Discovered this book picks and goes light on yoga when I was 18, right before going to college, and I would do some yoga practice and then practice out of that book over the summer and when I got to college and then several weeks after I got there, I was. He’s got this little section in the back of the Book of Pranayama like breath work exercises, which he says not to try at home, only do this with a qualified teacher. And I was 18 and. A little bit. Reckless and went and tried several like a number of them, and I started noticing I could sort of find this energy in my body through that, and I kept playing with that energy and eventually that led to just a pretty intense awakening experience. That. Changed my whole mind after that, after that, that experience, I couldn’t I couldn’t really go back to normal. Something had shifted and. My life became a little bit crazy. Um. And. The word in the in that tradition that they use is Kundalini. And there’s this whole like sort of story or mythos around that, those kinds of experiences. And I knew I knew what was happening and I knew that. The Western people wouldn’t really know what was going on, and I knew that probably if I wanted to have support in this, it would come from eastern traditions and practices. And so I made contact with a my. My dad had been doing ashtanga yoga for a number of years already, and I knew his yoga teacher might know something about it, so I contacted her. She lives in Ann Arbor. Her name is Angela still teaches Ashtanga and I. Was that college, I was 18, and I basically sent her an email being like, help, I don’t know what to do about this. Like, there’s all kinds of things happening in my mind that are very hard to manage. And I met her over Thanksgiving break. And she gave me some breathing exercises to calm down and was like, look like you can decide whether you want to. To walk this path. And I was like, this is the coolest thing that’s happened in a long time. It is pretty terrifying, but also really a lot of like. Positive kind of ecstatic experiences started opening up for me, and so I started doing ashtanga with her to just help ground the system. Um, and, you know, took the next year off of college, went to India for a few months and studied, studied yoga and went back to college and kept trying and sort of gradually integrate these practices into my life. It’s very difficult in college to do that. I didn’t have very much community there around it for a little while. Um. And then in, I think it was 20. 17 in the spring. Uh. I had a friend, I was connected with this guy from college. It was funny. We had a mutual friend who said, Hey, you guys are both really into spirituality. You should connect. And so we did, and I told him about my experience in India, and he told me about his experience living. He did a three month training period at a Zen monastery in upstate New York called Diversity Zendo, and the training period called KASEI. And, you know, there is something about him that like. Um, I could tell something something had worked for him there. He had a little bit of that like Zen than juice moving in his system and um. So I. At some point that spring, he organized helped organize a group of people to go up a group of students to visit Dinosaur two. And I went and that was my first trip. There was very, very powerful for me. I remember I couldn’t really sleep. There was so much like energy and excitement in my system, and I slept for like two hours and woke up the next day and worked all day and felt great. And it was just. Uh. It’s taken me a long time in a way to digest like the not like initial encounter with Zen and the Dharma Um, but after that I started practicing a lot like kind of. You know, most of the rest of college, I was sitting and met like doing asana for several hours a day in between classes and outside of classes and trying to just kind of live like a monk as much as I could in college. And I started visiting monasteries. I went I spent 33 weeks a day or two that summer, and then I went back to India the next winter and then. I did spend some time in the Ann Arbor Zen Buddhist temple and Great Valleys and monastery and sort of. The thought of going and spending time in monasteries became the main thing that I was doing outside of outside of. Classes and. And then. When I was a senior, after I got back from great, wow, so great Val has this summer program where they, um, you know, have a group of mostly young people there. It’s kind of a summer immersion for that. They have a couple of ways they’ve designed the program, but maybe about six weeks over the summer. And it’s like very affordable, like $250 and. Um. I went in that program was amazing for me, and I was like, Why aren’t there, why isn’t there a program that connects young people to zen monasteries for happier experiences? It’s so obvious. Like there’s all these monasteries and there’s all these young people, and most of the young people don’t know about the monasteries, and it’s like the best possible gap your experience you could have for the right kind of person. So I had that idea, and I. I called up a friend about it. His name is Miles, who I’m still working with, and Miles graduated from the same university, Wesleyan University, in 2011, and he spent about five years after graduation, basically practicing in Asia and in solitary retreat in the US and. Um, I said, Hey, Miles, like, why doesn’t this exist? And