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Buddhadharma : Fall 2009
91 fall 2 00 9 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly It was clear when I first met Don Flax- man in 1980 that he was deeply com- mitted to his spiritual practice. Having embraced the “no-pain, no- gain” approach, he worked very hard in retreats and willingly endured great phys- ical discomfort until, after fifteen years of toughing it, he realized that macho medi- tation didn’t necessarily lead to freedom. Once he became aware that he could stop struggling and relax, he started bring- ing his signature beach lounge chair to retreats. He still practiced with whole- hearted effort, but with the half smile of a buddha. He lived his life the same way, with sincere dedication while fully enjoy- ing himself and those around him. Don died peacefully in January at age seventy-four after bravely battling pan- creatic cancer. He is survived by Carole, his wife of thirty-two years; his daugh- ter, Jamie; and grandson, Sam. He was on the Spirit Rock Medita- tion Center board of directors for more than ten years, and guided us as presi- dent for many of those years with a JAMES BARAZ is a founding teacher of Spirit Rock Meditation Center, in Woodacre, California. rare grace, wisdom, and good heart. He had an uncanny ability to bring out the best in people. As a fellow Spirit Rock teacher, Sally Clough Armstrong, put it, “He truly was a force for goodness to arise in the world.” Don was a successful financial adviser and stockbroker, and he loved to teach others about the power of dana, or gener- osity. He was our best fundraiser because he genuinely conveyed that spirit in his inspiring letters. They encouraged people to donate as a way of feeling the joy he had found through giving from the heart to something he really believed in. His roots were in Connecticut. He was born in New Haven and grew up in Hartford, where he got his start in the finance and brokerage business in his late teens. He attended the Loomis Chaffee prep school in Windsor, and completed his education at Harvard. Don went on to become a partner at Conning & Company brokerage house in Hartford. He married and, when his daughter was about five, moved the fam- ily from their home in West Hartford to California, where he continued his work as a stockbroker and financial adviser. That marriage ended in the seventies, and he met Carole. “Don always had a keen social consciousness,” Carole told me. She recalled that when he read that a group called the Vietnam Friendship Village Project—helping Vietnamese deal with the aftermath of Agent Orange—was seeking a board member in Arcata, Cali- fornia, he joined the organization and worked with it for several years. He developed skills in grief coun- seling as a volunteer with the support group Kara, in Palo Alto. For ten years he worked with Kara in various roles, including fundraising and serving on its board. Through it all, Don had a special touch. Ginny Morgan, a dharma friend who has struggled for years with breast cancer, recalls Don sending her a series of cards. One by one they would arrive in her mailbox, always bringing with them a sense of peace, courage, and love. In tiny handwriting, each card said over and over again, “May Ginny be peaceful, May Ginny be filled with contentment, May Ginny love and be loved, May Ginny come into the state of complete freedom.” He covered the front, inside, and back of each card in this way, with the meticulous care of someone tuned to the frequency of the heart. When Don told me he did not have long to live because of his cancer, I was deeply moved not only by his acceptance of the situation, but by how he turned it into an opportunity to deepen his love of life. “I’m now in the richest period of my life,” he said. “Now that I have less time, I’m more open than I’ve ever been. I’m amazed at how much joy is available just by smelling a pretty flower, seeing a hummingbird, or hearing a friend’s voice. I don’t waste my time complain- ing. Expressing love and gratitude is the most important thing I can do now. Love is a field and whatever comes into that field is totally accepted. Love can hold it all.” My wife and I visited Don a few days before he died. Though he was barely conscious, he welcomed us with a big smile of recognition. As I chanted to him, he squeezed my hand. And as we were leaving he somehow mustered the strength to sit up, touched his fingers to his lips, and blew us a kiss. That was Don’s way. We welcome your submissions to Lives Lived. Send your essay to email@example.com Lives Lived REMEMBERING DON FLAXMAN By James Baraz