Tassajara 2017 – at the Wind Caves. Photo by Corinna.
Here is a piece I wrote for Zen Center’s 50th anniversary Windbell in 2012, which tells one version of my story:
I did not intend to study Buddhism, nor did I have the sense that I was drawn to it by my own suffering. My aim in life, from the onset of adolescence, was to try to live authentically, however that might mean. From the time I left college until I was thirty-five, I lived in London, with, eventually, a steady and rewarding career at the BBC, a nice apartment, a jazz band, a warm circle of friends and a wide range of cultural activities. Yet I always sensed there was more to come. From my particular karmic roots, some of whose proximate causes I knew then, I thought it had to do with love.
I came to Zen Center having met someone who lived there. I was curious to know what part zen training played in making this person who they were. I knew some Buddhists in London, mostly practicing in the Tibetan tradition, and had appreciated them as good people, saying to myself that I should investigate this one day, in the way that I also did about voice training, or salsa dancing. When the opportunity came to move to San Francisco, it seemed natural to take it.
I don’t know why I found it fit my life so well. I didn’t especially enjoy zazen, but willingly followed the schedule. Two years at City Center were followed by two years of Tassajara, learning to get used to being cold, tired and hungry much of the time, and to having precious little unscheduled time where I could do what I wanted. But I loved it, and when I left, all I could think of was coming back. It took me two years, and a huge upheaval – since karma has a way of coming to trip you up – but I had the firm sense that being a priest was what I wanted to do with my life, and I couldn’t think of a better place to pursue that path.
I feel very lucky to have been able to practice at Zen Center, where it is possible to follow something like traditional monastic training for many years, a deep learning that I hope will launch me on a teaching career in due time. I can’t say exactly why I want to teach, but I feel strongly that this is a way of living that presents great possibilities of peace and joy, and I want others to have the chance to experience this for themselves. In the last year, I have been helping to run the new Young Urban Zen group, which has been an amazingly rewarding opportunity to put this desire into practice and to see the benefits of sharing the teachings.
I take great comfort in knowing that there is no end to practice, no exam to pass, no time when you can consider yourself finished, but that you can keep the practice alive for as long as you stay committed to it. Although I have a different idea now of how it manifests in the world, I still think it has to do with love.
See also this recent piece; this, which is a more recent oral telling of the story; this article from Zen Center’s website, and this post. If you would like to be in touch, you can email me at email@example.com