Sangha Spotlight: Robbyn Paxton-McGuire


Robbyn Paxton-McGuire



October 2017



October 2017

Clear Light Sangha: “Please tell us about your early years, where you grew up, your family life, OK, Robbyn?”

Robbyn Paxton-McGuire: “I grew up in Canada. I have four brothers and sisters. We are a big, close family. I’m a bit of a black sheep in that I am the only one that’s now living away from Vancouver, British Columbia. I went to college up there. I also went to UCLA for a design degree. Even though I’ve been in design for over 33 years, I never actually finished the design degree because I got pregnant. I had my first child when I was 36 and I had twins when I was 41.”

CLS: “Were you raised with any religious or spiritual orientation?”

RP-M: “I was raised in the United Church which is different in Canada than here in the US. It’s about as open as you can get. But we all rebelled when we were about 16. I joined the church when I was about 13 and my dad said that I was going to give the minister a heart attack because I just questioned every, single thing. Ha ha! That’s funny! I didn’t know that until I was older.

At 16, I didn’t actually rebel, I just wasn’t interested. Nothing resonated with me. I think there was a lot of guilt in the religion that I was introduced into.”

“My spirit has had many incarnations. When I was young I was a model, I was Miss Vancouver in the Vancouver Sea Festival. I was the president of the Bay Team Fashion Council. But that’s like another life, it doesn’t even seem real. In another of my early incarnations, I was a hippie and I lived on a commune. Up in the interior of British Colombia. And I had all kinds of experiences around that. You know, I experimented with drugs and all of that. I gave away all my clothes and I wore army boots and a long skirt. I was the first of any of my parent’s friend’s children to live with a guy. He had hair down to his bum and he was from the wrong side of the tracks. Yes, there was a wrong side of the tracks back then. Yeah, when I was about 18, I went hitchhiking all around Europe. I took my first yoga and meditation class when I was about 19. When I came back, I moved to the country and I became a teacher and I taught kindergarten, fourth and fifth grades.”

CLS: “Who did you go hitchhiking all around Europe with? Did you go by yourself?

RP-M: “Yes by myself!”

CLS: “Oh, wow, you must’ve been quite a plucky, young woman!”

RP-M: “I was very plucky. Back in the day.”

CLS: “What was that like for you?”

RP-M: “Unbelievable! I had a fur coat from a thrift store and I had an actual suitcase and I had some really sza-sza dresses. Somehow, I had it in my mind that I was going to go to Madrid. I have no idea why. I flew to Paris and I didn’t know where I was going. I saw this guy who looked like he was American. I walked up to him and said, ‘Excuse me, can you tell me where the platform is for catching a train to Madrid is?’ We started talking and he said, ‘Listen, I am going to Madrid but first I’m going to visit some vineyards. Do you want to come with me?’ And it turned out that his name was Arthur James Roth the third and his father was the owner of Courvoisier cognac. We traveled around and stayed in all of these castles. It was incredible. I went to Madrid and ended up living with all of these wonderful women who were going to American school there. On the other hand, I was starving. I had to wait for my parents to send me some money. And then we all hitchhiked all over the place, through Spain and all the way up through Istanbul and down. I got a job as a nanny in Greece. Oh gosh, Greece! I just loved it! A lot of the people that I met there had just left Vietnam war. That was a trip, too, because I am Canadian. And because of all the things that those guys had been through.”

CLS: “What was going on for you on a deeper level, would you say?”

RP-M: “At that time, even before the hippy thing, I could, how do I say this… I could see things. This is going to sound really weird. I would see Christ and his disciples sometimes. I didn’t really even know what it was initially. It just came and went and I would have a number of those experiences. When I was young, my great grandma died and I remember wanting to know what death was like. I was about eight years old. So, I pretended I was dead. I was laying down feeling I was all falling apart, in the dirt, in the earth, just laying there and there was nothing, nothing, nothing. And I just lay there for a really long time in the darkness. While I was in Europe I remember being fascinated and wanting to experiment with techniques like concentrating on a candle flame.”

CLS: “How did your adventures in Europe end up?”

RP-M: “I fell in love when I was in Europe and he wanted to marry me but I didn’t want to get married. When I came home from Europe, I was maybe 19 years old and I was still filled with my idealism. I was pretty innocent and I fell in love with a guy in British Columbia who, back then, was a revolutionary. And he’s the guy that had the hair down to his bum. He and I ended up living together. He and my dad got in an argument and my dad said, ‘Out of my house!’ And I said, ‘If he goes, I go!’ And I left. I came back but not for a long time.”

“I had gone to college maybe three times before I graduated when I was 22. So even while I was living with the revolutionary, I went to Simon Fraser University. University of British Columbia was my main university, though. He started a large organization called Kool-Aid and I was working there with him. We were helping all these people avoiding the Vietnam draft. They were just pouring over the border. They would do things to avoid the draft like break their toes or say they were gay. Whole families were coming over.”

