Teachers: Toni Packer
"The emergence and blossoming of understanding, love and
intelligence has nothing to do with any tradition, no matter
how ancient or impressive — it has nothing to do with time. It
happens completely on its own when a human being questions,
wonders, listens and looks without getting stuck in fear,
pleasure and pain. When self concern is quiet, in abeyance,
heaven and earth are open. The mystery, the essence of all
life is not separate from the silent openness of simple
listening." — Toni Packer
Toni Packer founded the organization that became Springwater
Center and was its resident teacher for many years. Born in
Germany in 1927, Toni lived most of her adult life in Western
New York. Beginning in1976 she led retreats in the United
States and Europe, and continued even through ill health in
her later years. Toni left us in August 2013, leaving a legacy
of extraordinary recorded talks in which she "lives the work"
with a vibrant and passionate intensity.
She was also the author of five books:
Seeing Without Knowing / What is Meditative Inquiry, The
Work of This Moment, The Light of Discovery, The
Wonder of Presence and The Silent Question.
The next retreat with recorded talks by Toni will take
place in 2015 but has not yet been scheduled. Register
for Retreat with Recorded Talks by Toni Packer.
Digital Archive of Toni's talks
Thanks to a generous donation from Toni's family in Switzerland, her taped recordings are being transferred to digital format. Be sure to check out the new sampling of recordings from 1987 available on her Audio page.
Memorial Tributes to
(Some of the following tributes were spoken at Toni's memorial held October 12, 2013 at the Center, others are written submissions. The spoken tributes were edited by the speakers. If you would like to submit your written appreciation of Toni, please send it to email@example.com, attention Susan McCallum.
Bob Dattola - There will be time
during lunch of course to continue these wonderful
conversations that we're all having with everyone that we
haven't seen in years. Most of us spent at least some time
with Toni--at the Zen Center, here at Springwater, or as
friends and family in her presence. Each in our own way,
we are grateful for her life with us. Now we'll have an
opportunity to share anything about our life with Toni,
our experiences, memories, anything, and we've talked
briefly about how this will work. So we'll just sit
quietly and when somebody wants to say something, nobody
has to give permission for anyone to talk. I think it
would be best if people would just stand up and sing or
talk or whatever you want to do. And then at the end,
around one o'clock, Stew, who is here somewhere, Stew is
going to lead us in "Let it Be." Is that correct Stew? So
can everybody just be quiet for a minute and feel free to
stand up and say whatever you'd like. Thank you.
Elsebeth Holm - A couple of years ago I was on retreat here, and I think it was at the end of October or November and it was a miserable day. It was one of those days, it was cloudy and rainy and drizzling, and I went out for a walk in the meadow, and of course it was very still. I had never written a poem before in my life well maybe unless it was assigned in grade school or something like that and not at all good at it. But in this moment it kind of just flowed out of stillness. It never felt right to share it at the time, but it feels right now.
So it's called "Presence."
"Venturing down a path unknown, a gentle rain begins to fall, so easily absorbed by the Earth. I gaze up, overpowered by the ominous clouds gathering and gliding across the sky, Pausing, mesmerized by their myriad of shades and the vastness of the sky, simply embracing the earth and gracefully holding the space. A sudden shiver runs up my spine as the fury of the wind makes itself known. Wildly thrashing the blades of grasses in the meadow. The now fading leaves of autumn hurriedly making their escape while the majestic trees stand sturdy, waving their branches in unison. Then struck by the expanse of the rolling hills, with an eerie fog lingering in the valley slowly rising. This morning I thought, ‘What a miserable day,’ but now I can see the mystery reveal itself in the timeless presence of Oneness."
I share this with deep gratitude, respect and love for Toni, who I only had the opportunity to meet three times by her bedside, but whom I love and feel like I know her through her tapes and her talks and the light in her eyes.
Charles LaBarre - I'm often terrified about getting up in front of people, so I figured I 'd better do it early. Many years ago my beloved wife Doris introduced me to Toni and she also at the same time introduced me to Mary Oliver and her poetry. And then I later found out that she was one of Toni's favorite poets. And one of the rites that I had was finding a Mary Oliver poem in The New Yorker and cutting it out and then sending it to Toni and then the last day of retreat she would read one of those poems. I'd say, "Gee, I sent that to Toni, how wonderful." [laughter]. But the poems themselves often had quite an effect on me, and I was going through some papers in my office the other day and I found a copy of The New Yorker, quite old, open to a page with a Mary Oliver poem on it that I had never gotten around to sending to Toni. This morning I was thinking about this poem and the effect it had on me, and while I was sitting in our silence this morning I was having this image of Mary Oliver and Toni standing, holding hands and quietly hammering on my mind, and suggesting I get over it all. And this poem says some of the same things to me.
[Charles reads Mary Oliver’s poem “The Poet with His Face in His Hands.”
Thank you Toni, thank you.
[Charles speaks again later during the Memorial] - I know I've been up here before, and one thing I've noticed, is, nobody's mentioned Kyle. [several audience members: "Yeah."] I have to tell a little story. When I first met Doris here at the Center, our third meeting after we really got together—she came from Guelph and I came from Woodstock—and I got here, and she said, "By the way, we're going to have tea with Toni and Kyle." Now I had come out of the tradition of "the guru," "the master." Spent a year with him in India. He was the authority. He knew.
"Oh, ok, so go meet the guru of Springwater?" Go for it. But all kidding aside, I didn't want to say all this to Doris. I didn't want to blow it right out of the water right there. So we went to their house, and I said to myself, "But what do I do? Am I supposed to bow, am I supposed to genuflect or say something meaningful?" All this stuff is surging around. So we went in, had introductions, greetings, and we sat down. Kyle was sitting to my left. After a few pleasantries, Doris and Toni went out into the kitchen to do a little preparation, and they’re happily chatting away and I'm sitting there churning inside, and well, now what, I’m thinking? Kyle reached over and put his hand on my knee. He says, "You know, it's a good thing they're speaking in German so we don't have to pretend to understand what they're talking about." [laughter] There couldn’t' have been a more perfect moment. I have to admit it still took me a while to get over that, because I was going to meet Toni and still had this thing, "Well, how do I behave with the Master?" I was a little lost.
first retreat I came to was in July and I was wearing my
office clothes at the time as I came here, and I had my
first meeting with Toni, the first one-on-one. It was hot!
