This Buddhist Life: Serena Edwards

Isaiah Seret

Serena EdwardsSerena Edwards
contemporary dancer/bartender
Age: 28
Location: New York City

How did you get into dharma?
The easy way: my parents got me in.

Do you have a particular lineage subscription?
Nyingma—from my parents.

Vegetarian?
I try and take it easy on the industrial-farming meat.

All time hero?
My teacher, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche; Guru Rinpoche and Yeshe Tsogyal; Sera Khandro. The choreographer Oliver Steele, for his movement. Pina Bausch, for her theatrical visions.

What’s exciting about Buddhism?
The possibility of freedom, of just totally cracked-open perspective and awareness.

What makes it relevant today?

I don’t know if it’s more relevant today than it was at any other time. I think it’s always relevant.

Biggest life challenge to date?
Going through the grief after my mom died, and figuring out how to be able to function in a world that had such a big chunk of it torn out.

Something that made you question your faith?
People who have been practicing for a really long time and seem just as neurotically fixed as someone who has never practiced.

What kind of dancing are you doing these days?

I’m getting into movement that is kind of “released”—based more on following through on momentum than on making shapes. It’s like meditation, really, finding that place where you’re not holding on too tightly or too loosely.

How does dancing make you feel?
Sometimes it makes me feel kind of expansive and in love, other times my body feels restrictive and disoriented. It’s a different body every day.

Did you dance with your mom?
Not really. She used to like dancing, though. In the living room, mostly. She had these really pretty twirly things she would do with her wrists.

What’s it like being a bartender?

For me, it’s just the most tolerable job in the service industry. There are people who bring a lot of artistry to it, but I’m not one of them.

Do you ever think about whether it is right action or not?
I don’t think whether it is or isn’t “right action” is inherent. I think it depends on the quality of the intention. I know people who really have a passion for making perfect drinks, and showing the customers a good time, and for them, why not? We can’t all be developmental therapists at a nonprofit for abandoned animals or whatever.

I’m going to say a word or phrase, and you respond with whatever comes to mind. What’s the best long-life practice?
Oh my gosh. I feel like I am being quizzed. O.K.: Look both ways before you cross the street.

Honesty?
The idea of just telling the truth all the time can be iffy, since the truth changes so often. But I think being brutally honest with yourself about your intentions and what is really motivating you in any given situation is very important. Hopefully that awareness can encourage some discipline around what you say and do.

Generosity or boundaries?

Generosity—if it’s really natural and you’re not giving to get back; if that’s not real, then boundaries.

Free love or monogamy?
I think they’re both really complicated.

Previous careers?
Apprentice sushi chef, waitress (a bad one—a terrible waitress).

Words of advice for young folks trying to bring dharma into their everyday life?

One of the keys to having a dharma practice that really works is to have it be something that is ordinary—that has nothing to do with an identity, or any super-special cool things you’re doing, or anything separate from just waking up in the morning and going through your day.

Photograph by Doug Adesko

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