“As I became more and more of a hippie, I experimented with some drugs. Nothing very intense. Except when I dropped acid, just once, in a situation in which I shouldn’t have. I freaked out. I screamed primally for eight hours. It was like, what I called a ‘last judgment’ trip. It was like I was being judged whether I was good enough to get into heaven. It was really horrible! I ended up walking home that morning. I remember walking down my parent’s driveway. It was really intense!”

CLS: “Did you have lasting repercussions from that?”

RP-M: “Did I ever! I went into therapy. I had flashbacks. At that time, there wasn’t a name for panic attacks so I just thought I was going crazy. I called them terror attacks. And that went on for a lot of years. It was very weird to go from living on a commune and being a hippie and then having a freak-out to moving home, getting a job and living this straight life. I was just literally trying to function again.”

“Very close to the same time I got involved in yoga and meditation. Then I graduated from University. I took a job as a teacher in the country 12 hours away from Vancouver which is a big city. I think I was about 22 when I did that. It was fun because I was in the country and it was sort of post-hippie. I didn’t wear army boots and a tablecloth skirt anymore. But I wore overalls and Cowichan sweaters. You wouldn’t know what those are. They’re knit wool sweaters with designs and big zippers on them. That was a very, very fun time in my life. I mean, it was just magical. A lot of people from the cities came and we just had a blast.”

“I still suffered periodically from panic attacks but I just learned how to do it. I guess, I learned how to handle it. At one point, I flew down to San Francisco for the weekend. My sister met a guy in Greece who was an American and she decided I had to meet him. That he was the one for me. So, I flew to San Francisco. (My dad was an airline pilot so I could still do all this kind of thing, flying around.) That was the ‘beginning of the end.’ After that weekend, we were always figuring out how to be together. He was trying to finish getting his law degree in San Francisco at Hastings. Eventually, he decided to move up to the country in British Columbia where I lived. He also was an adventurer. He would go up to Dead Horse, Alaska and work in the oil rigs and then come down every two weeks. We built a house together. That was during my feminist period. That lasted as long as it took to finish building the house. Then I wanted to go to a spa!”

CLS: “Feminists can go to spas. Ha ha!”

RP-M: “Ultimately, we got married. It was in 1976 and it was wonderful! We even had a double rainbow at our wedding. But it was always challenging. We were both Scorpios. We didn’t have kids until 10 years after we were married. We were married for 27 years. In 1998, I asked for a divorce. I really started thinking about divorce many years before but I was so committed to being a family. I have three stupendous sons that are just gorgeous.”

“When he was 30, he decided it was time for him to get a real job. We moved from British Columbia to Santa Barbara so he could go to UCSB. He never practiced law, he became a developer instead. We were there for 16 years. We had all my children in Santa Barbara. I was an interior designer there with my own small company. It was small but it was great fun. Then the market tanked. My husband and his partner traveled around looking for the best place to live and they decided on Deer Valley, Utah. I now live in Park City, Utah which is up in the mountains about 30 or 40 minutes from Salt Lake City. Deer Valley is this very zsa-zsi ski area, like they have valet is to help you with your skis. Anyway, my former husband decided there was great potential for development here, for building. So, we came here with three little kids and at that time, he didn’t want me to work.”

“Our marriage was really on the skids and had been for some time. I finally asked for divorce maybe two years after we got here. And it was horrible. Our divorce took five years. It was just terrible. He was a lawyer, with anger issues, and there was me and I knew nothing. I had not kept up on his businesses, his investments. And, I mean, Utah! Mormon capital of the world! And I, the woman, had initiated the divorce. I was just so naïve. And I was branded a soccer mom because I wasn’t working. And I was like, ‘What’s the matter with being a soccer mom? I have three sons! Where else do you think I should spend the weekends but by the soccer sidelines with them.’”

“It was horrible. I was so stubborn. In retrospect, I would never tell anybody to do what I did. I would just recommend that you give him what he wanted and not spend your life energy that way. Because I got very ill a few years ago and I am sure that a lot of it came from stored anger that could not be expressed. Because it wasn’t safe.”

“I have learned so much since my divorce. I started going to meditation retreats formally since I moved here to Utah. When I was a hippie I was really into spirituality. There was a book about Jesus called Urantia. It was channeled from another planet. This was all when I was quite young. I was way into it and then I freaked out on acid. After that, I tabled everything for about 20 years. In Santa Barbara, I had some really powerful, wonderful women friends. I got into crystals. I talked to channelers, all that kind of stuff. I did some fabulous yoga in Santa Barbara.

I was about 43 when I came here to Utah and I started sitting Vipassana. I was doing a lot of yoga. I’m still doing retreats with the man that I did yoga with in my forties. His name is Pujari. He had the first yoga studio in San Diego and it is still in existence today. He went to India numerous times and studied with Iyengar from the very beginning when there was very few people going there to study with him. He built this little cabin up in the mountain in southern Utah and he and his partner, Abhilasha, are still there today. Iyengar was his first visitor at the cabin. They’ve been teaching for 100 years. Now they’re older, he’s about 70 and she’s about 65 so they mainly just do retreats. But they used to do relationship workshops, and cooking workshops, cleansing workshops… That’s all the teachers I’ve really had; Adyashanti, Pujari and Sharon.”