Oh, boy, it was hot, but I'm going to meet The Master, so I
put my tie and shirt on [laughter] and I was sitting out in
the solarium, and the sweat's building up, soaking my
dripping off my chin and soaking my tie. And I waited and
said to myself, "What am I doing?” Something shifted then.
After that meeting with Toni, I never did that again. But
whenever I get into that space of thinking there's an
authority, something or someone I have to pay attention to,
someone who really KNOWS, that I have to listen to and be
subservient to, I think back to Kyle putting his hand on my
knee. I don't really have to understand what you’re talking
about. He was
such a blessing, a wonderful partner for Toni. And I miss
Chaize - Things that I deeply appreciate that Toni
passed on: Her palpable "one-minded love" and joy. Her
teachings on "don't know mind."
stress hits, this memory of her comes to me. I hear Toni's
voice saying "Don't know mind." and I see her smile and her
love just flowing out of her so deeply. Thank you Toni.
Zaugg-Leiser - In one moment, when I had to wait long
hours at the Philly Airport to change for Rochester, several
words came into my mind, which I had heard the first time
from my Aunty Toni. She taught them to me when I was a
child. It was a special moment of lightness, that they came
into my mind all of a sudden. One of the words she taught me
me was, "leftovers." [laughter] I had to laugh so many times
about these German translated English words that Toni used
in our presence.
three words I do remember so well, when I was a child, she
used to say, "This is gorgeous!" or "This is terrific!" or
she said, "This is amazing!" I now consider that these
expressions have been of such great value and beauty for me.
I experienced, how particular these expressions have been
for me. When Toni spoke them to me as a child, I saw her
bright and friendly face, thinking that this was something
great. These English expressions have been some of the most
impressive that I learned to know. I really loved my aunt
and godmother also for that. Thank you.
Santschi - I clearly remember three words from Toni:
Listen, Look, Question. Those three words guided me through
most of my life. With "listen," I'm still not all that good
at it; with "look," I often don't see a lot of things.
Chana, my wife, sees ten times more than me, and often I
still need to be told what I did not see; and "question,"
which, I think, I can do well. I have a scientific
background, Toni had a scientific background, so we
connected early through that, and while the questioning Toni
did related to the internal world, my day-time work
connected me to the external world, but there really is no
difference. So, her approach appealed to me, because it
still was very scientific. However, one thing, she hardly
ever talked about, but was full of it, was "Love." Early on,
I wondered "Why isn't she talking also about love?" Well, I
realized soon that she was exuding Love, she didn't have to
talk about it.
Mitchell - I went to see Toni in hospice. At one
point she seemed to want to talk. But I could tell she was
taking great effort, so I said, "There's no need to talk." I
brought One Robe, One Bowl with me because she used
to read it a lot on the seventh day of retreat. I read some
poems in the Autumn section.
[Ron reads poems, the first lines of which begin]:
cold autumn night. . .
The wind is fresh, the moon bright. . .
While I gather firewood and wild grasses on the hill. . .
When it is evening please come to my hut. . .
I've left the world far behind. . .
from One Robe, One Bowl: The Zen Poetry of Ryokan,
pgs 67-70. Translated and introduced by John Stevens. John
I asked her fellow visitor if she would like to sing
"Amazing Grace" with me. She agreed to sing with me. Before
we sang I asked the visitor if we should change the part
that says "a wretch like me?" "No, no, leave it in," she
said. [laughter] I guess we all have something to work on.
after the poetry and after the singing, I just got to sit
there with Toni, and after a couple of minutes she started
Witteman - I remember when I first met Toni. It was
while attending a seven-day sesshin at the Rochester Zen
Center, during dokusan meetings with Roshi Kapleau. She was
training to be a teacher, sitting in an alcove of the
dokusan room, listening and being with whatever was taking
place. It was wonderful to have her there. As I think back,
it's amazing, there is just her presence of open listening,
kindness... no words really touch it. All through the years,
when I think about the many experiences of our long
friendship, this is what is strongest: Toni's presence, her
listening, being with what's here in such an open way.
Sophia and I were last with Toni, she shared some lovely
words, which I wrote down afterwards. This is my
recollection of her words:
time together was mostly silent, with moments arising when
we would talk. After being quiet, she said, "You know, we
want to stick around, don't we? To me, it's to be with
friends, to feel the love of being with them. I don't want
to lose that, to leave them."
was silence, and then she turned and said, "Are you afraid
of dying? Back a while ago, when I wasn't feeling well, I
thought since I am 85, this might be it, this might be
death. And I felt afraid. But then, the thought passed and
the fear passed also."
were quiet, and then she said, "Feeling well is good, but
what's really important is the pool of love that's
underneath. How well we feel doesn't matter all that much,
it's really only on the surface."
was silence again, and I said, "Thank you Toni for
everything, for sharing this love." She replied, "We can't
stop it, can we? It's such a big pool that it seeps through,
even when we fight it. This pool of love holds everyone,
every person, no one high or low, no one in or out."
Erig-Leiser - I feel this "coming into
presence" when I get here. There is something about this
place that has so much to do with Toni and with you--all her
friends. Being here, I can relax into the moment.
bit more than a week ago I dreamed that I was driving to
Toni's funeral with the rest of my family. The car I drove
was squeezed withing two walls, and I knew I would never
make it to that funeral. There was a gate I could go through
between the walls, but I didn't have the key to open it.
Looking back I saw Toni in another car, it was a cabriolet,
smiling with a huge key in her hand. [laughter] This is a
bit like my relationship with Toni. She has the key. When I
was a child she came to visit us with her family every other
year. This was like a fresh breeze going through our house.
