dancing in the dharma: The Life and Teachings of Ruth Denison {by Laura Fraser}

I think of this book often. I think of Ruth’s courage, her zanniness and sense of humour and her dog that would accompany her whilst she led retreats and the rather eccentric training she had in the 70's where she would help people reconnect to their bodies after tripping on acid by using the Vipassana method. Ruth had been trained by the Burmese teacher U Ba Khin who instructed her to take Vipassana to the west to teach women. It is explained later in the book that this instruction to teach women was for Ruth's "protection" as when U Ba Khin first met her, Ruth was in her mid-thirties and a wonderfully "sexy" woman. OR perhaps it was more for the protection for the men folk  - attraction to ones teacher being another distraction that most of us can do without!  
Despite the fact that U Ba Khin had personally taught her, many wouldn't recognise Ruth as a legitamate teacher of the Vipassana method because she was seen to be too eccentric. So that whereas S.N Goenka, the official head of the Vipassana empire advocated complete stillness of the body during retreats, along with the extraction of all outer distractions in order to cultivate focus of the mind. Ruth encouraged movement and dance in her retreats and also her canine friend who would sit beside her as she talked.
Dancing in dharma ("dharma" means the teaching of Buddha) chronicles an extraordinary life. Born in Germany, Ruth was 17 when the Nazis invaded Germany, as a result she experienced much suffering and violence first hand - being raped by Russian soldiers during the war - and yet she didn't sink, she survived. Because of this Denison's story is one where instead of kowtowing to the trauma she experienced she instead embraced her "big power for living" and lived. A living that took her in 1956 to LA where she first worked as a cleaner for a drunk and a "contradictory fellow." But because of her resourcefulness kept on surviving. In 1959 she met Henry Denison and it was to be this man who became her husband and who introduced her to Buddhism - and to U Ba Khin. An aspect of Ruth's life that some can relate to perhaps; our relationships being the catalyst for introducing us to many new things in life, meditation and dharma being but two examples.
The book provides inspiration and insight to anyone with a practice, or to those wondering: what's in it for me? In many way's she championed mindfulness and acceptance as paths to alleviate suffering but also in order to "renew our consciousness" and experience greater joy in life.
"You cannot capture me," she tells Sandy Boucher her biographer, "...even in a retreat...everything has greater depth for me now. It puts me more in wonderment. I see, number one, that everything that we call problem or dissatisfaction, it is having only one cause, and that is the absence of mindfulness, of attention. I don't see anymore bad people or great people, or (ask) how could they do this? It's just the unawareness actualising itself. There's always the absence of your higher faculty which is to be the ultimate authority, the only effective authority, when that comes through."
Denison passed away on the 26th February of this year and will be remembered in many ways as a free spirit who cared deeply about others and also dharma.
Below is an excerpt from the book where Ruth talks how her practice helped her. Maybe it can serve as inspiration for the rest of us:
"...the mind, it has something to do with absorption, where the mind holds itself in the concentration, you don't concentrate anymore, and there is this knowing faculty coming in, so the mind knows itself where it is concentrated, where it is focused, and even that loses itself, it is more a spaciousness where you know you are the conduit for it, and you stay in that..."