And then the more I thought about it, the more I felt drawn to study there. I wanted to really focus and concentrate on study at that time.
I also remember, I think it was Geshe Tashi Tsering [former long-time resident teacher at FPMT’s Jamyang Buddhist Center in London] who visited Maitripa at one point. He talked about how sometimes people cherry-pick what teachings they’re going to go to, whereas Maitripa’s degree program provided the whole package, the whole container without missing anything.
Sometimes some of the classes weren’t so easy—they were difficult; and some of the scholastic articles that we had to review were really challenging for me. But in the end it gave me a sense of accomplishment, and gave me more confidence in the path.
Kate: I know you said you really wanted to study, but were you also seeking any kind of personal transformation when you decided to do the degree program?
Jane: I don’t know that I was overtly looking for personal transformation. I was coming to study, and I was really drawn—I had this strong draw to come. I did so many things in my life, but there was always something a little missing.
Kate: Could you talk a little bit about that? What it was that you felt was missing, and was that fulfilled by doing the degree program?
I read an article this morning that perfectly described it—how we’re taught from an early age to plan for the future. You plan to go to college, you plan to get a job, you plan to be happy after you’ve worked at your job, you plan to be happy after you meet somebody and get married and then have kids. And you’re always planning, planning, planning. But it’s almost as if you can’t be still in the moment and be happy. And looking at my life, you could say I did a lot of things: skiing, backpacking, hiking, mountain biking, all these things, but sometimes when I didn’t have something going on, I actually felt very alone, even when I was in a relationship. But Dharma has helped so much, I have to say that I feel I’m on the right path.
Kate: How do you feel your education at Maitripa benefited you? What’s the benefit of completing the degree program?
Jane: The degree program helped deepen the meaning and purpose of my life. I am not a scholar and thank goodness my classmates were because I learned a lot from them. I learned a lot from their questions, and they provoked me to think in different ways.
Kate: Could you talk a little bit more about that? Because you were already working in this caring profession, working as a physician assistant, helping people all day, every day.
Jane: Well, whatever job you’re in, you’re going to have interactions with others, and disturbing emotions are going to come up, and karma is going to ripen. So, the study and practice of Buddhism and trying to work with my mind has been so helpful when I meet with patients because challenging situations come up.
You’re dealing with people’s bodies, their health, and their minds. If they’re really hurting, some people can lash out; they’re scared. And Buddhist teachings gave me the tools to work with that. I don’t manage it perfectly, but Buddhism certainly gave me tools to be able to deal with high intensity people and situations. I found over time that compassion would arise more and more in these situations.
Kate: That makes sense. Is there a lot of burnout that happens? I read recently that doctors have the highest rate of suicide of any profession.
Jane: I don’t know about suicide, but caregiver burnout, definitely.
I think part of it is that it’s a model that really pushes people because you have to see a lot of patients in a short amount of time. And when someone has a health issue, oftentimes it’s something that takes more than 20 minutes. You can connect with patients on a human basis, but to really give people adequate time, it takes more than 20 minutes. So, you have all these constraints around you in the way that you care for patients that often leads to frustration because you can’t give people what they really need.
At the same time, you do develop these connections with people, helping them, and treating their illness and their pain, which is really rewarding.
Kate: What were some of your favorite classes at Maitripa?
Jane: I have to say the meditation classes were favorites as Rinpoche lead the classes. That’s really how I learned how to meditate. And to meditate with Rinpoche is—wow!
The community service part was also really rewarding. We had to look at different needs in the greater Portland community. I ended up doing secular meditation at a detention center for juvenile sexual offenders. I developed a lot of compassion working with them. These were all kids that had likely been abused themselves.
We also facilitated Discovering Buddhism up at the prison in Washington. It was pretty intense for me to go into an all-male prison. That was not something I would have necessarily signed up for, but I did because of the degree program. The guys were so appreciative, and I found it really fulfilling. So, I think the community service program as part of the degree requirement is really helpful. It pushed me outside of my comfort zone.
Kate: Were there any things that were really challenging for you as a student looking back on that you were able to overcome?
Jane: I had a lot of obstacles getting my PA work license and couldn’t start work for about six months or so. That was a big deal for me financially. But things worked out. I think there can be some obstacles that arise for people, and that’s probably okay. I think it’s sometimes inevitable that there are some obstacles when you make a big move like that, aspiring to direct your life towards Dharma.
Kate: Do you have any favorite memories of your time at Maitripa?
Jane: Hmmm… Yangsi Rinpoche had me drive Lama Zopa Rinpoche a couple of times when Rinpoche was teaching in Portland. That was really special. [Yangsi] Rinpoche always seemed to be looking for ways for students to participate and make merit. For instance, Rinpoche would look for different students to lead Lama Zopa Rinpoche into the gompa during the teaching events. You always had a sense of Rinpoche really caring for all the students.
Being able to offer service at Maitripa was really meaningful for me, too. Whether setting up for different events or other ways of supporting the community—it was always an opportunity to be part of something really good.
Kate: Did you make really close friends when you were here?
Jane: Yes—you end up having a real heart connection with people. With my friends from Maitripa—and I feel that way throughout FPMT—there’s a strong heart connection you have with others.
Kate: I feel the same way. Jane, could you talk a little bit about the role of retreat in your life? Because you’ve done quite a bit of retreat… Why do you choose to do that and what’s the benefit?
Jane: I actually haven’t done much retreat but hope to. When Maitripa started there were 10-day Mahamudra retreats with Rinpoche in the summer for a few years in a row; then there was a Tara retreat and a Chöd retreat. And I also attended a few group retreats outside of Maitripa, at FPMT centers in India and Europe.
The group retreats really helped me learn more about the practices. You can read about them in books but participating in those retreats just changed everything for me. The retreats opened up those practices for me and I felt really inspired.
I think retreat is the only way to see how really busy the mind is, and to let that go. I think it’s a way you can start to discover some inner stuff.