We all adored her. When I was a young woman, I felt
miserable and she was sitting on our sofa like a smiling
rock. There was something about her that made me follow her
path. I went to the Zen Center, and she gave me that key. I
went there because I knew she had it. She was my teacher for
many years. Toni was like a signpost through all my life
saying, "This way to freedom." I am quite a bit older now
than she was when I started to work with her, and still this
signpost is within me. Whatever I've done since, I have
found no other truth than the one she led me to understand
and experience: "There's nothing but 'right now.'" And in
this very moment there is love, understanding, everything. I
am deeply grateful.
offered this German translation of her contribution to the
Wenn ich hier bin, faellt es mir leichter, im Moment zu leben. Das hat mit diesem Ort zu tun, der so sehr von Toni und Euch, Ihren treuen Freunden gepraegt ist. Hier kann ich mich entspannen in das, was gerade ist. Vor etwas mehr al seiner Woche hatte ich einen Traum. Ich fuhr im Auto mit meiner Familie zu Toni's Beerdigung. In einer engen Gasse blieben wir stecken, und ich befuerchtete, dass wir die Beerdigung verpassen wuerden. Da sah ich eine Tuer, die aus dem Engpass herausgefuehrt haette, doch ich hatte keinen Schleussel dafuer. Als ich zurueckschaute, sah ich in einem Auto mit offenem Dach hinter uns Toni sitzen. Sie laechelte und hatte einen grossen Schluessel in der Hand. So ist meine Beziehung zu Toni. Sie hat den Schluessel. Als ich ein Kind war, kam sie uns jedes zweite Jahr besuchen mit ihrer Familie. Das war immer wie eine frische Brise, die durch unser Haus wehte. Wir liebten sie ueber alles. Als junge Frau ging es mir einmal sehr schlecht, und Toni sass auf unserem Sofa, laechelnd und wie ein Fels in der Brandung. Da was etwas an ihr, das mich dazu brachte, ihren Weg zu gehen. Ich ging ans Zen Center und wurde ihre Schuelerin, and sie gab mir den Schluessel, nach dem ich gesucht hatte. Toni war wie ein Wegweiser fuer mich, auf dem steht: "hier gehts zur Freiheit". Ich bin heute alter als sie war, als ich mit ihr zu arbeiten begann, aber der Wegweiser ist imm noch in mir. Ich habe viel erlebt und gelernt inzwischen, aber nur diese eine Wahrheit gefunden, zu der sie mich gefuehrt hat: zu verstehen und zu erleben, dass es nichts anderes gibt als das, was genau jetzt ist, and dass in diesem Moment alles enthalten ist: Liebe Verstehen, Mitgefuehl and das Staunen ueber die unendliche Vielfalt der Schoepfund. Ich bin ihr zutiefst dankbar.
Badawy - I met Toni at her last retreat at the
Rochester Zen Center. I used to go frequently to retreats at
the Rochester Zen Center. I was very focused doing zazen and
did not socialize much. When I met Toni, I hadn't even heard
of her. It might seem odd that all this time going up to
Rochester Zen Center, I had never heard of her. But that is
how it was. I did not know it was her last retreat at the
RZC. The first day of the retreat, I met with her in the
dokusan room, the meeting room. I was having a sensation in
my belly, like an expanding balloon and I asked her about
this sensation. I don't clearly remember her answer, but one
word stood out. This word was "attending." To attend. I had
never heard this word used in the dokusan room and although
I didn't understand it, it did stop me somehow. It had a
significance that I didn't understand. "Attending" became
the core of that retreat. In that term, there was an
invitation to relax and a sense of ease and well-being. Over
the subsequent retreats with Toni after she left Rochester,
"attending" became the core quality of my sitting. There was
sweetness, gentleness, an ease which as in contrast to the
previous years of Zen practice at the Rochester Zen Center.
Soon after that first meeting with Toni, a letter came in
the mail asking me to choose whether to continue working at
the RZC or to join Toni. The choice made itself. It was
really no choice. I continued my work with Toni.
I was contemplating who Toni is and what she represents for
me... Earlier, I was telling a friend that I don't know who
Toni is. As I stand right here, right now in front of you, I
don't know who Toni is. And it feels perfect. Just being
here. So, the way each of you had your personal
relationships with Toni... for me Toni is just presence...
just this. Really, there are no words for it.
to you all. Very lovely to have journeyed with Toni and to
journey with you.
Bevan - Toni taught me about light which continues to
infuse my life to this day in which I'm grateful. When I
think about her, especially here at Springwater Center, I
hear her sparkly voice call out to me, "BB!" During
retreats, waiting in the solarium to go into a private
meeting, I used to tremble in fear to go in and meet with
the great Toni. I'd enter the room with trepidation, and
she'd bubble up with a smile. "BB!" she'd say, which helped
the darkness of my mind release a bit.
I first came to Zen practice, it was at the Arnold Park Zen
Center in Rochester. I was 25 years old and it was a few
months before Toni left the Buddhist tradition. Half of the
sangha stayed with Roshi Kapleau and half followed Toni on
an adventure which became Springwater Center. I had met Toni
at a sangha concert I was playing at after Thanksgiving
dinner and felt a connection to her due to a mutual love of
music. Just five weeks later, in January, my brother, who
was 21 years old, became ill and I was meeting with Toni to
talk about it. Within two weeks he passed away and shortly
after that I attended a seven-day retreat with many sangha
members led by Toni at Camp Onanda.
remember being so annoyed the entire retreat because Toni
kept bringing up the topic of death. Every talk seemed to be
about death and dying and every time I went in to the little
dokusan meeting room she would bring up my brother's
passing. I thought, why is she doing that, why is she being
so persistently cruel?
realized, years later that this was her gift. She would
bring things up and out into the light, so they'd be faced,
whatever was there. No topic or wound was off limits. Now
I've come to appreciate her gift, her ability to look and
listen with clarity at all of life, internal and external
and feel it, discuss it, be with it, notice the resistance,
because now I can kind of do that in my life. I have the
courage to look and look at myself with inclusiveness and
curiosity and compassion.
important part of my life right now is that I create music
to Rumi's spiritual poetry about the Beloved and infinite
love and I perform it with a quartet of musicians. My path
to Rumi and sharing the music his words inspire is due to
Toni's work and her tool working through me with the
infusion of light and love and I feel very honored to have
known her and to have spent so much time at this beautiful
retreat center she inspired. Thank you Toni.
Tollifson - I have never met any teacher more amazing
than Toni Packer, and I've never been to any
place as amazing as Springwater. More than any other teacher
I've encountered, Toni leaves you nothing to hold onto, and
that's the greatest gift you can give anyone. I still
remember the last word of the Day Six talk at the July '88
retreat, the first retreat I came to at Springwater. Toni
uttered that last word with the most amazing intensity and
passion, and the word was Nothing! [laughter]
Brown - Here I am and feeling emotional. That's
interesting because Toni is the least sentimental person I
ever met in my life. I remember the first time I met her; it
was in the spring or early summer of 1970. I was newly at
the Zen Center, and they gave me the job of wallpapering the
Oak Room. Some of you may remember it. And so I was told
that this member who lived in North Tonawanda was going to
bring a roll of wallpaper because her sister or somebody
worked for a wallpaper distributor. So it happened that I
met Toni for the first time in front of the Zen Center as I
arrived one day. I got out of my car and then I saw this
woman walking up the street with a wallpaper roll in her
arms. So I went up to her, I didn't say a word of
introduction. I said "This is for me," and just took the
wallpaper out of her arms. Imagine, if somebody came up to
you and took something out of your arms without even
announcing who they are. What would you think? She just gave
it up. [laughter] Not a hint of resistance physically or in
her manner; I never forgot that detail. That was my first
I remember a number of other encounters, but this one [that
I will tell you about] was also at the last retreat that I
attended at the Zen Center . I went to dokusan, I was
complaining about something or other and then she said to
me, "Do you really want this [i.e., to wake up]?" I
hesitated for just a moment, and she said, "No you don't!"