he said, I don’t know, that’s a good idea. It should exist. And basically from that conversation. I started working with him and just sort of I started working with this entrepreneurship center on Wesley and campus and just kind of moving the ball forward slowly around, like what would it take to make a nonprofit dedicated to connecting young people to practice and. The way that year worked, people just kept being like, this is a good idea, and I kept doing things and I graduated and we had some grant funding and moved into the Ann Arbor Zen Buddhist temple here and was doing yoga with my teacher and working at a little local farm stop and. Practicing. And. Yeah, so I lived there for eight months, and then in March of 2020, I moved into the monastic academy, which is a. And sort of modern monastery in northern Vermont led by saw you for all who the student of Harada Roshi, it’s a little bit of a mixed and a practice environment, and I was there for nine months. Then I. I left and. I’ve sort of been sorting out some things in my energy body and here in Ann Arbor and like still doing yoga, I’m still practicing. I think Ashtanga and Buddhism have very much like mixed up in my nervous system, and I just do both and that’s what it is. And. Yeah, I’m I’m working to keep keep moving things forward with diamond gates and get in a position where where I feel like I, I’m ready to go back to another monastery or go back in a deeper retreat practice. Maybe next year, I don’t know what what will happen next, but there’s definitely like. More more to do on that on that front.
I definitely. There’s certain kinds of experiences that, for me, have been accessible in retreat that are just. You know, every every retreat I’ve done. It’s still like changing something really deep in you that doesn’t fully go away. And. A lot of the like. Actual relief from suffering in the dome is supposed to offer relief from suffering, a lot of that has come from retreat. Because you can get deep enough into the mind. You can just find these places in you that are basically OK. Despite a lot and then you come out of retreat and the whole world is there and we’ll be doing all the things it does, but that it if it’s like if you get deep enough, you’re it doesn’t really hit you the same. Um, you’re just kind of like, OK. And this is interesting because there can even be surface level stuff that’s like not integrated and still causing you suffering, but your relationship to that suffering is very different. Like you have more distance and it’s more OK that it’s happening. So. To me, one like there’s a number of reasons, one, I think it’s important that people know that those opportunities are there. Like, there’s this notion of refuge, like if you need to leave everything, if you need to, if something is happening in your mind and you need to go just like sit alone in a cabin for years and sort it out, you can do that. And people should know that I think people in our culture should know that that’s possible. So they’re not like trapped between drugs in an asylum or like if you’re just, you know, a complete misfit it. It might not work. It might be rough, it might be rocky, but like you should, you could try it and and a lot of people have done that historically. Or if you care about the world a lot and you don’t know how to make a difference, like having a clearer mind helps a lot with sort of being able to clearly perceive what to do and how to respond and having enough energy to respond to situations effectively. So there’s a lot of good reasons to go to a monastery like I don’t think people understand. How many good reasons there are to go to a monastery because it’s not just to like, get out or to escape the world or something, it’s like it’s a training center to learn a specific set of skills that most people never have the opportunity to learn. And it? In my experience is better than anything else I’ve encountered for relieving suffering, um. And it’s also equips you uniquely well to like, heal address suffering in the world, and both of those are very neat like those are. That’s what that’s all there is to do as far as I can tell. So. Yeah, I mean, I think there’s nuance around, like certain people with certain mental health backgrounds or certain trauma histories like you should be cautious with diving into the deep, that sort of end of practice. And in some ways, I sort of dove in too deep, too fast, but I don’t regret it. And. Uh. I think it’s really important that people have that context of what’s what’s possible, what’s out there and just meeting some monks like meeting some people who devote their life to the practice can change your whole view of the world because. Having this experience that, oh, there’s people who know, like there are people who know. To a far deeper level than I do. And most people do like what to do and how to be is that’s an amazing thing. Even if you go go for a monastery once and you have a deep encounter with one of the teachers are, you know, monastics, it’s um. That changes your view of the world. And. Yeah, so I in some ways I like, I think it’s important. On the level of one’s personal practice, but also to be aware of where you’re situated in the context of. The teachings, you know, like it was always very traditional for laypeople to have a relationship with a monastic community, and I think I think there’s there’s still room in like a role for that in our culture.
