On Saturday, September 24th, Ruth Denison joined us at PIMC to celebrate her eighty-second birthday. For many this was their first opportunity to meet this legendary teacher who has had such a formative influence on my life. When the party was over one woman said to me, “I had heard you speak of her for years, Robert, but I had no idea she would be so hugely alive and inspiring”.
In classic Ruth Denison style, immediately upon entering the Dharma Hall she began to guide the group in singing: Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to me, every day we are born, every day we are free. She led us in mindful movements of swaying our arms and twirling our bodies along with the singing as a method to teach us, as she taught us to, “give extraordinary attention to the ordinary experiences of life.”
In the next step of the birthday celebration Ruth sat in a white wing-backed chair placed center stage in front of the Buddha. She was presented with a crown of delicate roses. What I had envisioned as a twenty minute ceremony in which a few individualswould offer Ruth a rose became an extended ritual in which Ruth spoke to each person present. As is often the case with Ruth there was laughter, moments of deep contact, and a chance for participants to observe the process of liking and disliking as the long line of people slowly progressed to the front of the room. By the time everyone had given Ruth a rose she was surrounded by eight large vases bursting with ten dozen roses.
Kate McLennan, who had traveled from Texas with her partner Sharon specifically for the party and the Dedication of PIMC, sang for us before we moved on to the potluck. Like every good birthday party this one had a delicious cake and candles to blow out. Once again Ruth offered us her inimitable guidance in singing and movement together.