I took refuge with Lama Norlha Rinpoche on October 29, 1980.
I had met him just a few days earlier, when I attended a meditation session at his center in New York City with my friend Carolyn. I never expected to be a Tibetan Buddhist; I was more attracted to the economy of Zen practice. But in a year or so of meditating at Zen centers in NYC, I had somehow not yet connected directly with a teacher.
I went to Lama Norlha’s center just to see what it was like. After an evening of chanting, a short teaching, and a brief interview, I had no idea what this strange practice was about, but I knew for sure that I had found my teacher.
Twenty-eight years later, my most vivid memories of that first evening are of Rinpoche’s words. His teaching was on impermanence, and what resonated most with me, having just broken up with my boyfriend, was his observation that no matter how long an experience lasts, when it’s over, it’s as if it had only lasted an instant. The older I get, the more of my life seems like that. The benefit of this perspective, if you can have it while events are unfolding, is that most things are just not worth getting all worked up about—they’re going to be over in a flash anyway.
After the formal activities of the evening, Carolyn asked if we could have a private interview, and Rinpoche invited us to his tiny room. I was much too overwhelmed to think of a question, but Carolyn had one: living in a place like New York City, how do you deal with fear?
Rinpoche said, “No matter what’s happening, think it’s just like television.” After three decades of teachings, that is still some of the best advice I’ve ever received.