It was really rocky for the first couple of years because like. You know, so there’s the general outline of the path that the Buddha kind of described, which is you do all this work to purify ethics, get your lifestyle in line, maybe start practicing, start like meditating a little bit or whatever. And then but you move into the deeper aspects of the path towards like somebody cultivation on the groundwork of ethics and. I didn’t have that experience like it. I. For me, I was in college, I was like drinking and smoking and partying and hanging out with people and like having all this casual sex and like. My my precepts were not in order. My my is in the Amazon in yoga where they were not were not in order. And so when when you have an awakening experience in that kind of mind? You will be. You have to sort things out. You cannot like you cannot mess around and it like it was like borderline psychotic for periods of time. And mostly that was because of the unresolved like habit stuff and the unresolved ethical stuff that that I was working with. And um, there’s this huge like energy coming through you that’s moving towards the path. And then there’s all of this like negativity and all these patterns and stuff that that. You know, I was still trying to hang out with my friends and drink and smoke and like, do this whole thing in my the kundalini was just like , no, like, you can’t smoke weed anymore, like you can’t drink, you can’t eat meat you can’t like. And and I gradually, I mean, I realized pretty quickly that I had to listen. It wasn’t like I wasn’t trying to fight consciously, but I did. It took me a long time to sort of like work my way out of some like basic substance. If I have patterns with substances and stuff like that. And um. Yeah, I was. It was a long period of time. It was several years and I ashtanga was incredibly helpful for that. Like, I perceive Ashtanga as being very, very good at that kind of work because a lot of a lot of like addiction. And that sort of base like bodily craving stuff is really, um, it’s like how it’s like, how is your energy moving? Like, how is your partner moving? And if you’re if you’re like in yoga, they use the term Satwik. Like if you if you. Um, if your body is soft enough, if it’s like pure enough energetically, you won’t have these kinds of cravings for um, substances and like unwholesome things. So, yeah, Ashtanga was really, really good for me for that. When you start having a lot of energy. Then you’re like your negative patterns can kind of get empowered to. So. There is this I think Zen was a little bit mixed for me at first because I did like learning horror concentration and breathing, which you you learn to cultivate a lot of energy, but I think it it. I don’t know if it was the best first practice or not, because I think it like may have made some things more difficult by just making me more confident in certain delusions. For a little while.
Well, I think back to the question of like, how do I choose where to practice or what’s trustworthy or, you know, worth learning from? Um. Generally, I could explain how I go about it, which I think is maybe helpful, uh, is. So a lot of projects, a lot of lineages. How are fractures like sort of broke off from a main lineage? one student probably studied with a teacher for a certain amount of time and then fracture it off and created their own thing and. Generally, I. I’m not interested in those unless like there’s there’s a very good reason. Like if the person did a lot of time with a very well known lineage or teacher and they left and are very like public and clear about why and they. You know, seemed like grounded in that understanding, then there’s probably a good reason and that as an individual might be worth studying with, um. There’s a couple of projects in the US where that’s been done that I would like maybe be interested in, but. Generally, it seems like. Fracturing from a main lineage is a very big decision. And if it’s like made carelessly that person’s like, it’s probably not worth it, um. And the reason is that. Um. A lot of this comes from my my teacher, Angela, but she’s sort of emphasized to me and I think this is true that. A lot of the practice comes from spending its time in relationship, it’s like it’s it’s being in relationship over time with someone and and there’s this. The way lineages lineage reproduces is that a teacher gives a student permission to teach, and that means that there’s a certain kind of like standard being upheld there. And. If a person is leaving before that, if a person is not. Doesn’t have permission to teach in leaves before that, there’s probably a reason that they don’t. And a lot of the times when there’s these sort of like sublineages or weird projects that you don’t really understand the relationship. two to like traditional Buddhism. A lot of times there’s. They aren’t actually teaching the same thing, or they. Aren’t doing so in integrity. And then there’s other people who who probably like. I don’t know this is getting complicated very quickly, so it’s so hard. But I look at like, were there major scandals