A Rose Garden in Assissi

Prue Vosper

I was a student who from the first meeting with Rinpoche would ask questions. They would pop out of my mouth spontaneously, with no fear or hesitation. Somehow his presence released that in me. And the questions weren't always on the subject, nor always with a respectful attitude, and sometimes he had to stop this in order to keep his flow.

So one day during a small course in Assisi — I had brought three people from France after a family disaster, a suicide of a l9-year- old, but that day they all stayed home and when I arrived for class alone, he turned to me and said, "Oh, this morning is not for you today. Go and wait outside!"

Quite a simple and natural thing to say. And why not have a welcome break from yours truly! But of course it provoked a nest of coiling vipers!

I went to the garden with all good intentions, wondering what would be the most appropriate way to use this time? Well, of course, I could meditate. Only I couldn't. I kept thinking, "What could he possibly be talking about this morning that he didn't want me to listen to? Higher teachings? What was I missing? Why couldn't I be there? And why, and how, is it that I can't just sit and meditate?"

So I tried enjoying the garden. But it wasn't very interesting, just roses formally laid out with paths, and I certainly don't remember the flowers. (Surely they must have been flowering — it was summer- time?!) As my feet repeated the circuit around the garden I was hopelessly entangled with these repetitive questions while only a little distance away the others were enjoying his presence. It was the most uncomfortable morning of my life. I was excluded, like a naughty girl at school, only I didn't know what I had done nor why I couldn't be there. I spent an hour reliving all the feelings of a four-year-old who has been wrongly — or was it rightly? — accused of breaking the rules, like ringing the gong too soon before lunch.

Then towards the end of the class, Terry was sent to call me in. There was no hint of what I had missed nor why I was now allowed to join the class again. What we witnessed was a simple and novel strategy for dealing with the student ego. Rather than a back-hander that would rebound and spread panic and fear throughout the class and leave the recipient a little (or permanently) bruised, it was confinement in a garden of roses.

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