I learned about meditation as a youngster, but it wasn’t until around 2004 that I started going to the Dharma Punx group on Friday nights in SF (the Back of the Bus) and hearing the dharma talks there in a language I could understand and with people that looked like me that I really felt exposed. It became my path when I learned to walk again as a sober man in 2014. In early sobriety I held on to the dharma like a life raft. I literally took refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Thankfully, enough of the teachings seeped in from earlier, they were kind of lying in wait for my heart and mind to detox enough to truly absorb. Saved my ass – for real. Not that the philosophy is some sort of recovery program but it certainly offers a road map to a path of least resistance.
Yeah, super unintentional, and I would be super uncomfortable saying what type of person would come here? I’m going to reference a little bit the recovery model again. What I know about drug addiction and alcoholism is that it doesn’t discriminate at all. It discriminates as much as cancer or anything else at anybody from any class, color, sexual orientation, age, you name it it. It’s susceptible to suffering either through addiction or through ordinary or extraordinary things in life that that hurt them. I don’t know what an individual will come in and be comfortable with or not if they are uncomfortable and don’t want to to ride that out. It’s totally OK. I want to encourage anybody to stay here because it’s not cool if you’re not into it. We have just, as an example, an artist, an architect, a mechanic, a schoolteacher. Counselor, a builder. Yeah. These are just the professions that come in here. And as far as their economic status or sexual orientation, I couldn’t tell you and they know I. That’s just stuff that lands in the room. Yeah.
It’s been interesting. Our little group is coming on to just about a year. So I sort of had to have sort of had to show up with the same sort of attitude that I wanted other people to show up with. So like this is just kind of how I would do it if I didn’t have to obey any rules. And I want people to not feel that we have to abandon what’s going to come in here to come in here smelling like work or whether that attitude or proud of something or whatever. It makes me kind of feel good and feel at home to play some music. So I usually have some cut some rock music or tonight there was some reggae or something going. And I think that helps people just kind of show up. And just if they don’t know each other, they hear the music. And it’s just kind of noisy and rowdy and then just sort of feels like home. So they’re what did I say, loud noise, rowdy, that kind of thing. And I I like to see that. And I think we go at the meditation and the the teachings with that same sort of attitude. There’s never I really want to demystify it. You know, I’m not going to sit up here and act like I’m some sort of monk or scholar or anything else, just sort of a Buddhist geek and the like to share my experience and and do my best to draw out of the group people who show up what their experiences are to learn the most from each other that way. And there’s like I said tonight, and in many groups, there’s no there’s no separating dharma from the rest of life. The the whole idea is down the street, the street fight there. The we’re like serenading with a tambourine we had tonight that August brought into our practice. Now there’s nothing that doesn’t belong in there. Yeah. Can you specify? Yeah. Yeah. I love it. It’s a it’s a real interesting balance to to to be and act like a leader because I think there’s a certain element that that creates when there structure and there’s some point person, there’s some discipline. I think it creates a level of safety. And when that crosses into like an authoritarian sit this way act, this way, I get to talk, you don’t. And it seems to spill into sort of a separateness. The teachers that I learned from told me that the curriculum should come like second or third, maybe fourth in line and the first always being this connection is the ability to transmit authentic storytelling. I like, you know, bringing a personal aspect. Um, because I think that’s what Dharma is. It’s so personal. So, so intimate and. You know, I like the Buddhist model of teaching and not do it this way, but rather that this is what I’ve done and I’ll try my best to explain it and see if that works for you and you’ll see your own way of doing that. And in a group that’s that’s small enough and with a dozen or 20 of us, there’s there’s enough opportunity for those who want to voice what they’re excited about it. What they’re struggling with can do that. And then, yeah, I do try to allow for about a quarter or a third of the time that we have here will be an opportunity to get your voice in the room and listen and share with your peers. So there’s no there’s a bit of a mixture and an imbalance, and I’m sort of playing with an even in in peer led setting and seeing that love for maybe the third and last time I’ll reference the recovery room, even though that’s totally parallel to anybody in the room can actually leave the meeting. There’s still, if there’s somebody sitting up there with a binder or somebody with a belt next to them and a piece of paper, you’re think you’re the one? And I mean, they’re looking for something to do. And I want to meet people that, you know, I mean, if you came from wherever you came to to come here , I’m going to have something prepared to make it worth your while. I think that’s important to.
