Sangha Spotlight: Sarah Poston
AN INTERVIEW WITH CLEAR LIGHT SANGHA MEMBER SARAH POSTON OF BOULDER, COLORADO
Clear Light Sangha: “Sarah, tell me a little bit about your early life, where were you born?”
Sarah Poston: “I was born in New York City. I grew up in Dobbs Ferry. It’s a little town on the Hudson River, just north of New York City. I have a brother who is 2 1/2 years older than me. My dad commuted into the city to work, it was a 20-minute train ride. My father was very troubled person. He was very smart and very sensitive but he was quite narcissistic and borderline. My mother was very loving and supportive but there was a normalization of my father’s insanity as well as buying into the traditional social norms.
“Yes, so I grew up in the 60s in New York. It was kind of an interesting time; my parents were Quaker when I was born. Long before I was born, my father was a minister in the Church of Christ in North Carolina. Then he was a theology and philosophy professor. By the time he had a family he worked in publishing. So, my parents were spiritual seekers, within the context of religion. My father was wounded by the church he was ordained in, so he was always kind of looking elsewhere. When I was six they left the Friends Meeting and went to the Episcopal Church. And then he left that, too, but my mother (and the kids) stayed there.”
CLS: “How was your dad wounded by the church?”
SP: “He was a minister and he wanted to be a chaplain in World War II. They wouldn’t sign off on it. I think my father was too out-of-the-box, no one really got him. He passed that wounding along to his children.”
“That whole situation with my dad has been very confusing for me. I also experienced sexual abuse as a young child through neighborhood kids/babysitter. I think I did a lot of minimizing of my trauma, thinking other people had it a lot worse. And I feel like just now I am coming back for things. Just this last year I’ve been diving deep into what’s left. That’s been good and it’s been challenging.”
CLS: “How did the life of your parents and your father affect your brother?”
SP: “My brother is pretty shut down. When we were in our 20s we were actually friends for a while. Things got worse when he got married. He has a lot of unconscious critical and mean behaviors. I’ve finally had to distance myself from him.”
CLS: “So what was it like for you in school?”
SP: “School was a nightmare. I was the youngest person in my grade. I was sensitive, dyslexic, I had learning disabilities, I was hyperactive because of the trauma. I was bullied a lot. Home didn’t feel safe. School didn’t feel safe. That was my childhood.”
CLS: “Telling your story is very helpful because there are a lot of people in our position.”
SP: “Yes, I know, trauma comes from many directions.
About the time I was going into 10th grade, my mom came home one day and was talking about the daughter of a friend who was going to a Quaker school on a FARM in New Hampshire. I just kind of went, ‘I want that!’ And I just begged until she let me go.”
“That was a good experience in a lot of ways. It got me away from my Father and toxic community. I got to take care of farm animals, milk cows and deliver farm babies, learned about organic gardening and healthy eating. I just loved that aspect. Ancestors on both side of my family were farmers and I think it’s just in my bones. I was totally into it.”
“The school ended up shutting down after my junior year because of faculty student affairs. After that, I just didn’t ever go back home to live. I lived with a couple of friends who had graduated already. I did my senior year in one semester of public school in New Hampshire. I turned 17 on December 12 and I graduated from high school the next week.”
CLS: “What was your first job?”
SP: “I started babysitting when I was 10. My first paid job other than babysitting was in a nursing home in NH. I had volunteered at a Catholic nursing home when I was about 12 or 13 as a candy-striper. We brought juice to the residents and pushed them around in wheelchairs and stuff. I saw my first dead body that way. I heard there was a dead nun downstairs, so I went down and I looked at her and I touched her, ha ha, I always wanted to understand death.”
CLS: “What drew you to do that volunteer work?”
SP: “It wasn’t very altruistic. I wanted to hang out with my friends. And smokes cigarettes, you know. As it turned out, I was probably more into it than any of them were.”
CLS: “You enjoyed the old people?”
SP “Yes, very much so. And that first paid job was actually across the street from the high school that I was going to my senior year. I loved it! It was sweet. It was so sweet.
“After high school I volunteered through the New England Organic Farmers Association with this family that was homesteading. I did that for about six months and then I went to Eugene, Oregon where a friend of mine was going to college. A couple of our other friends lived with us. At first, I did some seasonal orchard work. And then I got into re-forestation, planting trees. I joined this crazy tree planting co-op called the Hoedad’s. It was quite a motley bunch of people. I did that for two years. I had a lot of heartbreak, worked really hard, partied hard and it was a very interesting experience. We used to say we are getting to know America one bum-fuck town at a time. I worked in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. As the snow melted we’d go up in elevation. We’d be working these really remote areas and go into town for R&R. The bars would have showers. It was phenomenal! The wildlife and just being able to go into little towns that way.”
