An interview with Jaime Bickner, Sukhasiddhi member and long-time volunteer whose dharma service and practice spans a lifetime.
You’ve been with Sukhasiddhi for almost 20 years and have been a steady and generous volunteer since the beginning. Tell me a bit about your spiritual life, and how you came to be at Sukhasiddhi.
Ever since I was a hippie living in India when I was 20 years old, I’ve been addicted to the dharma. I’ve lived my life so I could practice. Now I’m getting to the end of my life and I’m still addicted to the dharma. It’s the only thing that’s important to me. I’ve been fortunate that my life has been on flex time, so I can practice and volunteer. I haven’t had 9-5 kind of work. Before we moved here, I lived at Green Gulch and Tassajara. Why wouldn’t I be of service?
When I was in India, even though Hinduism is the main thing, it was Buddhism that attracted me. I came back to the States and did a little Zen. Then I moved to Australia and did some teachings with Lama Yeshe. I just followed what inspired me. I’ve done all three types of Buddhism. I was at Zen center for 12 years. When we moved, I participated at Spirit Rock. Then I found Sukhasiddhi not quite 20 years ago when I was hitchhiking to Spirit Rock and Annik Brunet picked me up. Later, Lama Palden visited a group for senior students at Spirit Rock and that’s when I decided to visit Sukhasiddhi. The dharma has been close to my heart but when I move from here, if something else inspires me, I’ll do that. I might become a Sufi and sing and dance my way to enlightenment. All of the paths are good.
I went through the lineage program and then dropped out about a year ago. I didn’t feel the need for the routine anymore. Now I’m doing yellow Tara practice for the virus and the people. I’m not doing anything formally. I’ve got a whole bookcase of formal practices I can do, but for now I’m doing informal practice.
Tell me a bit about volunteering. You’ve always done important but humble work — keeping things running in the background rather than taking on a more visible role. How does the form of service you do relate to your spiritual practice?
I’ve been hands-on ever since I came to Sukhasiddhi. I maintain the center because I live in Fairfax so I can run down and do things when the need arises. And I’m on the council, helping to make sure that the programs happen. I’m an action type person. It’s the way I’ve always been. I tried to do the Community Dharma Leader program, but getting up in front of people is not who I am. Why try to be something I’m not? Whatever brings you joy, you just do. Why not? Follow your bliss.
The best part of being a volunteer is getting to work with people. You get to know them as close friends. Unless you get into a small group as a volunteer or in a program, it’s hard to get to know people very deeply. So that’s a big advantage to volunteering and it’s half the reason why I’ve volunteered. It’s a way to connect more deeply to people.
How has coronavirus impacted your practice and service work?
The good news for those of us who have a dharma practice is that we know how to hunker down and meditate. But for others who might need more support, it can be difficult. We have the online classes to help, but we can’t physically open the center until it’s really safe.
Because I took care of the physical space, for me, there is not much volunteering during the virus lock down. I haven’t been back since I stopped in to shut the heat off. There are others who are very active — the people who are teaching by zoom, the registration people, those in the office, and those who do the virtual and computer work. I’m more a physical volunteer.
The virus has changed people’s lives. Things they thought were important just faded away. Given my age, and because my husband has chronic asthma, I’m observing the lockdown carefully. Over the years, we’ve worked from home so I’ve been able to do pretty much what I wanted. Our work was renting out portable dance floors, but now with the coronavirus, that income has disappeared. We haven’t yet got our lifestyle together to live on social security alone, so we’ll see what happens.