Adam Jogen Salzberg is an ordained Zen Buddhist teacher with Dharma Transmission from Jan Chozen Bays, Roshi in the Soto Zen lineage. He has practiced meditation for 25 years including 15 years of full time residential practice and study at Great Vow Zen Monastery. Four years of that time was spent in intensive silent meditation retreat. In addition to his Zen training, he has also trained in Voice Dialogue, Process Work, Dzogchen and the ParaTheatre medium of Antero Alli.
Since 2007 Jogen has taught meditation, led retreats and worked with students face to face. Through SolisLuna, he works one-on-one with clients, bringing the non-dual awareness practices of Zen and Dzogchen together with Voice Dialogue parts work integrating Waking Up, Growing Up and Cleaning Up.
So let’s see, my my family is Jewish, not a religious family. Just. Bare bones, observances of Jewish holidays and things like that, there was nobody who was overtly spiritual as far as having any kind of ritual or meditation practice, except my grandfather, who I found out later had a good amount of meditation practice that he kind of kept behind closed doors because in those days it was a little bit fringe or unusual to be doing that. And so when I was my first introduction to meditation was probably in martial arts classes when I was a little boy. And I remember it being in a taekwondo class at the local YMCA and the instructor having us sit still in meditation for probably 30 seconds at that time. But that was, I think that was impactful. The first time I had some sense of stillness. And then Buddhism didn’t come back around until I was around 18 years old, I went to Japan with a friend of mine whose family was from Japan after I graduated high school and while I was away, my grandfather passed away suddenly. And upon returning, I helped my grandmother clean out his study. He was a book collector and I found various texts that I never really encountered this kind of material. Yoga books, books on Zen and also a new age meditation device that used sound and light to put yourself into a meditative trance. So I inherited all of that stuff. I was really fascinated by the yoga books by using the device. It was really helpful. It was the first time I actually was without anxiety, I think ever. It was the first time I had some sense of being deeply present. And then also the books about Zen, something about the Japanese Zen approach really spoke to me and I was just captivated my imagination. So I started meditating. Some, some more background kind of rewinding is when I was seven years old, my father died of cancer. So in my family and in my life, there’s this very early disruption and really clear. Impact of impermanence and loss. So I think growing up, I had this. Quality of sorrow in me around that loss, and the family is very fragmented by that. My mother, of course, very impacted, my sister very impacted. So when I then later encountered the teachings of Buddhism, which really affirmed the difficulty of life, that was that was something I could I could enter into. I could trust that because that’s where it began. So I started meditating. I took to meditation really enthusiastically. I remember it being extremely frustrating and also exhilarating and affirming at the same time. I would sit in my room with a kitchen timer and try to sit for 15 minutes, and I remember many times throwing it across the room because I couldn’t sit still or couldn’t concentrate . Or there would be times where I would just dip in and have a sense of stillness and be really encouraged by that. At this time, I was also experimenting with psychedelics, so I was eating eating psychedelic mushrooms, and I think those experiences were also helping me break out of my fixed state of mind and get some, some freshness. I began going to various sitting groups and temples and doing retreat, and I just got further and further into it, and the more retreat I did and the more I sat, the more I wanted to.