in this lineage in very recent history? Like, do they seem to they have a good generally like track record reputation if there was a scandal that they like, come clean and like, really own it? Did they really have a process of reconciliation and do the teachers seem? You know, ethical and kind and like like they really like, you know, are they? Are you interested in listening to the like, do you do you like? Do you like working with them is really important? Um, do you want to be like them? All of those feel important to me, like there’s different, different approaches, have slightly different qualities or emphases in practice. And and I think there’s something important about like practicing to realizing you’re going to embody the qualities of the lineage you work with. Um, and so so yeah. And then broadly speaking. Like. There seem to be main lines like primary. Lineages in the US that have made it here and have reproduced significantly, and once you understand, learn, spend enough time understanding that the sort of main lineages that are active in the Buddhist world, you will get a sense, you get a sense of like where people fit in. And then it becomes easier to engage with like little pop up projects that are emerging because you’re like, Oh, like you studied with this teacher for this amount of time and then you started this side project are like a Dharma adjacent project and. And that it’s probably trustworthy if you did like 20 years, you know, as a monk with like a very good teacher, you’re probably not messing around. Like, there’s probably a lot there, but if it was like three or four years and you don’t, they’re not like explicitly on good terms with the lineage, then that’s a very different story about what that probably means for that project. So, um yeah, a lot of it’s like. Yes. In the in the drama world, it seems like, um, trustworthiness and like the the. Credibility of any anybody’s claims are kind of grounded on. You know, how long did they spend training intensively with another trustworthy person? And those are those people on good terms. And. Yeah, what what how good are they with for their students elections and Young’s thing where he’s like, How do you tell a good teacher? Someone asked him and he said by their students. So that’s another one. It’s sort of a collage, though there’s like a number of different factors red flags like things you’re watching out for it to try to get a sense of things. And um. Oftentimes when there’s one red flag, there’s more or like like they sort of cluster together, so it can be pretty easy once you get like a little bit of a. And I pray for this, that kind of thing.
Fruit of practice
Well, you can let go of a lot that’s probably the most. The most. The easiest thing to generalize about those experiences is that you release a lot of. Stories and. Clinging like release a lot of. Views and beliefs and preconceptions you have about the world, and I think that is the most important thing is. Especially, I mean, for young people, but for anybody in this world, our culture right now is like. It’s like, what’s that metaphor, it’s like built of of like cards. It’s like a house of cards. Most institutions. Most. Things we interact with in this world are. Built on some kind of lie. Or exploitation like this is a byproduct of capitalism like and all sorts of things, but. A lot. We’re surrounded by I think the best word for it is bullshit. And the Dharma is basically about discernment, like it’s like seeing what’s true and what’s not true. This is yoga to is like learning to hone your ability to see what’s true and what’s not. And. I think to some extent, like our future as a species depends on people’s discernment about what’s true and what’s not true and how many people continue to live their lives on the basis of like dead stories like stories that are destroying the world and stories that are. You know, we’re made up several hundred years ago by deeply deluded people. Um, so the the best case scenario for anyone, I think going to practice at a for a longer period of time somewhere is letting go of some of these basic stories about the world that that are destroying it, that are destroying us. And then the actual practical effect of that is you can make decisions better, like you have a different value system. And that value system allows you to choose what to do in your life when you’re confronted with with difficulty in a way that’s actually in accord with with what’s right and what’s true . And what helps people in the world and not going along with. You know, if you don’t investigate your beliefs, you’re going along with like this current of of society’s beliefs. And most of society’s beliefs right now are like pretty terrible, like a lot of them are really bad. You don’t want them. You don’t want to participate in any longer than you have to. So it’s just like un, like un. Get yourself out for like a little while as much as you can of of that. And from there, you can take that forward into the world and like, know what to do. Like No, how do you be with this like dying system in the process of dying?