[laughter] That really did it for me. [laughter] Really
turned everything around for me. [laughter] That sesshin was
a big turning point, and I'm forever grateful.
Santschi - It's very hard for me to talk in public
but I want to try. I met Toni in 1971, when I came from
Switzerland to the training program at the Rochester Zen
Center. One day, Toni invited me to visit her in the evening
at her house. You couldn't leave the training program at the
Center unless you had promised to meditate at night. So I
said to Toni, "I can come, but you have to give your word
that I will sit at your house." She told me "No problem," so
off we go, and we had a beautiful dinner. Toni had a sitting
room in her house, but we never got to sit, because we had
so much to talk about. I was worried because you know, what
would happen if it would be found out. Toni said, "Oh, don't
worry about it, how would they know?" With her loving words,
Toni changed my life, with her being down to earth, and her
way of being and wondering. I'm so grateful to her, she
taught me all about love.
Kempe - I met Toni when I was very young, 21 years
old I think, in 1971. My first encounter with her was maybe
a year later when we did a Japanese bath together at my
first sesshin. I was having terrible pain and it was a
completely silent but very intimate experience. She was my
Zen teacher, and she remains my teacher. When I came back
and did retreat with her later, I would always bow when I
would go into interview with her, and I would always bow on
leaving. I had strong conditioning I suppose, but it was
also what I loved. She would give me a really hard time
about this: "Why are you bowing?" And I would say, "You know
Toni, I think I'm going to bow." [laughter] I would just do
it, totally instinctive on my part. I remember the last
meeting of a particular retreat. I was coming up from my
bow, and I looked up; here she was bowing back, not stuck at
all. The very last time I saw her was when we came for
Philip Kapleau's memorial. We took her to lunch and she
enjoyed meatloaf and potatoes, a totally comfortable German
lady. She just loved it. It was a very very beautiful day.
read one small poem from the Zen tradition which many may
remember. It's from a koan called Ordinary Mind is the
Way, and of course that was her teaching. Our huge
huge not-knowing mind, our ordinary mind.
Hundreds of flowers in spring, the moon in autumn
A cool breeze in summer and snow in winter.
When the mind is not clouded with unnecessary things,
That is your best season.
(From the version of the Wu-men Kuan, the Gateless Barrier, used internally at the Zen Center of Denver).
Allen - After Toni was no longer able to do retreats
and I found myself coming out to Springwater less
frequently, I would from time to time of course still get
tangled in some confusion or other. I'd feel a strong need
to touch base with Toni, ask a question. So I'd call up on
the phone and just hope that maybe she'd be available and
able to talk. This happened a number of times. Often I would
have some burning question but she wanted to talk about "Oh,
how is it there now in California, and have you been to
Point Lobos recently?" Point Lobos, if you don't know, is
known as the most beautiful meeting of sea and land on the
North American continent--at least west coast people see it
that way. And I could go along with that. It's an amazing
place, and Toni loved it, she loved it, and also many other
places along that central California coast. So on one of
these calls, my question was... well, I was feeling tired
of... you know, having a little taste of being here, a
little taste of presence, or like in retreat we taste it so
deliciously sometimes, and then it seems like the diet gets
kind of bland for a while. So my question this time was,
"Toni, please tell me, is there anything I can do to get
more stable, to get more firmly grounded in this... this...
being here, this presence, this awareness?" And without
missing a beat, she said, "The thing is, not to do anything
at all. Still waters." So......
Glick - A rather sweet memory of Toni has come up,
and this being an opportunity to share such memories, I will
try and relate this little story. I'll set the scene, the
setting going back to the Zen Center probably around 1980 or
so. I see a number of familiar faces here who were at the
Zen Center back then. At that time I was on staff and there
were two of them: Roshi Kapleau had his staff, Toni had her
staff, and they split the calendar year for doing retreats,
called sesshin in Zen. One of the traditions at the Zen
Center was that around the Xmas/New Year's holiday time,
there would be an evening of entertainment in the Buddha
Hall, some live music but also little skits--which tended to
be satirical. The work at the Zen Center was very intense,
and it's not inaccurate to say there was some pride in that,
as it was called "the boot camp of Zen." This evening of
entertainment was a time when a lot of stuff was released
that sort of poked fun at some of this intensity, and all
that went with it. I seem to remember helping with the
recording of the evening's event from a room somewhere next
to the hall. Toni had already started to make a lot of
changes at the Zen Center, and there was a sense of a kind
of lightening up of some of that severity. As a little
backdrop, one of the things in sesshin was that you were
admonished to stay up late into the night. There was this
large wooden block outside the Zendo or sitting hall, called
a han and it would be hammered very intensely at 9:30 at
night along with a sort of "pep talk" by the teacher, a few
words that would get the juices flowing for some of us who
would then stay up well into the night. So anyway, at this
event Toni came out and she was introduced by someone who
said something like, "Well, with all these changes happening
now, here is the new way of ending an evening sitting." And
I don't know how many of you know that Toni was a wonderful
singer, although this was the only time that I actually
heard her sing. She used to sing with a church choral group,
I believe. [Paul Hetland: "chamber music"]. Okay, it was
maybe chamber music. So someone said, "This is the new way
of ending the evening sittings." And Toni came out and sang
the most beautiful Brahms lullaby.
are many ways of expressing what's in the heart.
