Two years after meeting Charlotte, Lee had a new teacher at the age of 21 – thyroid cancer. All of a sudden, the impermanence and unpredictability of life took on new meaning. It was shocking, frightening and deepening. After having her thyroid gland removed and receiving medication, she moved from New York to Houston, Texas. She spent 3 ½ years working in a halfway house with teenagers in trouble. And she continued to try to understand the reality of our own living and dying and what are we meant to do in between.
At age 27, she followed Charlotte to California to study with her for ten weeks at Green Gulch Farm, a Zen practice community. Charlotte arranged for her to live at the Farm and to become a Zen student. Lee had never heard of Zen Buddhism, but she trusted Charlotte and was open to jump in and give it a try. Six and one half years later, she left Zen Center after having practiced intensively at Green Gulch Farm and at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center.
One of the core lessons she learned from her time as a Zen student was that there was really no place to run, no escape from being with what is… She had spent a lot of energy in her life trying to run away from what was unpleasant, or scary or uncomfortable. After many hours of just sitting meditation, often being uncomfortable… the discovery of how different it was to simply be uncomfortable following whatever changes came, rather than to try to resist the pain and wait for the bell to ring was very distinct. All of the extra effort to try to force change or to get away from what was uncomfortable were not effective and caused another layer of pain… whatever was actually happening was the only thing that could be happening and no matter how much we might wish for something different, the ease and opening comes from arriving just where we are.
Leaving the Monastery and Studying Early Childhood Education in New York City
Lee didn’t leave Zen Center alone. She left with her husband and six month old son. She met her husband at Green Gulch Farm on the top of a truckload of horse manure.
Their first date was to go together to feel the belly of a pregnant horse… A few years later, Lee was delighting in her own pregnant belly. Her son Jason, spent his first six months at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. Then this new family moved back to the East Coast to spend time with Lee’s father, David Klinger and her husband’s mother, Bea Lesser, and to go to graduate school. Lee had always loved young children, and during most of her years at Zen Center her job was to take care of the young children in the community. She received a Masters Degree in Education at Bank Street College in New York and was delighted to be studying with cutting edge thinkers and advocates for children and families.
Her own work continued and she became an early childhood teacher, a mother and a leader of Sensory Awareness classes. As she was graduating from Bank Street she became pregnant with her daughter, Carol and the family moved back to California. For the next twenty-five years, Lee worked as a preschool teacher, college instructor, consultant, coach and national trainer on family support, diversity and equity issues, and social/emotional development.