And then there’s this strong element of this. Permission to give yourself fully and almost this. Like, going to a Zen monastery is just this unabashed permission to like, break certain social norms like you just can, like most of the time you don’t like, look at people or talk to people when you’re walking around as an monastery, you just like kind of head down and just practicing. And there’s this way that. It felt it feels like in accord with. This sort of energy that was coming up in me that was like. This is the only thing to do. This is like what is what there is? And then like kind of honored that hole like that my whole being needs to go into this, that it can’t be it can’t be a part. And a lot of it is just the embodied experience of meeting the monks and like meeting the Roshi and being like. Seeing this, you know, I think the I think the the or that early awakening experience like open me up to be able to feel subtle energies, maybe more than a lot of people can. And I I walked into that today without Susanna and was like, This place is like a fire, but like, it’s like a it’s like a lightning storm of energy. And I just immediately like, fell into it and. You know, like the the roaches like emitting light. OK, well, this is I can’t argue with this, the sort of somatic experience I’ve been having that there’s like something here.
Ashtanga. Is in my understanding. Is. A very physical practice. There is a concentration element, too. But. The theory of awakening in Ashtanga is very much like there’s this, you basically do a lot of purification of the physical and subtle body through asana practice, which gets the mind adequately prepared for deep meditation. And then some people go on to do that deep meditation and other people don’t. But that’s the general theory. And so my experience of Ashtanga was that it was very like the way it was taught by my teacher is very integrated into lay life. It’s a lay practice. It’s. Slow and very. Deep and. I experience it as being very it was very good for me actually after that kundalini experience because it’s not. After that experience, like I already have the sort of like mind exploding like lights and firework type like stuff happening in my mind already. And what’s important after that was like grounding was like grounding the energy into the body. Learning how to like, get my habits and my like ethics and the other things in line so I could actually hold the amount of energy that was happening, like kundalini is like your nervous system. Unleashes this like dragon of energy, and you just have to like, learn how to manage it and um, and it’s high stakes, like if you don’t get kind of messed up, um, if you do, it’s amazing. So Ashtanga was kind of the perfect tool for that period, but. I went to college and. I didn’t really like being in college, and I didn’t really resonate very much with the campus culture. And. Going to die research, Rosendo. Basically, I resonated a lot with the ferocity of Zen, like the intensity and the rigor and the almost commitment to, like, give everything to the dharma, where in the yoga world, some somehow in the gentleness I. Um. I just feel more like I’m like, this is my life, like I want to give my life to this and I’m not very patient and I like the Zen, just like, just do it like just break through or just just go. Um, and this was a rinse center. So it’s a little more like that even. And I resonated a lot with that. Um, I didn’t receive very much meditation instruction when I went. It was just concentrate on your Dante end and count your breaths to to it in this specific posture and do that. And um. Then the other thing that happened was that technique worked did something very interesting to them, to my mind, like I very quickly. Like learned how to get very blessed out, like pretty fast, and that made me not want to do anything like I wouldn’t want to do anything other than meditate, and I had a few other friends who wanted one or two other friends in college who were like this to where we were just like. All we we go hang out and meditate in like. Before going to, parties would meditate and. It gave me. Permission to put all of my life energy into it or is this done? Are you sort of have to wait and be patient and like? And that’s a mixed bag, actually, because sometimes you can actually kind of mess yourself up by by over exert like. By exerting too much energy in ways that aren’t super skillful. And so I don’t think it was entirely like, I’m not convinced it was faster, really or anything for me, but. But it happened, and it feels like I couldn’t have avoided it kind of needed to happen, and I’m still, you know, sorting things out and learning from that experience and. And. It was like meditation, like zazen came in and just shook me up and completely changed my mind in a way that can’t really be undone. So I’m working from there now, like I’m not like looking back like, Oh, was that? It’s like my, you know, have to have to keep moving forward and trying to figure out how to work with this mind. Um. And. Yeah, I mean, I feel generally like I’m. I sense, since very early on in my practice, I’ve been pretty all in like I think one of the things that initial awakening experience did for me was like. Deeply destabilize my faith in. Um. That some kind of like the material world can support my happiness or something like there’s there’s. It’s very clear to me that there’s nothing else to do other than Madame, like what else? What else? Like there’s nothing else that’s reliable. So there’s one course of action that can either put all of my energy into it. Now or. Wait and on time until I have to put all my energy into it, like it’s not, it’s not like. There’s not doesn’t feel like there’s that much optionality around it.
