Our Stories: Dana Samani
By Paul Gibb
Which of our members would describe herself as “a mostly self-educated, idealistic aging hippie, semi-monastic non-dual Buddhist mystic, radical feminist and fierce lover of Gaia, a natural-born questioning trouble-maker, and a quiet peacenik trans-woman?”
Which of our members grew up in poverty and could not afford college, and so worked as a farmworker, general laborer, dishwasher, janitor, and landscape gardener; has also operated forklifts, backhoes, trenchers, boom trucks, drill rigs, and farm tractors; has also worked as a carpenter, painter, roofer, and concrete worker; has also been a residential construction job superintendent and later a field superintendent for commercial wind farm projects; was a Colorado-licensed Master Electrician and electrical contractor for 20 years; worked as an assistant librarian; a meditation and yoga teacher; a volunteer respite care provider for hospice; a personal care provider; and finally was able to earn a college degree, Summa Cum Laude, at the age of 59? If you guessed Dana Samani, you are correct.
From fifth grade onward, Dana grew up in south central Kansas in a Fundamentalist Southern Baptist family, which was very traumatic because “Southern Baptist ministers pounded on the pulpit, called us horrible sinners, and told us we would burn in Hell…” But still, in the regional Baptist youth group, Dana found a way to “sneak off with a few others and smoke weed when no one was watching…” In the Sunday School, “there was a crazy man teaching who thought the Flower Power stickers popular at that time were a Communist plot. They were all just plain psycho. And I pretty well rejected Christianity by the time I was 14.” In high school Dana started reading about other world religions, and felt drawn toward Eastern religions.
She first came to Colorado in 1978, after spending five years after high school in the university town of Lawrence KS, “a little blue dot in the middle of big red Kansas,” where she learned Zazen meditation and Kundalini yoga at the age of 19.
Dana was married for 32 years, and was the primary support for her household. She feels grateful that, being self-employed for many years, she was able to spend a lot of time caring for her son Will when he was little. Will (now 38) and Dana continue to enjoy a close relationship.
Twice in her life, Dana found herself working as a pioneer, at the cutting edge of renewable energy development. In 1983-86, she was supervising construction of some of the first wind farms in the Altamont Pass region, east of the San Francisco Bay area, and in the desert near Palm Springs, California. In 1997-2000, she was designing and installing both stand-alone and grid-tied photovoltaic systems, at a time when the technology barely existed to do so, many building inspectors had no idea how to inspect such systems, and utility companies were fighting hard to avoid paying for the power being produced.
How did Dana get to UUism? “When my son was 8 years old and I was in my mid-30s, my wife and I decided our son needed some religious background. So we went to the UU Church of Boulder briefly in 1991 or 1992.” But they gave it up because their son didn’t like the Sunday school, and Dana kept getting asked to volunteer for something. “We were this young hippie-looking couple with an eight-year-old child. But we weren’t there long. We gave it up and went back to being simple agnostics, and our son turned out okay, even without a religious upbringing.”
Around 2010 Dana attended an evening Transgender panel at BVUUF, which had made her think our congregation might be a good fit. But it was not until January 2017, after having a cardiac pacemaker implanted, that she started attending regularly, seeking a larger support community.
Dana describes herself as a “non-dual Buddhist” who goes to a UU Fellowship. “I’m not sure I’m a very good UU, though. I can agree with all the precepts, but I don’t have a background similar to most people in the Fellowship. I feel a bit at the edge theologically, socio-economically, and in other ways.” But nevertheless she likes the BVUUF community, saying, “… it feels funny, because of my childhood trauma issues with religion, being in a building that looks and smells a lot like a church. But I’m here for this community, and I’m staying here because these are good people.”
What about her transitioning? From Dana: “The fact that I am transgender is not the most important thing to know about me, even though it seems to be very interesting to many people. I have spoken from the pulpit over the last two years or so about some of the details and circumstances of my transition. To anyone who is interested, I suggest they go onto the BVUUF website and listen to archived recordings of these talks. In brief, I might say that my transition story is not much different from that of many people of my generation, and that it is quite different from that of most young transgender people growing up and coming of age now.”
She goes on: “Being transgender has at times been both a blessing and a curse to me. Being transgender felt like a curse, in that I lost almost everything and everyone in my life because of my need to transition. And I know firsthand how it feels to be called an ‘ugly bitch’ and how it is to feel certain that I am about to be killed because I am transgender.
“I have been blessed by having experienced the gender binary from both sides, and to know how it is to live as a man and how it is to live as a woman in our society. I understand both the unconsciousness of White Male Privilege to the one who has it, as well as its obviousness to those who don’t. To some extent I can extrapolate that to Class Privilege, which helps me to be more compassionate within this Fellowship as a working class person. And I know how it is to be seen as ‘less’ (intelligent, important, desirable, valuable) and invisible as an older woman.
“I’m also blessed by the confidence I have gained through being able to rebuild a new life for myself, starting from scratch, over the last 10 or so years.”
Dana’s greatest joys? “Just being outside in nature for hours and hours, watching children and their young mothers interacting, and dissolving into beautiful music.”
Dana’s name is two words from the Buddhist Pali language. “Dana” translates as “generosity freely-offered” and “Samani” (similar to the Sanskrit “Sramana”) translates as “contemplative, renunciant, wanderer.” The last name should be pronounced with the stress on the first syllable.
Dana should be remembered for a long time at BVUUF, not only because of her being a Service Associate on Sundays but also for her long hard work with the Building Team. And also because she is highly intelligent, extremely articulate, creative, and fun to be with.