Interviews with Karuna Students: Joy Ruppersburg

Our next Karuna student interview is with Joy Ruppersburg, an educational therapist from Petaluma, CA. Joy, a member of the first North American Karuna graduate cycle, is one of those people that seems to exude cheerfulness and warmth. Just chatting with her for a few minutes can leave you feeling in a much more positive mood. Still, things haven’t always been bright and cheery for Joy. Joy says that her journey with Karuna Training really began about 20 years ago when she moved to California and began working with Sakti Rose, a somatic therapist and one of the current Karuna teachers, on trauma that began in Joy’s childhood. “I was able to learn about trauma, open myself, and release trauma.” she recounts of her time working with Sakti. “I’m still working on that and probably will for the rest of my life, but Sakti really assisted me and guided me in these processes.”

As a member of Shambhala Buddhist centers, Joy also knew Karuna teachers Sandra Ladley, and Melissa Moore for almost 20 years. “I always admired Sandra for her courage and fierceness and willingness to let her wild woman show but yet still seem like she’s always keeping that kind of under control. She’s so intelligent.” Joy explains. “And of course Melissa Moore, our master teacher. I had taken some training sessions and had admired her from afar and through a mutual friend got to know her a little better. She’s just such a fine teacher, so open authentic and also a brilliant leader.”

“And then Terry, who was the most energetic amazing Tibetan yoga teacher and mentor” she continues, sharing that she met Terry Jaworski through Karuna Training. “She’s my mentor in the graduate program and just an openhearted, energetic, wonderful human being. ”Joy says enthusiastically. “So it was the teachers that attracted me. The fact that I had known them or known of them for so many years, my trust level was high for them. So I leapt. I took a leap, full of excitement for learning, because I knew the quality of these people.”

A Curriculum for Everyone

Joy says that one the most exciting parts of the program for her was the rich curriculum. “When I leapt into Karuna and then had the opportunity simultaneously to see what the curriculum would be for the first two years… I’m a lifelong learner, so I was just so excited”  she explains. “The curriculum itself, just the readings and the written work, was so rich and stimulating. To see the richness of working with the Dharma and the brilliant work of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche (the master teacher who brought Buddhism to the west from Tibet), and also Pema Chodron and some other wonderful Buddhists, and then all those wonderful Western contemplative psychologists…it was just so rich.”

“We read. We shared things. We had groups where we studied questions and supported each other and we had the practicum.” Joy explains “All of this is very rich. It’s all available. What I love about this program, is that this was all there and each person then can access it and learn at their own pace. I think that the way it’s designed, those that need tighter structure, it’s there. Those that thrive with more openness and freedom in learning, it’s there. I think there’s something for all of us in Karuna.”  

Unlearning Habitual Patterns

This appealed to Joy as an educator herself. “I really approached this as continued professional development,” she says. “I’ve been an educator for more than 40 years and continued professional development is just part of being an effective educator.  It is part of my life to continue learning. It’s what keeps me active and excited. So a three-year certification program, to me, is like an umbrella that allowed me to use all of these skills honed over 40 years, along with the new learning and the Dharma which has been part of my life for decades. This was a way to bring it all together, honing skills that were already strong but also developing skills that I thought I had, but actually weren’t that strong.”

In this process, Joy explains that unlearning was also a crucial piece of the puzzle. “There was a lot of unlearning in the Karuna program too.” she says. “If you would have asked me initially, honestly I might have kind of chuckled and made small, but actually the unlearning allowed me to transform. It enabled and encouraged me to transform in the sense of learning about my own habitual patterns. I didn’t realize I had so many! But being able to see those, to taste those, to feel those through the senses, the elements, through maitri, through a framework that was created, through the cohort… I truly feel and felt as if I’m in the cradle of loving kindness and at the same time encouraged to stretch and learn.”

Graduate Practicum

Joy’s graduate practicum was focused on a topic very personal to her, surviving life-threatening occurrences such as depression, suicide and genocide.She says that her first two years in Karuna Training’s basic cycle were instrumental in planning her practicum for the graduate cycle. “Had I not had that foundation, I would not have done the practicum that I designed. I have habitual patterns and real life experiences around surviving life-threatening occurrences and specifically depression, suicide, and genocide. I have all that in my background. And it was throughout my lifetime. I’m not a young person. I’m in my late 60s. I have rarely had any opportunity to talk about those experiences except in therapy with a professional psychologist. Those are opportunities to talk for an hour or so, but opportunities outside of that very rare. My practicum involved confidential conversations about being a survivor. At first, I wasn’t sure if that was something that others might need. I knew I really appreciated it.”

But Joy says that things went well from the start. “The very first meetings were designed for one hour to explain what we were doing and to offer the opportunity. And if people didn’t want to that was completely fine. But those sessions became three hours. There was such a hunger to be able to just talk about those experiences that are very heavy and have a lot of difficult emotions surround them. There’s often grief. Almost all of us been holding these things for a long time. And so there was a feeling of relief.”

“What was expressed by the participants was that it was very helpful.” Joy says. “They want to do it again and again and again. This is the experience is helping them in their lives and it’s beyond what I thought it would be. I’m so appreciative because in the process I have learned a lot about my own trauma and how far I’ve come actually in healing myself.”

Impact on work

Joy also says that Karuna training had an impact on her work as an educational therapist. Joy works with teenagers who are considered gifted academically, and have learning disabilities. She recalls one session with a teenage boy after coming back from a Karuna Training deepening week. “I mentioned I’d gone to retreat and was learning he said ‘What do you do when you go to those things? You seem a little different.’” she recalls laughing. “With teenagers, bless them, I didn’t know what he meant. But he said ‘You seem so calm.’ So I do think it has certainly impacted my work.”

“I’ve been in private practice 15 years.” she goes on to say “But the Karuna skills that I’m learning and have honed and am actually implementing now enable me to sit back and allow this space. I’ve done this so many years, I feel like I really know what I’m doing to support the learning of these teenagers and teaching them skills for learning. What I hadn’t really allowed was space for them to make a lot of their own decisions during the session. In other words, I always planned for them to the minute. I had fear of not having something each moment for them to do to enhance their learning. In other words, Karuna allowed me to stop being fearful of allowing more space in those sessions. Space meaning time and opportunity for each of those brilliant young people to decide how they wanted to use the time.”