Hetland - I'm going to sit because I don't dare to
get up or I won't get through the poem [although Mary did
end up standing]. It was hard to see Toni the last few weeks
in hospice. The first few times I wen to see her she seemed
to be suffering a lot; she had a fever for a while, and I
felt so helpless. I just wanted to make it better and cool
her down and take away the pain. But when I went a few days
before she died, there was a palpable shift in the
room--more of a sense of peace and letting go.
is a Mary Oliver poem that I found and it reflects those
last few days. It's called "Sleeping in the Forest." [Mary
reads the poem, beginning with the lines "I thought the
earth remembered me, She took me back so tenderly, . . ]
Coger - Weaving my way to the front, I've forgotten
everything I had planned to say! And that's just as well,
but now something does come to mind. Just this morning,
before the memorial, I had a quick conversation with an old
friend about a very difficult situation that had
happened--that has been going on for these past few
months--at the Center. I looked at what he brought up and
there was a spontaneous response, "Maybe we can just forget
about it." And it just occurred to wonder, where did that
come from? [laughter] Where have I heard that before? Who
invited this capacity to simply drop our so-called problems,
now another memory, or another forgetting, arises, about a
meeting with Toni during the August retreat. Somebody came
here who hadn't been here for nine years, and he very much
wanted to see Toni. We got the clearance to go and visit her
in the middle of retreat, and after some small talk, Toni
remembered who he was and asked about his wife, his work and
his life. At some point there was a lull in the conversation
and the visitor, on his knees so that Toni could hear
better, began to really praise Toni for bringing the
Springwater Center into being, for bringing this different
way of working into being, and for sharing her life,
herself, to make all of this possible. Toni's throat by now
was dry and she was having trouble swallowing, but she
replied haltingly, "I didn't bring this about." And the
fellow that I came with persisted, "But you did, you gave
everything of yourself to this." And she said very clearly
and with energy, "Everything brought this about!" And he
said "I understand."
don't know where this energy comes from. It's amazing and
it's wonderful that it manifested in this person called
Teleska - I love seeing you all after the passing of
so many years. I first went to the Rochester Zen Center in
1976. I was pretty miserable. I sat for years, staying on
the periphery, never going to meetings or sesshin.
there was this new teacher, Toni Packer, not much on my
radar. As she took on more responsibility, she began
changing things, shedding some of the long held forms and
rituals. Some folks were pretty upset. It came to a head: In
a series of meetings in the Buddha hall, Toni and Phillip
Kapleau debated their differences. More upset in the sangha.
How can two Zen teachers disagree?
was a split. Toni and a number of students left and set up a
Zendo in a house on Alliance Street in Rochester. Without
much internal debate, I found myself going with Toni, too.
And as soon as the first retreats happened, I attended them.
And I started meeting with Toni, which I had never done in
any kind of Zen or spiritual setting before. I didn't have a
clue what I was supposed to do at those meetings--yet, I
went as often as I could. I asked her all these questions
about sitting, relationships, sex, about work, about
everything. I just would ask, imagining there was going to
be some solution. When a meeting was at its end, Toni would
sometimes lean forward and with urgency whisper, "Go on!" As
I left, I often thought, "With what?"
passed, Springwater Center was built, and I was still
sitting and still meeting with Toni. Sometimes she'd hold up
a flower and say... well, she'd just hold it up. And I'd
dutifully look at it and think "When are we ever going to
get down to the real deal?" [laughter] I sort of intuited
that somehow the real deal was right in this interaction.
More sitting, more meetings. I got really frustrated during
the mid to late 1990's. Finally, at one retreat I went into
a meeting with her, and said "I'm done sitting. I'm done,
I've gotta get off the mat, go out [into the world] and find
out more." She leaned forward and with urgency whispered,
"Go on!" I packed and left.
was gone for years. . . life, relationship, and work my
primary teachers. After a long while, I started sitting
again, mostly on my own. Eventually I returned to
Springwater for a retreat. By this time, Toni was bedridden.
People who wanted to meet with Toni signed up on the board
outside the kitchen and went by van to her house.
ten minutes before the van leaves, there's still a space
left. I sign up and go. And we're all in a C-shape around
Toni. When it's my turn to speak I say my name and Toni
says, "I know you" and we interact, all so straightforward.
as everyone leaves I stay behind and scoot over next to the
bed. We hold hands. And we are just there looking in each
other's eyes. There's a felt deepening and she says, "Now
there's just here." And I start to cry because I
empathetically get that she's in bed, she can't move, she's
in pain, her body's thermostat is busted so she gets hot and
cold. Ahhh! Suffering and only "now, just here."
also what is so, so clear: "Now, just here!" She was holding
up that flower!
Klintworth - I came here today to really just focus
on expressing my gratitude for Toni, which is infinitely
abiding--it's always there. She came along at a point in my
life when I really was right up against self-hatred, and
just deep fear. When I came to her with that in the meeting
room (dokusan) at my first retreat (sesshin) with her, she
showed me, through her very presence and kind words, that
there is a reality unfolding underneath all that that I can
let go to and trust. So thank you so much, Toni.
I'm hearing the old battle with the Rochester Zen
Center--which started when Toni decided she was no longer
comfortable working in the context of Buddhism and left with
her students--kind of still going on a little bit. I just
want to say that Toni Packer came through, and developed in,
the Zen tradition and I'm sure that her meetings with Roshi
Kapleau were much more than just fraught with conflict and
judgment or any of it. This reminds me of one of my favorite
Rumi lines: "Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and
right-doing there's a field. I'll meet you there. So that's
the field. It's the field that Toni so tirelessly invited us
to join her in. That's all I've got to say. Thank you.
Weber - I had actually decided not to stand here and
say anything but then that was before, and this is now
[laughter] I still remember how it all started in 1984. I
lived in Montreal then, and I had this yearning for
meditation and having a teacher. But it had interfered with
my knowing myself or thinking of myself as being very
gullible. So I didn't want to get into the fangs of "one of
those gurus." A friend of mine said, "You might be
interested in Zen. That's straightforward." So I tried to
hook up with the Montreal Zen Center. Had to call three
times before I got an answer. That was their way of finding
out how serious I was. At that time I was working at night
as a waitress, and I could only go to sesshins on the
weekend. I was then so tired that I always swayed during
sitting and almost fell off the tan many times. I urgently
wanted to read something about Zen, but Albert Low said,
"Oh, yeah, yeah, eventually." After one weekend sesshin, I
heard somebody talk about a book and I asked, "What's that
book? I want to read something." And he said "Yeah, but I've
promised it to this person." And I said "Can I make a
photocopy of something?" And I did. It was Toni's booklet
"Seeing Without Knowing/What is Meditative Inquiry" which
spoke to me. So I contacted the owner of the book to tell me
more about Toni and he agreed to meet me for lunch, and then
it never happened. And I said, "But you promised." And he
said, "I have something better to offer. Toni is having a
question and answer period in Ottawa and if you drive me
there [laughter] I'll take you along." He also said, "I have
to tell you, that I'm just here to be supportive and to keep
the exercises going, but my real teacher is Toni Packer.