“One time we worked in this little town called Yak, Montana which was right up against the Canadian border. There was this bar there where we showered and partied. It was called the Dirty Shame Saloon. Ha ha! They had this wall with all these crazy photographs called the Wall of Shame. And they did not have one glass in the bar. They resorted to plastic cups because everything had been broken.”
CLS: “Ha ha I love that! That sounds like so much fun! But why were you heartbroken? Did you fall in love a lot?”
SP: “Well, I fell in love with this man and he wasn’t very good to me. It just really broke my heart and then I had to work with him and he was sleeping with other people and it was just horrible. This was still pre-college."
CLS: “70s and 80s stories! Were there any spiritual practices; meditation or yoga, going on for you in these times?”
SP: “In retrospect, I was really one of those people who is a spiritual seeker from birth. I had a very strong longing and desire for connection with spirit. When I was growing up I was very involved at my church and I had a rich inner world. For me, my path was really always nature. Also death was a prominent influence. A number of young people kids and parents died when I was a kid. I also did a lot of ritual burying of wild animals (whom I had tried to save) and pets that died. In the Quaker style you sit in silence and then people talk if they are moved. We also sang a lot. I pursued that a bit through high school and then as a young woman.”
"After I left the tree planting thing, I moved to Seattle. I had started to develop an autoimmune arthritis and was really struggling physically. I decided to go to nursing school. That was a very intense time. I started going to nursing school about 1981. I gained a lot of confidence in myself as I was a natural nurse and did well in college (much to my surprise). I grew up into nursing at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in Seattle. I literally took care of the first Aids patient in the city. I became an ‘expert’ pretty quick as a major requirement really was willingness back then.”
“I’m sharing this because it was a huge aspect in my spiritual development. I was around so much death. I sat with hundreds and hundreds of dying young men. And I was with many when they passed. I had a lot of fantasies about what dying would be like. They got blown up and the pain and confusion really propelled me on my spiritual path. “I got really involved in death and dying training with Elizabeth Kubler Ross, Stephen Levine and Ram Das, all the early pioneers in that work. After eight months in the hospital I got a job as a visiting hospice nurse working with people in their homes. I ended up with this huge caseload of dying young men. I did that for several years. I also volunteered for the Public Health Department Speakers Bureau teaching HIV transmission at clinics because medical people were so misinformed and afraid."
“In this past year, I’ve started to do some journey work and some of the men who I was particularly close to, who I cared for as they passed, have come to me as my spirit guides. So amazing!"
"These experiences propelled me into the next chapter of spiritual exploration. I did a bunch of retreats, Tibetan Buddhist style and then got involved in an alternative “fourth way” community. What seemed cool and expansive at first got more dysfunctional over the years. I was in that spiritual community for 12 years. Our whole lives were the practice. We meditated, and did different kinds of practices and assignments; Conscious eating, transitioning, how we moved through our days etc. It also included relationships. Monogamy was not allowed we were supposed to love everyone freely. You can imagine where that goes!! I can see it was a narcissistic pattern on his part, he wanted us all only devoted to him and he got more and more controlling as the years passed."
"Early on I was still living in Seattle and I went on this workshop with this teacher at their retreat center, which was in the middle of the Gila wilderness in New Mexico. I had a very deep connection with the teacher and the land. My connection spiritually, had always been through nature and this teacher had that dialed in, big time. He taught us all these ‘Impressions’ practices… I ate all that stuff up and it was really nourishing. On the last night of the retreat, I was up all night hanging out with the teacher. I had my first real awakening experience the next morning. Without going to bed that night I walked into this beautiful box canyon and sat against a tree in the sun. It was an experience of complete union and oneness with the divine. It was so beautiful. I had that experience and I was like, “Yes! This is my path!! So, I just gave up my whole life in Seattle and moved to Boulder. This really freaked the shit out of my family. Ha ha.”
“What I realize in retrospect was that this teacher projected onto us all his unresolved trauma onto us. He cut us off from our families, there were stages of sleep deprivation, control over intimate relationships. He was a sex addict and alcoholic so things got pretty messy and confusing. It fit so well with the dysfunction of my childhood but it took me years after leaving to see this aspect clearly."
CLS: “So about how old were you then?”
SP: “I was 24.”
CLS: “Wow! You were only 24? A lot happened in a short amount of time. So then you were in Boulder with this dysfunctional group. How did that unfold?”
SP: “Well, there’s a lots of relationship saga. I wanted a relationship and I wanted to have children. So, it was just this inner and somewhat unconscious conflict, constantly. ‘You can’t do that and have God!’ And I had a lot of intimacy with the teacher. I was one of his lovers and caregivers and I actually really enjoyed that, I felt special. But the price was very high. It came at the cost of everything.”
