By Zach Hively
Our individual dharma practices take us each on a personal journey. Volunteer Elisabeth Peterson’s has taken her a long way over the last fourteen years: she’s ventured all the way from the back row to serving the community from the front of the room.
“I’ve always been an introverted person,” Elisabeth says. “When I’d show up at the Dharma Center, I’d sit in the very back. It was like I was in hiding. Incognito. Somebody might say something to me or ask something of me—oh my gosh,” she gasps with mock horror.
Actually, Elisabeth’s journey started even further away than the back row. She had to get herself to the Dharma Center in the first place.
For many years, she says, she practiced meditation off and on. She started with transcendental meditation in the tradition of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and primarily gravitated to her practice in times of trouble. “But as far as part of a daily life, brushing-my-teeth sort of thing, no,” she acknowledges. “That didn’t come until much later for me.”
Elisabeth encountered one of her biggest times of trouble when her spouse died 14 years ago. She experienced total groundlessness and a loss of her main identity. She now views that time as a blessing, because of where it has brought her, but in those moments, it was the most stressful time she had ever experienced.
To cope, she turned toward her intermittent practice and her spiritual friends. And not long after, she read about the Durango Dharma Center’s grand opening—now two locations ago, at the space on Colorado Avenue—and decided to check it out.
Of course, she sat in the back row.
“It spoke to me right away, though,” she says. “It was just being around the energy you get, that you connect with, that I just loved. It was good for me. It offered spiritual understanding, comfort, and that’s what I needed at that time.”
It wasn’t very long after that that Elisabeth decided she wanted to give back and started volunteering as part of the cleaning crew. At the time, the center was so small, just one person could accomplish all of the cleaning in a couple of hours. Peterson would put her Kirtan chants on the sound system and clean the center by herself.
“It felt good to be doing something for the sangha,” she says. She would imagine people coming in and enjoying a nice clean place to sit and practice. “I felt like I was contributing something—like I was more a part of the Dharma Center than someone who came and sat in the back row and slipped out real quick afterwards.”
Since then, Elisabeth has taken on all sorts of volunteer work, including a multi-year stint as the center’s volunteer coordinator. In that role, she helped coordinate a network of dozens of volunteers who greet, clean, and perform other tasks for the Dharma Center. Along with others, she still leads Thursday night sits, which she has stewarded for years, and her practice has remained deep.
“I love being able to support others in their practice, in any way I can,” she says. And as for sitting in the back row these days? “Unless I get there late, not so much!” she laughs. “I like to see the people now. I’m not that shy anymore.”