CLS: “How did you first hear about Adyashanti?”

RP-M: “He came here to Park City twice. There is a sangha that has met here, in my living room for about 20 years. We hosted him. There was a woman who used to live here that happened to go to a conference in California where Adya was speaking. This was in his early days. She went up to him and said, 'Would you ever come to Park City?' And he said, 'Sure.' So he came here twice and that was really wonderful.”

“All my friends started doing these 30-day retreats. But I couldn’t do as many long retreats as I would’ve liked to. I had two-year-olds and I was going through a divorce. I was told I could not do them during my divorce. My attorney said ‘no retreats.’ They said the judge would think it was just so out there. He didn’t even like the fact that I shopped at the health food store! So, I would take groups of about 10 to Pujari and Abhilasha’s twice a year for weekend yoga and meditation retreats. That was my way of getting around it.”

CLS: “How did you find out about Sharon?”

RP-M: “A friend of mine called me and told me about Sharon. Sharon and I talked together, we did dokusan for maybe a couple of years. And Sharon called me one day and she said, 'You know, Robbyn, I think you would really enjoy coming on retreat.' I asked a dear friend from our sangha if she wanted to come and initially, she said ‘no’ but then she listened to Sharon and a few months later decided to go. Through our sangha we’ve brought Loch Kelly here. He wrote Shift Into Freedom. I mean my whole life has been this, really. And it’s just been incredible how it keeps deepening.”

CLS: “Where there pivotal moments with Sharon or in the Sangha? Have there been a-ha moments or big shifts?”

RP-M: “No! I am one of those people that has no idea of when it actually happened. A lot of years ago, a close friend showed up at my front door. It was a beautiful day. We were sitting on my front porch. And she said, 'Look, I don’t know how it happened or when it happened but you are awake.' And I went, 'You mean, this? This? I’ve always known this.' And after that, can you imagine? That was certainly a pivotal moment.”

“I used to have big a-ha's. For many years now they have just been smaller. And consistent. It’s just a slower, constant deepening. There is still a self here. It still bothers me sometimes that I have no idea when it happened to me. Do you know what I mean? Most people have a story and they can point to this and point to that. I can’t. So, all I can say is, I have an idea that when the self dies, that you know it. That you absolutely know it. That there’s no equivocating. And I can’t say that for myself. But there is a lot that has fallen away. Hmmmm, so now I’m moving into a place where the words are harder to come. I certainly am familiar with stillness and I am familiar with everything dropping away but not staying like that. And I am familiar with oneness. But I don’t want to say this or that or the next thing. Do you know what I mean? And I wouldn’t be comfortable with you saying that. Because it’s kind of like telling a story about where you are on the path. And I think that’s mostly a pile of crap.”

CLS: “That’s a great qualifier. Haha! I would feel the same way if someone was interviewing me.”

RP-M: “What I almost did is call and cancel this interview because it feels like a story.”

CLS: “It is a story.”

RP-M: “And ask myself, ‘Why am I doing this? What would compel me to do this? What’s the purpose of it?' And the only place I can come from in myself to do it is to say, ‘Robbyn, treat it as an act of generosity.”

CLS: “Thank you. I think it does serve because we still are in this form and we get something out of communing and having sangha with others and sharing our stories. And they are just stories. And it’s OK. It’s good. It’s like art, an expression. It’s still helpful.”

RP-M: “I feel like I’ve had many incarnations. We’ve all had many incarnations in this life. And some of them feel very, very long ago. I can say my life isn’t different. It’s all about… I don’t want to call it spirit. It’s just about the deepening. Nothing separate and it’s just life. It’s just this. It’s just being here. And, I can get hooked, believe me! I’ve had very difficult health things that have come up. And it’s all grist for the mill, you know? There’s a Hafiz poem that says there is absolutely nothing in your life that you have not invited in. And it’s all to be trusted and it’s all taking you to further wholeness.”

CLS: “What has Sharon’s impact been on you and your life?”

RP-M: “Sharon was my first female teacher. And she feels like a sister. She definitely just feels like a sister to me. What I love about Sharon is her absolute humanness. And I love her fire! She can just be on fire and it’s like receiving a transmission. I just love her that’s all! I just love her and I really love the Sangha in Crestone. I do! If it wasn’t so damn high I’d move there. I’m very fond of everybody that I’ve gotten to know over the years. And Sharon has had a profound impact on me. The first time I went to one of her retreats, someone asked me what it was like and I said, ‘It was really round.’ It just felt really whole. It almost felt like a shamanic journey. And that’s the feminine! And that was my first experience, really, experiencing how the feminine held the space. Not like how a lot of men hold this. They are wonderful, also! But there is something really juicy in the way a woman does it. I really like it. Also, message is really alive, the way Sharon presents it. You know I just love Sharon.”

CLS: “She is such a lover herself.”

RP-M: “She is such a lover herself, she exudes it. And she offers it freely. Which is a beautiful thing.”



Starry Summers