Doreen Schweizer, our guiding teacher, is stepping down.
October 29, 2017
Dear Advisory Board members,
For the last few years I have been talking about, and preparing both VIMS and myself for, my stepping down as the designated VIMS Guiding Teacher. It is a role that I have grown into, and along with, as it has emerged and transformed for close to 25 years. It seems that the time has arisen––naturally and organically––for this official change in my relationship to our sangha. I am not leaving the VIMS sangha––just rearranging my time to allow for more individual practice, teaching, and writing. I have already talked with Peg and Karen about this, and they plan to follow my letter to you with one of their own to clarify their understanding of the changes and their intentions.
Peg and Karen, these two remarkable women have both already had increasing roles in teacher leadership. This past year, what began as informal, ad hoc teacher get-togethers settled into regular monthly meetings and soon included a regular daily email up-date to check in with one another. With this consolidation of information and honing of activity as a prelude, Peg and Karen are skilled at collaboration and ready to serve as a Guiding Teacher Twosome.
Peg has graduated from the Community Dharma Leaders Program, which gives us a strong tie to the Buddhist Insight Network nationally. A number of years ago she took a year-long course of study at BCBS and has followed up with study courses and online courses ever since. She has had years of experience in teaching classes, leading a weekly sangha group, and supporting the recent development of the family program. She has a strong, resilient, and joyful energy. Her individual Dharma study and practice are both rich and deep.
Meanwhile, Karen, who also has a long and profoundly committed relationship with Dharma study and practice, as well as with VIMS, is blossoming as a committed and creative teacher. As you know she has been teaching classes for several years (with Peg initially and now on her own) and has taken full responsibility for the Monday sangha group. She also has a strong interest and expertise in administrative matters.
Both Peg and Karen have a long history with VIMS. They were on the board together. They have managed retreats independently and together. They have supported VIMS and me with great loyalty for many, many years. We are so very fortunate to have these two long-time sangha members, who are so well prepared and so willing to collaborate as the Guiding Teacher Team.
In addition, Landon Hall is a strong teacher within our sangha. Although she has chosen to not be part of the teacher team in recent years, she was at one time. She has co-taught classes with both Peg and me, as well as co-led retreats with Peg. Landon is trained as an MBSR mindfulness teacher and has independently offered classes in secular mindfulness in the community for a number of years. She currently is enrolled in a Buddhist teacher-training program with Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach. This fall, Landon instructed all three of our weekly sangha in the use of meditation apps. For many years, she has been happy to fill in to guide a weekly sit when one of us has been away.
Along with the strength of our teachers, there are other factors that have helped me know the timeliness of my decision to let go. One is that for the first time in VIMS history we have a vice-president! This team collaboration in administrative leadership provides a much more solid and workable base for the organization. Gina has been doing a great job and now has Bob to support and expand her efforts. Having both a pair of teachers and a pair of board members guiding VIMS lets me know all will be well.
In addition, the sangha is flowering! Karen and I were both away on retreat when Peg was out having surgery for the broken leg and a challenging initial recovery. After a week of letting go into deep practice, on my return, I was able to see so clearly and with great joy the strength and commitment of our sangha standing before me: the Tuesday group was carrying on with leadership emerging from within; the peer-led study group on the Four Noble Truths, initiated and skillfully facilitated by Michael, was actively engaging with Dharma; under VIMS auspices, a fledgling Dharma teacher, Lee Steppacher, was leading her first outdoor retreat (which I happily attended as a participant); the family group was flourishing with Bob’s steady support and with Eileen (another trained teacher in our midst) taking on stronger leadership and guidance with both the children and the parents. Wow! I saw that VIMS as a Dharma collective is vibrant and very much alive as a refuge and caring community, with our Support Sangha Team playing a key role.
Though I am stepping down as Guiding Teacher, I am not leaving VIMS. It is my spiritual home; the sangha is my family. Peg, Karen and I have talked about the shift and what it means, and I know we will be talking more as time goes on. I will be continuing to teach and guide the Thursday sangha group and our prison program. I will continue to mentor individual sangha members when asked and to offer retreats when asked. I will continue with my current relationship to the newsletter for now, including writing a monthly essay for most issues.
Peg and Karen have asked that I stay on as the “Spiritual Spokesperson” for now. This entails speaking at area churches or other community groups. It also includes being the “clergy rep” for UVIP. My involvement with this group has not been large; it has been mainly through explaining and upholding our core values in the light of the group’s predominantly Christian view. I have done this directly with the UVIP leadership and indirectly in conversations with the more actively involved VIMS sangha members.
What I am retiring from is being a part of administrative decision-making. This translates as my resigning from: the Guiding Teacher Team; the Teacher Advisory Board Team; all of the Advisory Board Teams; and all associated email threads. I am happy to consult in person with or help in small ways on behalf of the Guiding Teacher Team, the Advisory Board and any Advisory Board Teams if the need arises in regard to specific matters, and if I am asked.
I suspect my relationship to ViMS will continue to shift as things resettle; and I would ask your help in our finding our way through these changes together, with care and wise attention. As I wrote to Peg and Karen: “Please, always, let’s keep the lines of communication open and check in with one another over time and ‘hover with the dukkha’ for a bit. In Stephen Batchelor’s last talk for the Four Noble Truths class, he says so clearly that for him Dukkha doesn’t refer to suffering at all, but to all the various arisings in a lifetime and the huge or slight trembling they induce in the heart.”
I am wishing us all wisdom and kindness in our various and many life transitions, as well as steadfastness and compassion in the face of trembling hearts.
With a deep and fond bow,