An interview with Mary Stancavage from our “Meet a Teacher” series in the July 2021 issue of Lion’s Roar magazine.
Born and raised in New York City, I am a New Yorker through and through, even though I’ve lived over half my life in Los Angeles.
When I was born in 1955, my father and mother were fifty-two and forty-seven, respectively. By the time I was five, my two older brothers were out of the house. That’s when my father died, and I was raised, valiantly, by a single mom in her fifties and sixties.
I moved to Los Angeles to attend grad school at UCLA where I got a master’s in ancient history and archaeology. I lived in Israel for a year, attending the University of Jerusalem, and then spent several seasons excavating in Syria. I left school before finishing my PhD and ended up in corporate America where I honed my organizational skills.
My spiritual journey began thirty-five years ago. I found the Buddhist path in 1997 and was empowered to teach in 2009. I became director of Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society, and two years ago, JoAnna Hardy and I founded Meditation Coalition, a nonprofit in Los Angeles. We offer classes in meditation and Buddhism and are committed to ethical behavior, social justice, and compassionate action.
I believe that dharma provides a foundation for us to address the critical issues in our world and I’m actively pursuing ways to do that. Most recently I’ve been co-facilitating Women and Whiteness, a group for exploring and waking up to our racial conditioning. I’m also on the board of a nonprofit that works for economic justice, and I find the dharma supports that perfectly. I’m constantly inspired to bring practice to everything.
What is your practice tradition?
Primarily Theravada Vipassana in the Thai Forest Tradition, although I resonate with Thich Nhat Hanh, feel affinity for the bodhisattva ideal, and am deeply inspired by Guanyin. I view everything through the lens of living with an undefended heart.
Your favorite virtue?
Integrity. I find that it encompasses honesty, humility, and kindness.
Your chief characteristic?
This is a tough one. Maybe enthusiasm.
Your principal poison?
I am such a greedy personality type. I want to do it all: read all the books, take all the classes, visit all the places, know all the people, get involved in all the activities, save the world by myself.
Your idea of happiness?
Besides being at ease with what is, happiness is my wonderful husband of thirty-one years, a good book, a rainy day, the redwoods, and a cat.
Your idea of misery?
Stuck in self-loathing or self-doubt.
The natural talent you’d most like to have?
I took tap dancing lessons last year, and it was a sad sight. It would be fun if I could tap dance.
What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
Live-in nanny and housekeeper.
If not yourself, who would you be?
I would love to be one of my cats. They have the best life.
Name three of your heroes.
John Lewis, Jane Goodall, Hank Aaron.
Your favorite author?
I don’t have a favorite author. For fiction, I love mysteries, thrillers, detective novels. In nonfiction I’ve been reading a lot of history, trying to understand how we got to where we are today.
Your favorite musician or group?
David Gilmour, lead guitarist for Pink Floyd.
Your favorite current TV show?
American Ninja Warrior and The Great British Baking Show.
What’s for dinner?
Can I just eat potato chips and onion dip, please? Every night?
A motto that represents you?
Right now, it’s like this.
I don’t feel too guilty about it, but I love baseball and follow it on radio, <h4TV, and podcasts. Go, Yankees!