I mean, in a lot of ways like that’s shaped my life now because I started Dharma Gates, partially because I didn’t have a Sangha, like I didn’t have a community of young people and I was like, Where are the other young people who are practicing? And so, um yeah, I spent a couple of years in college, really a year pretty isolated. Just trying to do it by myself, and then I met a little tiny community, there were like three of us and we would practice together, like pretty hard in college and. Then, you know, the the mission vision of diamond gates became to, like, help help. Find other people and help connect them to resources and things like that, so I mean, Tonga is like. You know, it’s a it’s incredibly important has been for me, uh, one of the things that. I think maybe the core of it is actually like for me has been. Meeting. And practicing alongside people deeper than I am. And there’s this sort of osmosis that happens, this sort of like sharing of vibes and absorbing of of the energy of the monastery or of a community and. You can learn a lot through that and. Over time, I feel like now I do know a lot of young people who practice and I have a lot of friends, all my friends practice in some ways that all my friends are gates, people and um. It has. It feels less like I feel less isolated. But I still. Would like, you know. I’m still strongly drawn to environments where I can be supported by people deeper than me or, you know, and so. Yeah, we’ll see where that takes me, but it’s a strong decision making factor in my life, like there’s some benefits to being not in a monastery right now. And um, and there’s also a lot of benefits to having that sort of close immersion in a community or just regular touching in with a community. Um, having like friends. Supporting you in your practice in that particular way, this can be really. I think it’s essential I don’t think it’s really possible to. Foley walked the path without that, actually.
I would love to, like, have a formal teacher that I like, really trusted and could work with for a while, and I’ve met a number of people like that like who I could work with in that way and I would feel good about it. I’ve never met someone. At least, yeah, right now I don’t have someone who I’m like, Oh, that’s my core teacher. Um. The closest to that has been my yoga teacher here in Ann Arbor, but. I want to probably want to be in a monastery, and there are certain things that she can’t teach me that I want to learn, and so, uh. That’s been part of it is like I’m drawn to this set of areas that like there’s no monastery where you can deeply practice ashtanga and zen. If there were, I’d be there. But but I have interests that are sort of disparate in different traditions right now. And. I definitely am considering like just a longer period of training or study at one center with one teacher, and I would just give up my yoga practice for a while or like soften it, you know? Um, that that’s it seems. Uh. Likely for me in the future, I see I definitely see the importance of that sort of long term relationship with one person. Um. I’ve worked with like a number of people in it for like. Anywhere from. eight months to five years with my current teacher ish, but um, Angela and. All have been helpful and different, and. Uh. I definitely don’t experience right now that like magic thing that can happen where you’re like, Oh, this person is my teacher and feel feel settled there and I don’t feel incredibly. Anxious about that, either, um. It seems OK, like doing some like solo practice recently, it’s been like really good, and I’m inspired by like Agent Cha was this tai forest master who. He called his teacher, I think, was a gentleman. And he met him once. He might have not been out, but it might have been a different idea, but he met him once and for his whole life. He called him his teacher and he just had this one interaction where he realized that the Dharma was real, basically. And then for the rest of his life, he just practiced. He just lived in the woods and practiced and like that. That’s pretty inspiring to me to like that. It is possible. It is, you know, once you have a certain grounding and faith. It is possible to do a lot of work on your own. And then also, it can be helpful sometimes to have a teacher and like. There are people who I want to work with one.