“I continued to work as a nurse, as a visiting nurse mostly and intermittently at hospitals. The other thing that was happening during this time was that I actually ran the Community’s ultra-marathon group. I organized the support for the runners.
“Meanwhile as he got more controlling, all these people were leaving the community. When I got into the community there was about 120 people and when I left there where about 30. Originally, it was very dynamic. There were a lot of cottage industries. They were just so many amazing people there. And then people were leaving because it turned into this crazy control trip. But I just had all this devotion, so it was very hard.”
"I moved out of the community households and lived on my own while still being involved. At that point, the future father of my son was skirting around the community but not committing. He spent about a year reading to me out of the “Guru Papers”. David was nicer to me and supportive when I was getting blackballed by the teacher (long story). Then, when I got pregnant by him, I was like, ‘I’m out of here!’ And that’s how I left. There was no way I was going to raise a kid in that community, I knew it was too unhealthy.”
CLS: “So what were you thinking at the time? Were you a little bereft because you didn’t have this structure of the community anymore?”
SP: “Yes. Oh my God! It was such a devastating loss; you lose your whole family. Everyone who was still there, well they didn’t talk to me anymore. These were all people who were my family and were going to be in my life until I died, as far as I was concerned. I didn’t know what to do spiritually. I felt really lost. I mean I continued to meditate but I had this feeling of not having a spiritual home. I did not feel ground or direction."
“At one point, I got involved with this Tibetan Buddhist practice. I had this friend/mentor person who, again, saw something in me I couldn’t see. She talked to her teacher and all of a sudden, I got into some high Buddhist teaching. I was doing that practice but I couldn’t really connect with it. There was a lot of foreign language, and you know, drums, and fussiness. I always feel like I’ve always had this dance between high church and simplicity; Quaker vs Episcopal; Zen versus Tibetan. But I always end up coming back towards the simplicity. So, I gave that up after about three years.”
“When I was still in the community, before I got pregnant, I had decided to go back to school and become a nurse practitioner. And there was this healing system within the community and my plan was that I was going to integrate them. But when I left the community, I lost that, too. So, there was this huge gap even in terms of how I was developing my profession. I never wanted to be a traditional nurse practitioner. I always wanted to practice holistic healing (mind/body/spirit).”
“ I literally found out I was pregnant the day before I started graduate school. I completed one semester of graduate school and then I took a year off to be with my baby and to make money. I went back part time while I had my kiddo. So, it took me four years to get through my graduate program.”
CLS: “Well that’s pretty amazing doing that and having an infant at the same time.”
SP: “How about that? I was in graduate school, I had a baby, and I was working. It was a lot and my partner was not able to step up in a way that would have been supportive to me. After I graduated we left Boulder and moved to La Veta in southern Colorado."
“That was really baptism by fire. There was this little community; it was such a cool community, called Gardener on the other side of the mountain from Crestone actually. There was this old little Adobe clinic there. I was out there two days a week as a new grad. Alone. With people who didn’t have any insurance. Who were super poor and had complex medical issues. I learned a ton! But it was hard.”
“I work down there for 2 1/2 years only because I bought a house. If I hadn’t bought a house, I would have left after two months. It was not an easy place to be. I was one of five health professionals in the whole county. After I got the job there, I met this artist, Billy, through my husband’s mother who is also an artist. I fell madly in love with Billy. David and I were in an open relationship (coming out of the community where that was the norm). But that wasn’t really what I wanted so instead of being with David and Billy, I left David. We did try to live as a happy family with all of us but… I got myself in such a mess."
“Billy and I had a deep spiritual connection. I divorced David and then we all went back to Boulder together. We came back to Boulder when my son was halfway through kindergarten.”
CLS: “How was it for you moving back to Boulder?”
SP: “It took me a while to get re-established. Many things were better here though. I was doing a lot of training in functional medicine and trying to find stable employment. I had part time jobs in different practice settings. I was trying to develop my own practice with this woman who was a functional medicine women’s health provider. I worked with her for about a year but it didn’t end up working out. I finally got a job at the Student Health Center at CU Boulder. And started to grow my own private practice."
“After many challenging years Billy had a complete nervous breakdown. I finally had to ask him to leave, as I just couldn’t do it all. But I never felt OK about it. He was literally moving out of our house on the day that my father died. My father had had a series of strokes and I was in Washington with him at an inpatient hospice.”
“My father had been this nightmare figure throughout my entire life and still I had been trying to work with that relationship. And it was so damaging to me. Anyway, I came home after he had passed and Billy was gone. And I was so, like… It was so beyond having the rug pulled out from underneath my feet. You know I just kind of sat there looking out the window for months (when I was not working or Moming). I was just so devastated. I didn’t know how to process it after my dad had passed because it was such a relief, you know. It was really a relief when he died and I felt bad about that.”
