Get to Know Your Sangha Member: Susan Pearsall

How did you learn about Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay or TNH)?
Through Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s suggestion that Thay be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

What was the first TNH book you read?
I haven’t a clue. I remember buying and reading the book, and using a snippet from it in a dharma talk.  Many years ago, however, I passed it along to another SnowFlower. So all I can say is that I hope this little book is still enjoying life somewhere out in the community.

What is your favorite TNH book?
Chanting from the Heart.

What is your favorite TNH quote or teaching?
Engaged Buddhism.

How did you hear about SnowFlower?
As a member of Trinity United Methodist Church I was vaguely aware of the Sangha, since at that time SnowFlower met at Trinity for its Tuesday night sit. A bit later, my involvement with Trinity’s various committees and councils made me much more aware of the Sangha among us.

How long have you been coming to SnowFlower?
About 10 years.

Remembering your first time at SnowFlower, what did you like best?  Put another way, why did you decide to come back?
I first came to Sangha to help my friend Heinz, who had just lost Marion, his wife of approximately 65 years. Heinz told me that he wanted to attend the Tuesday meeting, and also that he was too shy to go alone. So I rallied my husband David, and the three of us came together.

By chance that meeting was Mary Gallagher’s night for a tea ceremony, and of course this was just what Heinz needed – a very tranquil and gentle introduction to the ways of the Sangha.

Over time I continued to come, both to help Heinz and also to monitor issues among the various congregations housed at Trinity.  And then when Heinz no longer needed me, and the congregational issues had been resolved, I happily continued coming for my own wellbeing.

If you could change one thing about SnowFlower, what would it be?
I would like to see us try a summer picnic for the whole Sangha.

What other Buddhist teachers do you like?
Too many to count.

Some of the volumes on my bookshelf right now are Sylvia Boorstein, Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein, Pema Chodron, Tara Brach, Robert A. E. Thurman, D. T. Suzuki, Chogyam Trungpa, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche – and, of course, Thich Nhat Hanh.

And for poetry, perhaps especially Maxine Kumin, Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, Naomi Shihab Nye, W. S. Merwin, and Jane Hirshfield.

Do you have a favorite Buddhist website that you turn to frequently?
My regulars are Daily Zen in the morning and Tricycle [Daily Dharma] in the evening.

How does Buddhism as taught by Thay fit into your daily life?  Why is it important to you?
I have no set schedule for formal practice. I once stocked up on groceries, and sat for seven consecutive days. On busy days I simply snatch a few moments of quiet time as I can. And most days are somewhere in between those extremes.

Whatever is happening (or not happening), watching the breath is always beneficial in so many ways.

As to why I find the practice important, ask me that question at a dozen different times, and I will probably give you at least a dozen different answers. Let’s just say that I continually find a multitude of benefits as I travel my path.

If you are working, what do you do?  If you are retired, what did you do in your last job?
I am a retired lawyer. For approximately two decades I worked in poverty law at Legal Action of Wisconsin, Inc., first with migrant farmworkers, and then as a matrimonial lawyer with cases involving severe spousal abuse and sexual abuse of children.

Do you do any volunteer work?
I dabble as possible. Vision and hearing issues, however, severely limit my usefulness.

I am widowed, with no children. There are many members of David’s and my families that I care about very deeply. Alas, however, they are scattered here and there – and so many of them are far, far away.

Favorite hobbies or pastimes?
Walking, reading, feeding wild turkeys, and herding my three kitties: Aquila, Marcella, and Papaya.

Favorite guilty pleasure?
Folks, I am 73 years old. For me, guilty pleasures are nothing more than fond memories from a distant past.

So what are my frivolous amusements? These days I spend occasional and very happy hours giving my cats seasonal names.

Take Papaya, for example… She is not a fruit! She is a Goddess of Destiny from the Hatti and Hittite cultures of ancient Anatolia. Be careful with this cat: worship of her began approximately 4,000 years ago.

So…for the centennial of the Irish Easter Rising, Papaya was temporarily renamed Gráinne Ní Mháille (modern English calls her Grace O’Malley the Pirate Queen).

And since I worked for many years in family law, here’s my favorite story about Queen Grace O’Malley:

Regarding her 2nd marriage:  According to tradition the couple married under early Irish law ‘for one year certain’, and it is said that when the year was up O’Malley divorced Risdeárd (Richard Burke) and kept the castle. The story goes that O’Malley and her followers locked themselves in Rockfleet Castle, and she called out a window to Burke, “Richard Burke, I dismiss you.” Those words had the effect of ending the marriage – and since she was in possession of the castle, she kept it. No need for matrimonial lawyers under that legal system!

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