In memory of Ruth Denison, one of the first female dharma teachers in the West, who passed away in February 2015 at the age of 92.

Most old students could take you to a place at Dhamma Dena Desert Vipassana Center and describe a day—or days, or weeks—of labor. “I painted that roof, all afternoon one day in the hot sun.” “I dug out the cactus garden behind Ruth Denison’s kuti.” Ruth’s listing for the women’s retreat used to read “All women welcome for work and meditation” (my emphasis).

When Ruth bought a little nearby house from an unfortunate young family (living in the desert requires a strength and resilience that this couple, after many babies and a struggle with alcohol, could not muster), we women were called to follow Ruth down the short stretch of dusty road. Inside the rooms, we stood knee-deep in junk and filth. The young parents had given up trying to maintain cleanliness and order, leaving the bathroom full of dirty diapers, the sink crusted with old food and piled with discarded utensils, the walls stained and splattered.

While we stood uncertainly, holding our pails and rags and scrub brushes, Ruth waded in and began throwing trash from the living room out into the yard while calling encouragement to us: “Come on, dahlings, first we pull out everything, and then we scrub!”

Scrub we did.

Liberate this article!

This article is available to subscribers only. Subscribe now for immediate access to the magazine plus video teachings, films, e-books, and more.

Subscribe Now

Already a subscriber? Log in.