Be Thirsty, Heart

My spiritual teacher of 38 years passed away on Saturday morning.  Her physical body was worn out and it was her time to go.  I sit here writing without sadness, although in the past week I’ve had my share of tears.   It’s been a week of reflection on my life since I moved to Arizona and met Erma Pounds.

In January, 1973, I came to Arizona to visit a friend and never left.  Soon after I arrived (and one of the main reasons I decided to stay), I learned of a spiritual group that was loosely organized and inclusive, two qualities that appealed to me as a 21-year-old in search of spiritual direction.  The group was focused around a teacher who promoted universal brotherhood and celebration of the various pathways that lead to spiritual awareness.  The teacher was an ordinary looking woman who lived and taught in extraordinary ways.  Erma expected much of her students and even more of herself.  She was relentless, controversial, and one of the most stubborn people I’ve known.  She rarely refrained from speaking her mind and insisted, when there were conflicts between students, that they communicate to resolve their differences, often in “the hot seat” in front of others. She was also a living example of generosity, compassion, and kindness.  Erma honored all paths as long as they were respectful of others and used to read us a description of a school where people of all walks of life could come together and be celebrated for both differences and similarities.  After hearing of this school for several years, I commented,  “I’d sure like my children to go to a school like this someday.”  Erma responded with, “Good.  Why don’t you start it?”  That was the beginning of Awakening Seed School.

Over the years I didn’t spend as much time with Erma as I did in the early days.  However, I kept working, making certain the Seed was thriving.  She taught me many lessons in nearly four decades as my teacher.  One of her most important teachings was that spiritual practice and life work are one and the same.  I learned from Erma that my spiritual practice is every moment of my life.  Through her example, I continue to work in service of others, and will do so until I am no longer able.

Eight years ago when I first began my yoga practice, one of my teachers shared a reading that so beautifully expressed the idea of continuing spiritual practice without ceasing until the last breath is drawn.  I believe that Erma did this in her own way until the end of her life.  In her honor, I offer these words from the Sufi poet, Rumi:

“Be thirsty, heart, seek forever without a rest.  Let this soundless longing hidden deep inside you be the source of every word you say.”

As life moves forward, undoubtedly there will be days when my heart wavers.  On those days I will remember my teacher, whose thirsty heart never rested, until Saturday when both she and her breath were finally able to rest.

10 thoughts on “Be Thirsty, Heart

  1. Sad news to learn of Erma’s passing. Erma was a powerful person but her lessons will live on at the Seed.

  2. I felt sad to hear of Erma passing away. Erma’s powerful, caring heart still influences Awakening Seed in so many ways through your work. She must have felt proud of you.

  3. Thank you so much for letting me know about Erma’s passing Mary. She, and the Wednesday night group had such a profound influence on my life, during those impressionable years of our early 20s. Although I chose a bit of a different path in my life, on the opposite side of the country, those few years in Arizona with Erma continue to weave a deep thread through the fabric of my life. And in turn, my family and friends, and even strangers I have encountered have benefited. Love to you and Bill, and to all of our old bookstore friends where it all began. Love, Annie

  4. As I am sure you know, her work here continues through you and everyone else she touched. As you touch others with your heart and love she too touches them through you. The school has meant so much to me personally through all the growth I have been through. Your presence in that school is so meaningful to me and others on so many levels. Your teacher, I feel I know a part of, although I never formally met her, through you. I will continue to hold a space of peace and love for you and Bill as the experience plays out

    Thank you for sharing this with us.


  5. Mary, what a blessing that you had a person like this in your life. Through her, and you, a circle of inclusion has been created. This circle benefited me as a child and now benefits my child. Thank you for sharing this news. Although I never met her I am honored to know you. It is clear that she helped shape you and The Seed. For this I am thankful. My thoughts are with you as you take your own unique journey down the path of mourning.

  6. I met Erma a couple of years ago and am friends with someone who had known her for many years. I was very happy to have finally met her and am now sad that I only had that one chance (though saw her twice that week.) May she become enlightened in the bardo!

  7. Mame ~
    Your conscious and compassionate words about Erma brought me some comfort.
    In my own mind, I thought of Erma as a gentle giant living among us in human disguise. Her energy and love could be felt anywhere she was…didn’t matter where!
    I am with her as she moves through her 49 days. I know she is with us too.
    Blessings and love ~

  8. Mary,
    Thanks, your comments touched me deeply. Erma was a good Teacher, as you have become yourself. We learned so much from her good example as someone who dedicated her life to others.
    Be well, and say Hi to Bill.
    Love, Don

  9. Mary, today is my Grandma’s birthday, and her presence is strongly felt at this moment. I did not remember that is was her birthday, yet I was aimlessly web-surfing on the laptop, and something told me to google her name. I’ve never done that before. I came across her obituary and discovered it was her birthday. I had to smile as I realized that she must have been thinking of me too and this was her way of getting my attention. What you wrote about her is beautiful. She had so much love for you, Bill, Sarah and Astraea. As do I, of course. I hope you’re well.

  10. Hello Mary,
    We have never met, but about 20 years ago, shortly after I moved to the Valley as a young 20-something, I also met Erma (and Bill) at the little meditation and study group in Tempe. I was with the group for about a year, and then I wasn’t. I don’t recall why I left, but I’ve been thinking of Erma and returning to practice lately. While Googling information, I came across this blog post and appreciate your story. You wrote it years ago, but it was a small gift to me to find it.

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