There was also a split, and I think this might be the elephant in the room with against the stream is that are the founder of Against the Stream. No other vines. In some trouble, there were some accusations, allegations against him, which led to the fallout of the dissolution of against the Stream and some other organizations had in place coming apart. And I wasn’t in the camp of. Vilifying, it’s not that I was waving the banner down the street saying, you know what, but I just wasn’t in the camp of saying, I’m going to completely, you know, abandon this teacher and its founder and. I think my popularity suffered because of that position.
If I had the magic bullet of of getting through to people just how vital that is, this human connection. Really, and I think if there’s one thing I can, I could dream up and say, I just want to get this through to as many people as possible to being able to have in the same room in the same face conversation is. It’s such a of a virtue, and it’s just vanished and being eroded further and further and further apart. And I mean, I don’t think we need to go into the state of the world as it is today and how social media and, you know, instant communication and everything’s a statement and whatever I say goes out to 1,000,000 people and the likes and dislikes in that, oh, the pain of being dismissed by 1000 people, I’ll never know. It’s such a relief. I thank everybody and always point to like, let’s please, please not take this for granted. You know, it’s such, so precious to me to be among each other. And I see it, particularly with with younger people who come and and it’s so hard. It’s so hard to look at someone in the face and ask and have a real conversation. That scares me a little bit, you know, it’s just so valuable. Yeah, so comparing that type of wisdom where you can get out of a true, authentic connection like that compared to what you can read about or listen to or watch online, which, as I pointed to, is a great resource. But I don’t know, it’s almost like saying that we can just look at beautiful pictures of food and feel like we’re nourished by it. It’s just not the same.
I’ve learned how to see what’s coming at me from the outside through seeing what’s coming at me from the inside. So I pay a lot more attention to how my thoughts and feelings try to pull me around. Even the way bodily pain can effect my behavior. If I find myself getting a little too far out there, I can pull back and understand I can only create and respond to the past or future in this moment. Just like what we learn in Vipassana meditation. This and taking the 5 precepts to heart has really given me a solid foundation. Sati and Sila.I do my best to apply this to work, relationships, my practice, whatever, and when I fall short, I just check out where I’m at in that too and keep going. It’s worked out pretty well. I seem to be doing more of what I enjoy and less of what I don’t. I started training to teach a while back and that’s coming to fruition these days. I wrote and published a book. The construction thing is still paying the bills and I’m even getting married to my sweetie this year.
Vinny Ferraro is my guy. Following his lineage and teachers back has opened me up to tons of other brilliant teachers, too. Through Against the Stream and Spirit Rock I feel very fortunate to have access to so many quality teachers. Bob Stahl is my teacher and mentor in MBSR teacher training. Megan Cowan and Chris McKenna too from Mindful Schools for their program of training.
Everyday now to some degree. I can almost always get a half hour or more in somewhere and twice when I can. Morning, evenings or both. In groups a couple times a week usually. I seem to have a ‘retreat season’ where I can schedule and attend a couple or more 5 day or week-longs. In between, I remember to take mindful breaths often as I can or do a certain task with concentration.
Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society (San Francisco)
I’m primarily a General Construction Contractor – 25 years locally in the residential biz.
Yeah, definitely. Like I said, not only did it help pull me into “real” recovery but opened me up to a whole new universe of freedom from my own self-inflicted suffering. It got pretty dark before then too, as I write about in my book “Awareness MODE; A Buddhist Antihero’s Journey Within”, the idea that I do not have to obey every thought like a prisoner and changing my perspective, literally saved me from disaster and depression.
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Annual update on progress of project.