Volunteers Hold the Shambhala Sky

by Andrea D’Asaro

“Our center is run by volunteers who give of their time. If they weren’t here the center wouldn’t exist,” says Susie Saalwaechter, explaining why she volunteers as a Sunday open house host every other month.

Many members and visitors don’t realize that our precious center is run by over 70 inspired volunteers. They help in many different areas, including finance, maintaining the website, Children and Families, serving as Kasung and protectors, Practice and Education, Societal Health and Well-Being, governance, gardening, open houses, as meditation instructors and teachers, writing and posting the newsletter, ikebana flower arranging, membership, fundraising, building maintenance, as shrine keepers, and other roles, according to JoAnn Schindler, center co-director.

(Volunteer Roles Needed are listed on the Seattle Shambhala web site.)

As a host, Susie learned by shadowing another volunteer and by attending a training. On a recent Sunday morning, she put out a luscious spread of caramelized pecans, peanuts, fruit salad, cheeses, gluten-free crackers, two kinds of cookies and more. She and another volunteer hosted over 40 visitors who received meditation instruction, group practice, tea break, and an inspiring talk by senior teacher Ben Hines.

Susie was looking for an open, welcoming spiritual community.

“When I come to Shambhala I felt like everyone is open-minded, and not rigid or dogmatic. I felt a sense of responsibility to give back financially as a member and through hosting,” she said. “I love meeting new people and hearing their stories about meditation.”

“It’s easy to think all the classes and open houses happen on their own. For me, it’s important to have a space to meditate in a group and connect with others who feel the same,” says Susie, who has been coming to Sunday Open Houses for five years and has been a member for two years.

She speaks more about her experience at Shambhala and beyond below:

I don’t know that much about the teachings. But I take part in discussions with various teachers, and that’s the primary way I’m learning. I’ve been a full time mom and we’re just about an empty nest. One son just graduated from college and the other is a sophomore in college. Other free time I spend as part of an outreach group at The Nature Conservancy, one of the oldest conservation groups.

I work information booths around town interacting with the public about conservation. The Nature Conservancy is a kind of land trust non-profit that protects nature by buying land.  They own millions of acres across the country.

Buddhist teachings seem to value nature, to treasure it. I feel nature should be protected.  We are all connected and all one, harming the environment is harming living things. 

I was raised as a Nichiren Buddhist, with parents from Japan. My Dad continues to attend.  I gravitated away during my teens and explored other things. I became a Christian. Now I’m coming here. 

Bringing meditation into life is challenging.  Pema Chödrön talks about getting hooked. From this practice, I can recognize that happening to me.  Meditation has helped me be less reactive, to take that pause or inhale and breathe just enough to think about my response before I react.  
I try to meditate every day in the morning, about 10-15 minutes.  It has a calming effect. I’m less carried away by the  emotions that are arising. Instead I’ve learned to have a curiosity about what’s happening.

The Seattle Shambhala community is grateful for our many dedicated volunteers, who truly embrace the practice creating Enlightened Society. Thank you, Susie!

View our Volunteer Resource Page to learn more about how you can give back. 

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