David Armbruster: Kayaking the Adirondacks

David Armbruster described his life to me in chapters. At 74 years of age, one would expect him to have tens of chapters to describe his life. Yet, highlighting his ruminative and humbled personality, David has only three.   

Chapter One: Killing of the Spirit

From watching David talk about this chapter, I know why it has its name. David was born in Wisconsin on a dairy farm to a strict and religious family. During his childhood, he was a victim of abuse. It was hard for David to embrace himself and fully grow into who he was, and he was never given the chance to truly just “play” like the other kids. Although David was affected by sensitive events in his youth, it is clear from talking with him that he seems to be at peace with his past. Yet, it is still apparent that both visible and invisible wounds once dampened David’s spirit. 

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Chapter Two: Professional Years

Daivd didn’t let his tough childhood deter him from working hard and becoming successful. Wanting to give back and use his education to teach others, David became an educator. He taught high school for six years and at the college level for thirteen. Wanting to move from academia to the corporate world, David accepted a job from the manufacturing company 3M where for five years he designed a staff training curriculum. Having enjoyed that experience but looking for something new, he decided to move over to the Information Technology sector of the company. 

During this time, David did a lot of soul searching and realized he wasn’t happy working with computers. He explained, “I had the perseverance, I could stick with it, but it just wasn’t me.” So David woke up one morning, walked into his boss’s office, and told him he couldn’t do computers anymore. 

Many people in the same situation would expect to be fired. How could someone work in IT, not want to work with computers, and expect to keep his job? But 3M valued David and all of his work so much that they gave him two months to write his own job description. Motivated by his desire to help others, David decided to go into team-building. During his time soul searching he had learned the practice of mindfulness mediation and used this to help employees connect with themselves and with others. 

Finally, David felt like he was doing what he was meant to be doing. 

Chapter Three: Reclaiming of the Spirit

The impetus for David to begin his practice of mindfulness meditation was a Native American vision quest that he embarked on during his time in IT. He fasted for three days and three nights, drinking only water. On one of these days he was told to walk around a field and make observations about the things that he saw. David noticed spiders, nests, and plants that he never had seen before. Despite all of the interesting ecology and wildlife he observed, David fixated on one black-eyed Susan flower. It was in a bed of other flowers of the same type, but this one flower was much shorter and had many holes. 

David took time to examine other parts of the field as well, but he always came back to the black-eyed Susan. When the day was done, he was told that whatever he fixated on the most during his time observing the field was a reflection of himself. David realized that the holes and height of the black-eyed Susan resembled his childhood and the wounds he suffered. Despite the short height of the flower, it was still standing upright, just as David still holds his head high today. 

While this experience allowed David to see how wounded he truly was, David described his imperfect younger years as his biggest gift. Without them, he would never have begun his spiritual journey or embarked on his vision quest. David explained that “there is not a day that goes by that I am not impacted by that vision quest,” and he believes it was one of the most defining moments in his life. The vision quest also stimulated David to begin his study of Buddhism, which he has been practicing for over thirty years. 

The Transition Period

David feels that he can usually sense when his life is transitioning into a new chapter, and that’s what he thinks is going on right now. All his life, David has known how to get things done, how to work, but he has never “played” and acted like a kid. David was forced to grow up at an early age, and now that he is retired with free time, he wants to have some fun. This is what drew him to Great Camp Sagamore. David moved to New York about twelve years ago from Minneapolis and never explored the Adirondacks before his trip to Sagamore. When he found out he could learn about the region while also learning how to kayak, David knew he had to take part in the Road Scholar program, “Kayaking the Adirondacks.”

Upon reflecting on his time here, it was evident that David loved every part - even the black flies! He explained that in Buddhism, they use two arrows to describe “suffering.” The first arrow represents the bad thing, in this case the black flies. The second arrow is what you make of the situation. Often times, it is the second arrow that causes the most pain. David came to Great Camp Sagamore because he wanted to learn about a new place. So, hit with the black flies, David decided not to let them cause him too much pain, instead embracing the situation as a learning experience about the insects and wildlife of the Adirondacks. 

David served as an inspiration to all of the staff here at Great Camp Sagamore, taking the time to talk with us individually and give us wise advice. He told us, “If you can learn how to be present in the midst of chaos, you can navigate life differently.” It is evident that David has learned this great gift. 

By: Alisha Kewalramani

Alisha Kewalramani is the Administrative Intern at Great Camp Sagamore. She is a rising sophomore at Cornell University studying Information Science and Systems Technology. When she’s not at the office, you can find her paddling on Sagamore Lake or playing frisbee outside the Chalet. Check back to her “Voices of Great Camp Sagamore” blog to learn about the individuals that visit Camp throughout the summer.