Your teacher is your teacher for life, and you can't change
it, no matter what vices the person has, how terrible it is,
that person is your teacher." Hearing this I was terrorized.
"I can't do this, I can't do this." So I went to dokusan and
I said, "You know, Albert, I might be under your influence
right now." He said, "No, no, no, no, no. I'm just lending a
helping hand." And I said, "No, no, no, no, no. I am under
your influence. But I can't promise that this will last
forever. There might be a time when I have to move on. I
can't commit myself." And he said, "It's a pity that you
can't commit yourself." I also told him that I was going to
meet Toni in Ottawa. And this is how we stayed.
we went to Ottawa. I still remember: it was a sunny
afternoon in Ottawa and we were talking about "ugly" and
"beautiful" and Toni mentioned that it didn't have to be
perceived or judged as "ugly" or "beautiful," everything
could just be seen as what it is, just it. I had never even
thought that there might be something beyond judgment. But
at that moment it became totally clear to me that judgment
could be transcended and I was mesmerized.
following day Toni offered individual meetings. So now I go
to Toni, and this, the reprimand of not being able to commit
myself was still with me, and I was kind of working with it,
and I said to her, "Toni would you work with me?" And she
said "Oh yes." [laughter] And I said, "But I have to tell
you something, I can't commit myself." And she said, "Oh,
that's okay, stay just as long as this is good for you and
if you feel this is no longer appropriate, you just move
on." Well, I would like to tell you that that really
committed me, and I went to retreat with her, I think it was
in June '85, just a month or two later, and then I wanted to
come and live here in Springwater for some time. So I quit
my job, and I came here at the end of 1985; I wanted to stay
here for six months and straighten up my life." I ended up
being three and a half years and then went back to Canada.
Toni gave me that freedom to stay, and also the freedom to
leave, and she has never lost me, and she has been and will
always be part of my life, yes, part of me, no matter where
she is, and regardless of whether she is still among us in
her usual form. I will forever be grateful to have met her
and to belong to Springwater.
Emrys - I don't really have any funny stories to say,
but I felt it important to say something today to honor Toni
and her importance in my life. I listened to the talk that
was played earlier, and I really realized how lucky I was to
have known her. So many profoundly wonderful things have
come from being with and knowing Toni.
last time I was here for a retreat at Springwater was about
five years ago. This was, I think, one of the last times
that Toni came to the Center to do retreats. She was in much
pain and discomfort, everything was very difficult for her.
She could no longer walk and had to be moved around in a
wheelchair. But still she gave talks and held group
meetings. One afternoon, we were in a large group meeting,
and she gave a little bit of a talk to open it as she often
did. In it she said, "People have asked me how I deal with
these diminishing abilities, the pain and the increasing
medications." She had this beatific look on her face, and
said, "This life is enough for everyone."
struck me deeply and has stayed with me--the preciousness of
this life, this moment no matter what--most especially when
I feel life is hard.
Toni was clearly on the teacher track back then, even though this was before she had started sitting in and observing dokusan alongside Roshi Kapleau. In Buddhism, to injure the body of a teacher or a buddha is just this heinous crime--so I felt terrible about this for months. She never once said anything, however, such as, "This does really hurt"--but I know it was quite painful for her.
In the years after, I'd see her perhaps every three, four, or five years. We went to visit Kyle in the hospital, and we saw her there. She'd always be overjoyed to see us, with her radiant smile--but as I'd approach she would back off a little, hold up her hands, and say, "No hugs, please!"
Remo Packer - All right, let's see how this goes. This is an amazing group. My experience has been on the periphery of Toni. Everything amazing, everything happy, everything sad. All of the experiences. I appreciate all of the stories and experiences from times that I remember when I was a child when she was, prior to the Rochester Zen Center. I suppose at the beginning of that time when there were sittings at the house and people coming over, and this was all very foreign to me, What's going on? (I wondered at times.) People would go in the basement and sit. They wouldn't say anything. I was a musician. We were never quiet. We had to make noise which was what we were supposed to do. And, I think that the idea of love is very much associated in my memory with also tolerance. She had such a tolerance. There were so many things. And the experiences, such as Fred said that... there was such a sense of family. And her experience as a child that she brings all of this to all of us without really seeming to have a tremendous judgment, but just bringing this experience very truly and very honestly without much of a need of obvious recognition. And it's very interesting to me because throughout my entire life I've seen how this, this, seriousness or severity of the traditional Zen practice and all the questioning because she would talk about this also at home. Again, I didn't really understand all of this and for a very good part of my life, as a child, this was actually something that was also taking her away from our family life. And so I had to kind of come to grips with that, and it's been interesting over the years to read about her and hear what others have said about her and so on, because my experience was that this was my Mom.
You know, she made baloney sandwiches before I went to school, [laughter] and she made yogurt and granola with my father, who would sit in the kitchen. She was an amazing cook and, thankfully she passed that on to me. We made trips to Europe, trips to Connecticut. Just so many memories of people coming to the house, lots of visiting people, and. . . I saw this great picture out in the hallway there, where Roshi Kapleau is in the front seat. It's priceless. It's almost like a cartoon. You know, how often would you see that sort of a set-up between these amazing people, just cruising in a car, it looks like they were going out for. . . wherever, you know, for fun. They're just going out for experience. Years ago, before Roshi died, I ran into him. A very strange occurrence in Denver Colorado, where I lived for a long time. I'm walking around with some friends, this group of six people or whatever, walking down the street. And as I looked closer and I say "It looks a lot like Roshi Kapleau." And I went over and said hello. And we had a tremendous 20-minute conversation.
All of this really did embody what she was not trying to accomplish. [laughter] She just felt, I think, the need to not to help but just ask questions, and ask questions of others to encourage more questions. And there really is no answer. It's just questions. And the questions, I feel, at least in my opinion, are the basis of our lives and how we exist, both with ourselves and among others. And I think that's the greatest gift that I've gotten, just to be able to, without really hesitation, just ask questions. I'm not ashamed to ask questions. At this point in my life I negotiate for a living, and so I ask questions. I ask as many questions as I possibly can. There is no really right or wrong answer to any of these questions, its just the questioning process that brings up our own truth, and the truth and the understanding that we can experience with other people, and again, there's no right or wrong. It's just, life is, and we can fight it, we can enjoy it, we can be miserable in it. We can do whatever it is we choose to do with this experience, but I think the greatest gift is this idea of questioning and just being open, just being open to the possibilities and being open to whatever that dialogue creates, and that is what I appreciate the most.
