Some folks have pointed out to me that I often write glowingly of my time in the Monastery, but they’d like to hear about my time now as a father and husband and householder.
I am very grateful for the time living in the monastery in my twenties. It was like having a huge blank canvas to find my own process. To have to sit still and learn the secret language of my internal storm, as it had been so powerful and unconscious before. I had great struggles, great experiences, great transformations, great healing. I had an intense need to have a deep realization about the nature of reality, and so I lived that life.
I was lucky enough to get out of the scene before I got too bitter, before the system started to suffocate my real path, which does not belong to any religion or practice. Many folks we know stayed too long. I would have too, but my wife and I got a wonderful surprise named Rose, who was conceived in Japan. This meant we had to leave to monastery. There was no choice. So we left while still deeply in love with the training. Leaving like this is very rare.
I met my wife at the monastery. The first several years we knew each other were pretty nasty, passionate, turbulent times. She showed me my demons, my co-dependence, my insecurities. I was a real mess. A walking ki problem, with all of the accompanying emotions. And so our friendship was a way for me to work out some of that stuff.
When I came back to the states, I thought I was going to be the next spiritual guru, the next Adyashanti. But instead I found that generally when I talk too much about spirituality I tend to feel a little smarmy, like I need an oil change. Integration for me has been finding ways to offer myself to others in a way that jives with this internal truth compass. With this life of zazen. One issue with a lot of us former monastics is that we’ve really benefited from the training, but need time to find an appropriate way to share ourselves in the real world. At first when we come back, we’ve got way too much focus. We’re like focus machines, peering into everything and everyone. It takes us a while to get out of everyone’s face, quit giving advice to people, chill out. This is a big transition.
I chose to work in a healing context, as that is the closest to my experience of healing from the inside out on the meditation cushion in Japan. These days I am in love with the artistry of helping others discover their own internal process, their own “true north”. I am secretly trying to transmit the felt sense of finding our own light to my clients. My sessions with clients are really a practice in discovering what is most essential, finding the internal compass to help each person harmonize with life. I’ve been studying SourcePoint Therapy for the last several years, and that has been a wonderful context to continue to explore reality and communication in a healing context with clients. In Craniosacral Therapy there is a phrase: The Breath of Life. It comes from the Bible. It is Christian. It often refers to a powerful unknown guiding force which sometimes dramatically shifts a Craniosacral session. But I think it describes my life very well. I feel that we are living in the breath of life. That is a good way to talk about my life, work, way of moving through life. It is not exotic or somewhere else but just the beauty of experience. After doing our training, we are very comfortable living within this breath of life.
My three daughters are so gorgeous and brilliant. They have demolished any former unconscious corner of my mind which felt superior as a man. I am swimming in estrogen. Someone is always yelling at my house, or crying, or emoting, or bossing me around and telling me, “No!”. My main form of bonding is as the wrestling partner and movie watcher. I tell bad jokes like any other dad. Being a dad has humbled me, exhausted me, made my functioning container much bigger. I am more patient. Our lives are just very real. Not abstract. Not glamorous. We get everyone fed. Our main hope as parents is to let their spirits soar, allowing them their own process canvas, to explore how they will uniquely move through the world. Allowing them to stay connected to their own internal compass, as we are all born knowing our own “true north.”
Zen really taught us to become what is in front of us. Well, kids are the best practice for that. If you think you are good at that, try playing Barbies for a couple of hours… See how open and flexible you are. The Roshi has nothing on a four year old with a Barbie plan. Chances are, you’ll be freaking exhausted afterward.
I am so blessed to have Teresa Shojun as my wife. She is the strong one. The sturdy one. Luminous and ethereal and practical, a Minnesotan, she jumps into the Salish sea at any time of year, like some strange gaelic selkie. Her way of expressing her internal process through life is very different than mine. And she is very patient.
Teresa and I communicate really well, and are very lucky to have each other. Having been through the monastery together, we grew up there, really, So our formative years were in Japan. That is a very special and fortunate bond, as any other partner would have to put up with my steady barage of bad Japanese references and goofy Japanglish patois!
Being a husband, father, artist, former monk, I am most inspired these days by artists and rebels, people who have found their own way, their own light. I think everyone must do this in life, in their unique and personal way. I like the rule breakers, and I also identify with the very vulnerable sincere fools.
After sitting all of those hours, zazen for us is always there. Zazen is an energetic practice whereby the person sitting is guided how to open up to the way of the universe through a sensory tactile melding into the very source of everything. Zazen is not a technique, nor can it be taught or learned through techniques or ideas. It is the universe ushering us how to be in harmony with it, and meld with the essential way of everything. At first, this seems to take incredible effort, but with time, we discover that it is to just be completely natural. Our basic nature is in harmony with everything, and zazen teaches us how to cellularly meld with each moment. For me, it is like being led by God.
Nowadays, we always have an internal process going on. There is always something to do. Life is no longer something to be navigated by trying to mentally figure out how to react or live, but by a sensual dance with the living fabric texture of everything. In this way, our lives are really lives of zazen. It is always trying to happen. One way I like to describe some of how I go about my day is to meld with every room I enter. Becoming each situation, dialing in to feeling harmonious with each thing I encounter, knowing when something aligns with this dharma and when it is unclear. Knowing when I am stuck, and sensing into how to open up. Doing this, there is a natural brightness in our lives, which has no meaning or reason, it is our basic nature shining. That’s our birthright. Most people overthink stuff and our emotions become trapped in our bodies, bringing in the clouds. But with this way of being, centered in this great framing Godly context, our internal guide is always there. In that context, we are led to great honesty, vulnerability, great power, great faith in the universe, joy for no reason. Living like this, in each moment, confusion goes away. It is much more a felt sense than something to be understood.
Kensho, satori, deep realization, those are real and completely wonderful. Don’t let anyone say that they are not real or possible. They are possible for everyone. I highly recommend them. But we each have to find our own way, our own process of discovery. It is not about trying to imitate anyone else. With that deep sincerity, our practice will ripen. No one is left out. And then, with integration, doing what feels right in our cells, aligns with the universe, which we’ve learned from being molded by this life force. To realize this great life energy, which is not about less or more or cultivation. It is innate and everywhere. To live in this way is constantly creative and exciting. Our point of view is always being opened up by being receptive to each new circumstance.
One thing I found with many people who have done monastic practice is that they went really deep in a way. They dove inside of themselves. Discovered something innate, beautiful, liberating. But somehow they did not find a way to make it their own. They did not find in their process a way to make it a realization of everything they do. It must be that what we realize is a different way of experiencing everything, not just a way to experience enlightenment in isolation. We have to find a way to have practice be something that is happening all the time. This takes incredible creativity. To deepen into each experience. To remember to remember. To not be lazy with this. To not make life dual. When looking at the trees when out for a walk, to be removing the barrier between ourselves and the trees. To allow zazen into our lives at each moment, playing, exploring, testing. A life of honest creativity. How can zazen be right now? How can it be in all moments? When is it hard for me to do zazen? At the busy farmers market with all of the noise and people to see? Or with a two year old smacking me with a toy car? Or a teenager slamming doors? The point for me is that there is great need for constantly being very curious, fascinated with the possibility of deepening our lives at each moment. This is trying to happen anyway, so we’ve just got to get with the program.
We must live a fresh life. Full of mistakes and tough times and stress. But with a joy running through all of them, being right in the middle of our experience, being uplifted by this great life energy. Sharing this very humbling light with everyone. This is the ever deepening and joyous work of this dad and husband and artist. Including everything. Living in the breath of life, in the palm of the Buddha. Integrating kensho into this life.
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