Toni Packer (right) with Eliot Fintushel and Noelle Oxenhandler on their wedding day
Toni Packer (right) with Eliot Fintushel and Noelle Oxenhandler on their wedding day

I love Toni Packer, though I haven’t seen her for twenty years. As a teacher, she is earthquakes, thunder, and the Northern Lights—or a still small voice. In her clarity of thought and subtlety of expression (the daughter of scientists) she evokes a sensation of profound intimacy.

After five years raging and thumping and squeezing and soldiering with her teacher and mine, Philip Kapleau, I got through the Mu koan during my first sesshin with Toni—make of that what you will. I must have been staring at her like an idiot in that little upstairs room at the Rochester Zen Center.

She said, “Do you understand?”

I said, “Understand what?”

She said, “What’s to understand?” and rang me out of there.

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