Reflections on Michael Crowder

This is a lovely essay and reflection by Sharon Safer about longtime One Dharma sangha member Michael Crowder, who died on February 18. He was a fixture at our Monday night meditations and his dedication to practice along with the way he lived his life left a deep impression on many:

I’ve been thinking a lot about Michael since you let me know he had died.

I met Michael through One Dharma years ago.

My first impression was THAT … being impressed by Michael’s dedication to his practice. He was more serious than anyone I’d ever met about a sitting practice, sharing how he would sit for hours on end, and still thinking he needed to sit longer and more deeply. Sometimes, when I encounter folks who are “all that” in other areas of life, I will compare myself to whatever it is that they are “better” at … but not so with Michael. The way that he spoke about his practice, experiences while sitting, and his incredibly DEEP understanding of the dharma were delivered in such a quiet and humble manner that I became more curious than impressed! Not to say that he couldn’t be hard-headed and opinionated on occasion! But that he didn’t brag about his intellectual understanding or depth of practice … that it was just who he was and how he chose to live his life.

Michael enjoyed sharing his understanding of the dharma. I remember going home one Monday night to look up “Jhanas,” because Michael had spoken – at length! – about the Jhanas that night, and I’d never heard of them.

I heard bits and pieces of Michael’s life story, but never his entire story, and that’s ok. I just knew that he’d been through a lot and that he lived with significant physical limitations and discomfort that increased over the years.

Michael rarely asked for … or accepted … help that was offered, but as we got to know each other over time, he would let me drive him home after meditation sessions. Such a simple thing, but I felt honored that he allowed me to take him home – to serve him, who never asked for much.

In spite of Michael’s health and physical limitations and deterioration, I NEVER saw him pity himself or his situation, but rather the opposite. He was determined to live as “normally” as you and me. On retreat at Bethany Hills, he was absolutely determined to walk up and down the hill to the dining hall and to put in his kitchen time just like the rest of us. Towards the end of one of the retreats he pooped out and couldn’t make the trek. Several of us offered to bring him meals, which for the most part he graciously declined, but did let us take him cheese and fruit. One night at Bethany Hills, he had a very close medical emergency, but didn’t ask for help or let on to anyone that night … I’m not recalling whether Lisa and I found out during the retreat, or some time afterward.

Thinking about Michael, after hearing of his death, I see clearly how his wasn’t just an intellectual understanding of the dharma, but it was his way of life. Michael lived the dharma. I missed this about Michael when he was alive, and that makes me sad. I find myself thinking of him every day now, and recalling the way he lived with such grace, humility and dedication. I feel close to him now in a way that I didn’t when he walked with us, and for that I’m ever grateful.

– Sharon Safer

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Basics of Meditation Three Week Course

Sponsored by One Dharma Nashville

Thursdays September 11, 18 and October 2, 2014

7 – 8:30 p.m.

Still Lake reflecting the clouds and sky.   - Lisa Ernst

Still Lake reflecting the clouds and sky.
– Lisa Ernst

This 3 week course is appropriate for beginners as well as more experienced meditators who want to refresh the fundamentals of their practice. In a step-by-step process you will learn the nuts and bolts of insight meditation and basic mindfulness practices. You will learn correct meditation approaches to insure an effective and ongoing practice. You will also learn to be more in touch with your body, emotions and mind through Buddhist mindfulness. This class will provide you with a supportive environment; there will be plenty of time for discussion and Q&A.

Led by senior meditators and One Dharma facilitators Michael Crowder and Patsy Cutillo, with guidance from founding teacher Lisa Ernst.

Course fee is $50 and can be paid through Paypal here.

For information, email onedharmainfo@gmail.com

This Precious Shining Moment

By Michael Crowder

Today another piece of Dharma surfaced at a dentist’s office, of all places.  I went to a new dentist for an exam and cleaning.  Being new to his practice, I completed a detailed medical history, which included illnesses, procedures and prescribed medication.  After assessing my medical history the dentist sat with me to review and plan dental procedures for the future.  He led off the conversation by stating that I had officially taken over first place as the patient with the most complicated and demanding prior medical history in his current practice.

He was honest and forthright by stating that any complicated procedures could result in life threatening consequences.  He further stated that he would usually refrain from any extended procedures on patients with my history; there was a high probability that they would not live long enough to benefit in any substantial way from the costly and painful procedures.  He felt it was unethical to reap the financial rewards by performing these procedures on a patient that would surely die in a relatively short period of time.

His honesty was refreshing and I felt comforted by his ethical standards.  I am fully aware of the precarious condition of my health and I was pleased that he did not dance around the issues or take advantage of my situation.  He went on to say that my health placed me in an unusual position of having a life span that could stretch to ten weeks, ten months or ten years or more.  He stated that most patients like me would generally appear to be lethargic, morose, and slightly depressed.  He went on to say that he detected within me a strong spark of life that could help sustain me for an indefinite period of time, so he found it difficult to predicate treatment upon this unknown.

At this point I felt like telling him that what he perceived as a spark of life was the undeniable benefits of my Buddhist practice.  That the teachings of the Buddha do not give way to remorse over past events or succumb to the pressures of an unknown future.  It is the practice of staying in the moment that allows me to benefit from a life that does not stay entangled in bad decisions and their unwholesome results, or worry myself into a ball of hopeless depression over events that have not made themselves manifest, and for all I know may never.  It is this experience of the present moment as something free of stress and worry that gives my practice what he refers to as “a spark of life.” In reality, it is simply seeing my life as it is without the stories I could easily build into problems. Once again the Buddha has shown me that this “precious shining moment” is all there is and is all there ever will be. What an extraordinary gift this is.

“The Single Most Precious Moment” – Majjhima Nikāya 131-4

One night, under the light of a bright full moon, the Buddha gave utterance to this poem, which he encouraged his followers to remember and to frequently ponder:

Do not chase after what is gone,

Nor yearn for what is yet to be.

For the past has been left behind,

And the future cannot be reached.

 

Those states that are before you now

–Have insight into every one!

Invincibly, unshakably,

Know that well, again and again.

 

Do this work today, with ardor.

Who knows when death will come calling?

There is no bargaining with Death,

Or with his army of minions.

 

Abiding ardently like this

Without fail, both day and night, is

“The single most precious moment”

 

So the peaceful sage has told us.

Michael Crowder found the dharma nearly 7 years ago, shortly after having a stroke. Since then he has maintained a committed daily meditation practice and sits with One Dharma.