CLS: “A sense of relief and grief at the same time, no doubt.”
SP: “Right. Exactly. There was a lot of grief. And I had some really profound experiences around that time. One was a dream where my father was in a hospital bed being bathed in eggs by these nurses. And then I looked out the window and he’s sitting in monk robes. I walked down the hallway and there’s this other-worldly light. He sees me and he jumps up looking like the happy Buddha? You know that big fat Buddha who’s smiling? That was the kind of energy my father had in the dream with the most incredible love and generosity.”
“Either the day before or on the day he died I had gone out on a walk. I came back to their house and I felt something behind me. I turned around and there was a fawn about a foot behind me. It had been following me. That was this real message of new beginnings.”
"Right around that time, I had four or five different people talking to me about Adya. I went and saw him in Colorado for a two-day intensive and I started listening to his teachings and guided meditations."
“I kept asking my friend, Robin who told me about him., “Are you sure about him? “And she’d say, ‘Yeah, seriously, he is really squeaky clean.’ And I’d say, ‘Are you sure? Because I didn’t want one more fucked up spiritual teacher, you know?’ He’s just the opposite. He’s just so clean and Sharon is, too. There’s just this authentic realness.”
CLS: “So after doing some retreats with Adya, how did you meet Sharon?”
SP: “I met Sharon really quickly after starting retreats with Adya. I started with him in May and with Sharon by the next fall. I ran into a woman named Lira. She and Charlie used to host Sharon at their house. Lira invited me to come meet Sharon. So, it was one of those synchronicity things, lots of little synchronicities.”
“I went to this satsang Sharon did and I wept through the whole thing. I didn’t even know why, I just wept for two hours. She kind of noticed that ha ha Ha. Then I scheduled a dokusan with her, then a retreat and then I’ve basically been to every retreat I could since. I guess it’s been seven or eight years. I really devoted myself to doing a lot of retreats and just hanging in there with all the stuff that comes up. God, it’s just been such a ride! Ha ha ha."
“Sharon just kind of got right into the core of me. And she could see my essence and depth in a way I could not. I just had so many negative stories about myself. It was a pretty immediate connection.
“I can remember the first retreat I went to with her I was still really fixated on this, ‘If I was more spiritually evolved, I wouldn’t have this chronic illness.’ And then she told me, ‘Oh yeah, Adya talks about different trees and some are diseased and some aren’t.’ Like maybe it’s not about anything! I’m not saying that’s ‘true’ either but…”
CLS: “But you don’t have to fixate your mind on it.”
SP: “Exactly. And I can still feel remnants of those patterns. But I don’t really believe them. That stuff doesn’t tend to trip me out because those are not the places that I’m still getting triggered."
CLS: “Is there anything else you’d like to say about Sharon and what she’s has meant to you.”
SP: “Well I mean I can’t even say enough about what Sharon has meant to me. She has been an amazing mentor, teacher and friend. I really appreciate her humbleness and authenticity. It has helped me to accept myself more. Over time just steeping in the retreat container and hearing her speak, there’s a settling and a trust in the process more than I used to have. For many years I would have an experience and I’d be like, ‘Oh, I know I see through the auto-immune and it’s over!’ And then, of course, it’s not over. So, then I felt like I did something wrong. Or something is bad. Basically, I stopped trying to claim anything. Over time I just kind of said well, the hell with that. That’s just not serving me. It was just kind of helped me to just stay in beginner’s mind and just come back. Again and again.”
“I feel like there’s this journey, this inner personal healing that’s going on and then there’s this opening and deepening. Deepening and lightning both, you know. Like a falling away. I really appreciate it. I love the anonymity of Adya retreats so I continue to do that. The intimacy of Sharon’s retreat container has given me so much. Developing the capacity to bring myself forward has been powerful. When I expose something during retreat I see love reflected back to me, again and again. That has amazed me and really changed me."
“I used to feel really tortured by meditation. I’ve had a lot of problems with rashes and arthritis since I was a kid as well as the hyperactivity. I have a lot of real reasons for meditation to be uncomfortable and I would just muscle through it. It was torture. Finally that has been falling away. It’s like ‘Whoa!’ There’s more of that dropping and deepening, kind of falling away from the performance of the spiritual life. Or the trying to be something, trying to be enough.”
“At this point in my life I am in complete no-man’s land. I’ve had so much fall away, really on every level that I don’t even know what’s going on anymore. Ha ha.”
CLS: “Kind of a relief isn’t it?”
SP: “In many ways yes and sometimes I feel insane. Quite a ride.”