And I'll leave with one little piece. I was going to read more of this but want to save time. This is from her Polish translator, and I don't know whether I'm saying it correctly, it's either Jaceck or Jacek, [Jacek Dobrowloski] had been translating for her in Poland since 1975. And he had written this, and I happened to find this on the internet. It's just an amazingly written piece. But I'll try and get through this. . . "She would never flinch facing adversity, just dance through all obstacles. She was no imitator, no clone, no actress, charmer or storyteller. She knew that meditation starts where all theater ends." That so spoke to me. And I appreciate the fact that there are so many here and so many that couldn't be here and communicated also with me and with people at the Center, and I'm very grateful.
Clouds (for Toni) - Poem sent by Peter MacLachlan for the Memorial
I read the letter that tells me
you are gone...
expected, yes but...
I walk to the window
look out on the sky,
across at the mountains
where traces of cloud hover
gracing their peaks.
I look out on the world
and think of you...
how we would watch gentle wisps of cloud
paint the sky
with broken strokes
of cream and crimson,
drift, with serene abandon,
high above the teaming world.
how we would watch
the gentle hues of ivory
turn to grey
turn dark and nebulous
in the brooding sky.
watch the sun return,
burn away all trace
of what was there,
that seemed so real,
watch the light shift
the soft light of evening,
now I look out on this fading day
remembering the light
that lay in your eyes...
remembering your smile,
your laughter, your steady gaze...
and the tears that clouded your eyes
in those fleeting moments of grief...
and now I feel those same tears
wet upon my cheek,
but only feel the echo
of your warm embrace...
whatever the mystery
of our being,
you abide still
here with me,
here in the deepest recess
of my heart...
until the day I journey too
across the wide expanse of fading skies,
beyond the distant reach
of life, of death,
and all things in-between...
Sent by Jacek Dobrowolski for the Memorial
IN MEMORY OF TONI PACKER (5.07.1927 - 23.08.2013)
that wild goose flew north
at the stony shore
Toni Packer was a wonder to behold. A subtle, open, caring, loving, wise, free, noble-hearted lady effortlessly helping anybody who asked for help. A marvelous teacher with no airs, no stench of enlightenment, no compulsive desire to demonstrate anything. She was clear and sober, had a cool head and a warm heart and a very strong, yet playful, iron butterfly spirit. She would never flinch facing adversity, just danced through all obstacles. She was no imitator, no clone, no actress, charmer or story-teller. She knew that meditation starts where all theater ends. She was at home both with silence and with speaking and that was natural with her. Truth shone through her with a steady light--open presence of an intelligence upholding us all. Toni was a true woman of no rank with just one intention--to help people turn their attention around and question what one has not yet questioned to discover that there is no one suffering, that we are all this boundless indivisible whole with no cracks. She did not impart any teaching, she never pretended she had a secret to disclose and she jokingly nipped in the bud any admiration the listeners, marveling at her talents, would exhibit. She had tremendous energy, did not need to feed on anybody's praise, and would certainly laugh at everything I have written here. She was simple, direct and unbelievably patient. Her only concern was, "Why do you suffer?" She had a great understanding for human weaknesses and never put people down. "Forgive and forget" was her credo.
She was very modest and that is why the public at large is not aware of her pioneer work. Not suffering from a savior complex she never cared for publicity and expansion. Luckily her six books and hundreds of taped talks remain and her quiet influence will grow, as she had prudently picked worthy successors.
I became her translator in Poland in 1975 and since that time I have also been interpreting for a number of Zen teachers in the Japanese, Korean and American traditions, but none of them opened human hearts like Toni has. I was fortunate to meet and hear H.H. the Dalai Lama speak several times and interviewd him once in Auschwitz, and I can say that they both shared the same effortless spontaneity of the heart bringing out the best in human beings. Toni was a wonderful speaker, shooting rays of light; her clear vowels and her slightly German "r's" made her speech poignant. Her words went to the root. But she never dotted the "i's," never spoke in absolutes that trap the inquiry, just helped to open the space for her listeners to explore. She was a very fine human instrument, the result of dedicated meditative tuning of the heart, a true Stradivarius. She wore pendants on her throat and brooches on her heart chakras indicating the energy flow.
Toni was an excellent listener and a superb diagnostician of human problems. People coming to meetings, upon sensing her warm powerful presence, frequently could not help but cry spontaneously, unable to speak. And yet she never played mama or the great comforter, not wishing to bind people in any way. She was playful, had a very cheerful disposition, loved animals, specially the big black dog Bailey, her closest neighbor. She never had enough of nature, was an ardent country-side walker and even when she was sick would roam her neighborhood with walking sticks in her hands like some faery inspecting what new plants have sprouted and what snails have appeared.
One tiny incident may reveal her subtle spirit. When her hand inadvertently brushed against a small table in the meeting room, she immediately exclaimed: "Sorry table!"
Toni started sitting as a mature person, a housewife and a mother. She has never been at a Zen Center on staff--just came for sesshin. The kyosaku stick was not used much on her, as she was a very sensitive lady and had her initial insight only after a year and a half of training. She recalled being a very ambitious meditator but her gentle character smoothed the edges and the besserwisser Zen conceit dropped away quickly. She led her first sesshin ever in communist Poland on Kamienczyk (Pebble Mountain) where we had built a zendo in 1977.
As a junior Zen teacher in a macho Zen Center Toni was given the job of counseling people who had problems the master could not bother with. She soon learned from the people branded "wimps" or "passive/aggressive women" about their hurts caused by the priestly power elite. This made her pproach even more gentle. The more yang was the Zen Center policy, the more yin became her attitude. The more the "pressure cooker" and the "grist for the mill" methods were hailed as most productive ego-killers, the more she advocated questioning all methods and praised yielding to what is. She saw the warrior path as dualistic since the warrior always needs an opponent, even if it is his illusory divided self. She did not need it, being at peace with herself and she knew it awoke ambition in people that burned their hearts.
