I can, my mother did.” In our conversations Kathy had mentioned her mother’s death on a flight to France. At this point worry set in and I began to plan a strategy to get her over the pass and on to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan.
Anyone can see that the strategy, aided strongly by Tenzin, worked. Another 5 days later, as we sat in the snow-bound camp awaiting the helicopter I interviewed each person to determine the order in which people would fly out when/if the helicopter came. When I asked Kathy if she wanted to go out on the helicopter she said “I paid for an adventure and I’m having one. I’m staying.” That trip bonded the 5 of us left in the snowbank. We walked out together.
Anne: Bhutan is a Buddhist country. Did you both have a Buddhist practice before you went there, did you pick it up there, or afterwards? What got you each started on the Noble Eightfold Path?
Christy: I got the jolt that catapulted me into Buddhist practice in 1982 in India. The bus I was riding on from Srinigar in Kashmir to Leh, in Ladakh, stopped for no discernible reason by the side of the road. As I reached down into my bag to get my book with which to while away the delay my eye caught the eye of a woman looking directly at me from outside the bus. Her features and dress were Tibetan. With her direct gaze a sensation rippled from the top of my head to my toes, accompanied by internal words. The words were “You have come home.” I was dumbfounded. In the Indus Valley around Leh there are many Tibetan monasteries and I visited nearly every one. Sitting in the temples, chants, gongs and drums sounding around me, I felt as if someone had reached into my chest, enclosed my heart in a fist and was gently pulling me along to.… I didn’t know where to – and I was hooked forever. It took me several more years to understand exactly what happened and with that understanding I began practice in late 1984.
Kathy: My practice began more gradually, with an accumulation of experiences, mostly while I was in Asia. One was meeting a westerner who had been on a meditation retreat, which inspired me to have the intention to be a wise old woman. A recurrent theme was death: my parents had both died (many years apart) suddenly and unexpectedly, I had a few brushes with my own mortality on the trip, and I saw many bodies and cremations. It brought home to me the urgency to more deeply understand my own suffering and clinging so I could go peacefully through that transition. And, I loved the Buddhas and the Buddhist people, who seemed to embody a kind of peace and happiness that I longed for. By the time I returned from my six-month trip to Asia, I knew I was a Buddhist. That was 27 years ago and I have never wavered.
Anne: What moved you to start Dharma Zephyr? When did it start? What does the name mean?
Christy: We actually had three starts but only achieved critical mass on the third go in 1990. By then we had a core group of meditators living on Washoe Pines Ranch. We sat together on Monday night and followed the sit with discussion. What moved me to offer my home as the Dharma hall was a desire to practice and the understanding that a Sangha of fellow practitioners would enhance my understanding of practice. It was a mildly selfish motive which may have helped others as well.
The name? Dharma is the truth of the universe. Zephyr is the wind constantly blowing across the Washoe Valley where we started our group. The two seemed to be blowing through our lives and and the name stuck.
Kathy: Our first start came in January of 1988 when I called Christy lamenting that though I had enjoyed my first retreat, I wasn’t meditating at home. She made a few calls, and Buddhist practitioners from several traditions came together to sit. Those first two sanghas somehow didn’t continue; it took a quorum of us on the ranch plus a few other stalwart souls who would come from Carson City or Minden to keep it going. We moved into Carson City after quite a few years in order to make the group more accessible to more people. In the meantime, groups had also started in Reno and Minden by practitioners who felt confident with our model of peer-led practice.
When Stu suggested the name Dharma Zephyr, he intended it as the title of a possible newsletter, but we soon realized it made a wonderful name for our group. We replaced the word Sangha with Insight Meditation Community to make it more clear to people what our practice is.
Anne: What has been most rewarding for you with Dharma Zephyr?
Kathy: The rewards of Dharma Zephyr have been threefold. First, experiencing the gratitude that people express about having found the dharma through us. I’ve even had a wife thank me for teaching the practice to her husband. Second, the support of sangha for my own practice has been invaluable. And last is the opportunity to study with such amazing teachers both here in Nevada and out in the rest of the world.
Christy: Serving the Dharma. Bringing teachers for everyone to enjoy, experience and learn from. Again, the selfish result is that I, too, get to sit with these wonderful teachers. My heart tells me that when people learn to listen to their own interior feelings and thoughts that they and things around them become ever more peaceful. That’s what practice does – and tiny bit by tiny bit we can bring more peace into the world. I love participating in that transformation.
Anne: How would you like to see Dharma Zephyr evolve?
Kathy: I would like to see other practitioners continuing to step forward and delight me with what they want to do and with what they create.
Christy: We already have many deep and talented practitioners in our Sanghas. As DZIMC evolves it can help these people become teachers in their own right, which will give us the capacity to reach even more participants. This is important work and we can do it. I believe we will.