The Iron Man of Meditation
written by Gerry Kopelow
(Winnipeg Free Press, Feb 1, 2003)
Most of us think meditation is about relaxation and peace of mind.
But for Lama Lodro (a.k.a. Jeffery Alvin Olson), this was not the
case. Sometimes it was all radiant and blissful, the master
meditator recalled during a telephone interview from his home in Whitehorse.
And sometimes it was a real experience of hell.
Lama Lodro was speaking of his fourteen years of solitary contemplative
work in Thailand, Malaysia, Burma, India, and the Yukon wilderness.
In Eastern spiritual systems meditation is the main developmental
tool, but for committed practitioners in a hurry, meditational experiences
are not always just sweetness and light. Lama Lodros route to
inner development was so arduous that some refer to him as `The Iron
Man of Meditation.
Olson was born to a wealthy east-coast American family. Due to severe
but undiagnosed dyslexia, he was sent to schools for the mentally
challenged. I didnt learn the alphabet until I was 22
years old, Olson says. And out of terrible frustration
I became a destructive juvenile delinquent. At the time, it was exhilarating.
Eventually he left home, and despite his illiteracy he was able to
get well-paid employment as a member of the Teamsters Union. Once
he realized that he in fact had a strong mind, he attended an alternate
university where Beat Poets Alan Ginsberg and Gary Snyder were teaching
American History and Literature. According to Olson, Ginsberg
was a very weird man who demanded a lot of attention, but he was an
extremely interesting teacher.
university excursion to Hong Kong was the beginning of the transformation
of Jeff Olson, troublemaker, into Lama Lodro, respected monk. When
he found himself in the Orient, Olson remembered how, as a child,
he had been fascinated by a black and white travelogue depicting the
exotic temples and long haired yogis of India. I was seven years
old, and I knew immediately I wanted to be like them. He split
off from the group and began a two year pilgrimage on foot to ancient
spiritual sites in China, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Sikkim.
impressed by a Buddhist teacher he encountered in Thailand - This
man radiated compassion and kindness, people lined up every morning
just to sit in his presence - Olson took the traditional vows
of a monk, and formally began his spiritual journey.
From the moment the fertilized cell begins dividing, we start
building our neurotic conditioning, says Lama Lodro, The
process of liberation requires a concentrated effort to untangle the
accumulated negativity of many lifetimes. For some, this untangling
of past and current Karma is a gentle, slow unfolding. And under the
tutelage of several different meditation masters all over Asia, Olson
did experience some sublime states. But these were interspersed with
periods of fearful intensity.
one two-year period, my body felt like a bag of broken glass that
was constantly being agitated by electrical discharges, Olson
recounted. During another extended session everything, including
my own body, seemed to be on fire. Olson spent so much time
in the traditional cross-legged posture that his knees swelled and
locked up, preventing him from walking for a number of months.
of his Asian teachers told him that he would eventually find his ultimate
teacher in Canada. So Olson left the East, and after meeting the Venerable
Namgyal Rinpoche (one of the first Westerners to be recognized by
Tibetan Buddhist leaders as a fully awakened being) became a Canadian
citizen. He continued his studies with Rinpoche - Rinpoche is a Tibetan
honorific meaning Precious One' - and eventually insight, peace,
and physical health returned.
Lama Lodro is an eloquent speaker and an engaging teacher in his own
right. He tells many fascinating, sometimes funny stories about his
time in Asia and about his meditational experiences. Presently he
is working on his first book, a meditation manual for Westerners.