Views of Rita. Online.
Rita—My Teacher and Friend
By Judy Polasky
I remember Rita as my teacher and friend. I was blessed to know her over many decades. She impacted my life in little, middle and bigger ways. This is written from the point of view of someone who was once Rita’s college student, then dharma student and friend.
Rita led me and a group of us from Eau Claire, Wisconsin to Chicago, Illinois to hear the Vajra Regent Ösel Tendzin teach The Battle of Ego, in 1979. Rita taught us to meditate as preparation for that weekend. She changed our lives. She was off to seminary with Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in 1980, in Lake Louise, Alberta. She meditated, studied, held the rota position of dog walker (CTR’s), and came back energized to do more. The Eau Claire Dharma Study Group was reinvigorated. That fall we reupholstered chairs to take to Chicago for “the 1980 visits.” We took refuge vows with the Regent; we met CTR; we heard the 16th Karmapa preside at the Black Crown Ceremony and saw him calm the baby; we served wherever we were needed. We drove back forth each of those weekends in 1980, talking through all things Buddhist. Rita had no doubt that the contemplative insight and methodological discipline that one finds in Buddhism could transform all things for the better and have profound individual and social relevance.
Over the years, I attended many dharma programs Rita taught. Quite unfairly, I acquired the expectation that all teachers would be as adept as Rita at explaining clearly the subject matter. While it seemed effortless for her as she taught, I knew the amount of time she put in as she prepared to teach. She and I drove cross country together from Wisconsin to Colorado and back, to spend the summer at Shambhala Mountain Center at the 1999 seminary. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche presided over that three-month intensive practice/study program. Rita’s good friend Reggie Ray led the senior teachers assembled to assist the Sakyong. Rita’s classes were hard to get into, as everyone wanted to be in them. I got into one and felt lucky.
In the last five years or so, when we could not get together in person, we would catch up over the telephone or via e-mail. I began taking notes on even the things that would come up in conversation. I have a 3-ring of “Rita notes” very full of insights I treasure.
Rita spent many enjoyable hours at her home on Gilbert Avenue in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. She was a strong, independent householder. The things she learned as part of a farm family she carried with her throughout her life. She knew how to chop wood and carry water. She was ecologically responsible and she taught us to be. She made her own clothes up until the late 1970s when she decided to do more gardening. She had an appreciation for the enjoyments of life. She loved gardening. She loved cats. She loved antiquing. She loved jewelry. She loved good food. I learned about houseplants and antiques and cooking from her.
There is a communal feeling at Rita’s house. She never locked the door. People were welcome and came and went as if their own place. That feeling continues as a group of friends sort through Rita’s belongings according to her wishes. As we do this together, what strikes me most is how many lives she had. I knew just a sliver of all that she was involved in. We’ve been answering calls, e-mails and letters from friends and colleagues from all over the world. We’ve been finding things we didn’t have a clue about. My admiration for her grows.
Rita taught me about the I Ching in 1980. I have tossed coins in search of wise advice since then. As I embarked on the current journey of acting as her executor, I threw the coins and got just one hexagram, the second one representing the receptive, primal power of yin. It seems so fitting.
The Buddhist teachings were Rita’s anchor, planting dharma in the West was her purpose, and teaching was her delight. Basking in the streaming sunshine through the stained glass windows she so carefully found for her beloved home, listening to the music and words of the ages, stimulated by spiritual dialogue, Rita did her work and inspired us to join her in hoping for a better world. I will so miss the fine workings of Rita’s mind, her spunk and her warm heart.