Shunning the violent tactics of the Rinzai school she took a liking to effortless meditation advocated by Huang-Po and Bankei. She saw the danger of abusing the koan system by taking pride in collecting koans and becoming attached to a system of skillful means. She also avoided Dharma combat resulting in being enslaved and enslaving others by strong and beautiful words itching on the tip of the triumphant tongue. Finally, spurred by Krishnamurti's iconoclastic attitude, Toni, as a meditation teacher outside any tradition, became a gentle revolutionary, turning the self-inquiry, which the ancient Indian teachers had called atma vicara, into an open meditative inquiry.
She wondered why, if we have freedom of inquiry in science and art, we don't use it in the spiritual realm? What prevents us? Fear of venturing into the unknown? Fear of leaving the beaten paths and entering the ever-growing jungle without ancient, outdated maps? Who stops us? Is it only the priestly tradition devoid of innocent curiosity, that defends its map collections? Or is it the Puritan superego heavily imprinted in the American psyche? Can the inquiry be totally free? and what are we afraid of discovering?
Over the years of working with this moment, following the process of listening and inquiring, she coined her own simple and original language: "wondering without knowing," "awaring," "open presence," "silent question," "stop, look and listen," "an opening." Rejecting power, titles and honors, respecting everyone, listening to the most confused questions, she managed through a friendly, gentle and patient dialogue with her friends in creating probably the most egalitarian meditative community in the world. She was a pointer and an attentive guide safely steering people to the shore through uncharted waters.
Her American friends tend to forget that she was also a product of German high intellectual culture. She trained as a soprano and sang Bach and Wagner in her youth. She loved German poetry and when we would meet after years of not seeing one another, she would quote Goethe, Schiller, Heine or Rilke.
Politically she was a leftist liberal, critic of both religious dogmas and the religion of greed of the military-industrial complex, as leading inevitably to war. She did not play a recluse hiding from society at large, but followed the news closely and was very much aware of the conflicts on our merry planet.. Over 30 years ago, during the Iranian crisis, she already warned of branding people "terrorists," and concluded that it will all end with dictatorships, as people will sacrifice freedom for security. Some feminists tried to make a matriarch out of her but she refused to become one of the leaders of the American feminist movement. She cared for all regardless of sex, culture, race and species. Championing a one-sided cause would have destroyed her all-inclusive approach.
She is gone like a cloud after sprinkling rain on our hot heads, so that we may enjoy sunshine and our company more. Thank you, Toni, for sharing the open secret of the heart in your Springwater inn. Thank you Toni for striking the best chord in us. Thank you, Toni, for caring, for being a beacon of light on this rocky sea of life. You did not wag your tongue in vain.
above the Genesee Valley
Toni Packer Remembrances
sent by Kevin Frank February 25, 2014 - The Toni that I continue to hear is a voice of profound optimism and affirmation: The moment when I reported to her in sesshin that I felt lost, and her response was, "Great, be totally lost!" and then the bell to leave.
Then there were the moments when I had to report any number of disasters, crises, fund raising shortfalls, staff conflict/hired manager conflicts, and so on, during the construction of the Springwater Center--her responses were typically something like, "Why be afraid?" or just curiosity about the details, wanting to hear considerable details. Then quiet. Then, "OK, let's see what happens. Something will work out." The message felt true somehow. We kept going. Something worked out.
And at staff meetings in Springwater, with no end of challenges about what we could provide to guests, to unusual people who showed up to volunteer and test just how far we could go with questioning, I felt some sense of wanting to allow a degree of questioning and then a desire to get on to expedience. Toni counseled that we give the benefit of the doubt to doubting, for some of us, at times, to a maddeningly great degree. The question became, for me at least, how far can we take this work, when practical "realities" appear to breathe down our neck? And the Toni voice inside me says, "Why have any ideas about this?"
Living on staff at the ZC, the GVZC and then the SC was an opportunity for communal fish bowl living. Toni was part of the fishbowl, as we all lived and worked in close quarters. I think this was a feat of adaptability for Toni, to live and work communally like that. What strikes me now is that no matter the considerable errors, embarrassments, and shortcomings of my work life and personal life, consistently Toni's questions to me would be about what was true in my experience. No judgment on her part was noticed; just let's look and see what's true. She offered the chance to look. . .
I reflect that years of working with Toni leave me with the impulse to watch and see if judgment is necessary--whether it leads to anything worthwhile. I remember Toni, again at the Zen Center, walking around the Zendo during sesshin, and she starts to recite words from the Prajna Paramita Sutra, "No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind. . ." then, "NO JUDGEMENTS". . . as she then walked out and up the stairs. . .
I recall also, a voice of pain and anguish, not from her later years, but from the years of heartache, or what I would call heartache, around the episodes of schism in the Zen community--the response I saw was one of grief and enormous responsibility and worry. I don't see this as a fault. I see it was a chance to absorb how we all might have to face inconvenient truth, and that, for her, there was no question about being fully truthful and, at the same time, no escape, no looking for escape, from her grief about the consequences, and the body pain that goes along with it. One must act, and then one may have to ache.
And I fondly remember Toni attempting to enroll staff at the Mt. Hope house in the art of properly cleaning the bathtub after using it--taking advantage of the plastic bubbly water bottle she donated to the bathroom so each one of us might fill it, and then squirt the rub walls to free them of the things that bodies leave behind on bathtub walls. I appreciate remembering the movements of Toni's hand showing the dance of bathtub rinsing. And I feel an amused irony in Toni's face as she saw how hopeless it was to expect a clean bathtub, living at Mt. Hope.,
Sent by Jack Canfield January 1, 2014 - Toni wonderful Toni. She first appeared in my life in the late sixties, when, acting for Philip Kapleau, she gave a talk at the then recently formed Toronto Zen Center. Her topic was the crucial one of death. Afterward we talked only briefly but a contact had been made that changed over the years to strong commitment, as I struggled to follow the trail she had blazed. What was it like to follow that path? The central feature of her non-practice practice was a direct and simple focus on awareness. I have this corresponding vivid memory: Mind alert, well into retreat, sitting with Toni in the meeting room, she holds up a burning candle--presenting it to my strong awareness. Another such moment, telling of the Toni we love and celebrate here: On the balcony, arriving on the first day of retreat, I see Toni some yards away, speaking with some people. she turns her head, sees me, and breaks into a marvelous heartfelt smile. Her whole being is in that smile, indeed her whole practice. For at the heart of her teaching, of the walk she walks, showing forth her deep affinity with those ancient and contemporary spiritual sages, is love. Not romantic love but an all embracing deep-grounded love that reaches out to all.
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