So I I think that the training of the intellect and the cognition and the worldview is actually a really important part of Buddhist practice. Because. You know, from the perspective of of. The Buddha, for example, my normal thinking process is not in accord with reality. You know, I see what is impermanent as permanent or what is skillful as unskillful. I see. Excuse me, what is unskillful skillful or what is wholesome? I might be confused and actually be endeavoring in things that aren’t serving my well-being. So the aspect of study and training the mind to see more clearly, like the training and discernment that level of progeny. I think that’s very important. But that that’s can’t be liberating alone because that’s just a different way of thinking about reality. That’s a different outlook. But what actually transforms our subjective experience and transforms the way we show up in life, I think has to have two aspects. one is that we train the attention deeply. So we train the attention in resting and seeing more clearly and more wisely. The contents of mind, you know, relating to our inner, our inner world with more clarity. We train the heart in being more oriented towards love in the various ways. And then if we’re fortunate, we glimpse the deeper innate clarity and luminosity of of what we call mind. But that mind can’t be separate from this body. It’s not like the mind is something that’s being carried around by this meat body. You know, that’s the classic Western split, the Cartesian split of of mind and matter. So especially in Japanese Buddhism, we emphasize the non duality of body and mind. From the beginning, the body is mind, the mind is body. There is no, there’s no. In a way, they’re just different manifestations of the same. Truth. So if we sit meditation and I experienced this disconnect in myself that I’ve had to heal, if I sit meditation, I somehow get disembodied. That awareness or mind is a floating thing that is not pervading or expressing this body. Then my practice becomes an integrated. But if I sit with the body mind as one, as as the the innate spaciousness of awareness, as the body itself, that’s a whole nother thing and I can feel that when I move, I get off the cushion and I walk. And that quality of this, this body as being the expression of awareness of our deeper nature is alive for me in a in a direct and tactile way. It’s not that awareness is something or awakening is some floating dimension that exists in my head. Everything is that. And so for me, I had to work really carefully about being willing to bring a sense of a spacious awareness, really see that that’s that’s one with the body. And that meant working with deeper and deeper levels of bodily holding and trauma and working with undigested emotion in my bones and flesh. Which is difficult work to do. So the impulse to meditate, especially in the traditions that emphasize awareness as as the liberating factor, as awareness is somehow transcendent. It’s a danger in taking some kind of refuge in that where you’re not really seeing that, that has to be. Permeating the body, it can’t be separate. So I feel that’s a work I’m still doing, and I have to return to because that habit of bypassing is is ingrained, maybe culturally. I don’t know.
Yeah, so taking it off the cushion in diverse and creative ways. two things come to mind, so one thing is like. Where does my activity spring from? What depth does what I do? Arise from if it arises from my reactive, crazy self clinging mine, it’s going to have a certain texture and quality if it arises from bodhichitta or if it arises from my deep care for beings or my culture or my people, or if it arises from the depth of a of a spacious and bright mind. What I do is going to be different how my body moves from that place. The voice that I put out into the world. The activities I choose, it’s going to have a different quality. So that I’m interested in myself as I go through my day, where does this activity spring from? And can I have it spring from my deeper nature rather than my hurried and self-protective and anxious nature which is still there? The other aspect for me is is the longer I’ve practiced, the more and more I’ve naturally been able to include and see as part of the Dharma work or part of the expression of the nature of reality. Awareness takes every shape, every shape is the shape of the nature of mind. And so that means that every shape has a wisdom and has a beauty. And so for me, I love music and I had to find some way to really bring that in because I felt that there this part of me that was this drummer and this deejay, and there’s this part of me that says Monk. And somehow I had to like, be this one and not be that one. And luckily, I’m in a tradition that’s that values experimentation and has room to breathe in that way. So I play the drum set. And we actually have a marimba band at the monastery. I get to play drums in that and I play in other musical contexts in improvizational music. So for me, for example, on the drums. I bring the practice in, first of all, I’m more awake in my body and I’m a little more relaxed than I used to be. And so I find that I’m able to flow more on the kit a little bit more than I used to be able to. But also, if I can relax into the spacious, like not knowing mind. The mind that that doesn’t doesn’t need to figure out the next moment or even the next note. I’m often surprised about what just emerges from that. You could call it trust in our our deeper heart. There’s a way in which some beautiful rhythms just come out from somewhere. I’m less in the way on my instrument than I used to be because meditation practice is infusing that. I’m also really interested in sound and listening as a meditation practice. So I do a listening meditation where I I blend music on turntables and cassette decks and iPad, and I have people in sitting meditation situation and I mix soundscapes for them because the senses are meditation gates, you know, even the breath in a way that’s our tactile sensation. But also sound is a very potent way of meditating. So for me, music like the pleasure of music, the joy and the beauty of the music, it draws me into a deeper focus. And in that way, because my heart opens to music and to particular sounds, it makes it easier for me to be really engage in intimate with it as a meditation object, so to speak. And I’m finding that with other people, too, that some people with doing listening meditation where you just try to let your mind be soft and receptive, they can touch deeper qualities of presence and relaxation in their body than they can with other meditation methods. So I’m having fun experimenting with that and. Yeah, and I think experimentation is good. It’s it’s it’s really important to be rooted in the traditional methods and understand why all these wise teachers have taught the way they did. And once we have a grounding in that, I think experimentation is really beautiful. And in a way, you find experimentation already in our lineages. People have always been experimenting and we’re in a different era.
So I’ve lived in. Spiritual community now for 16 years. I have a love and hate relationship with it. More and more on the love side, it’s very it’s challenging. It’s challenging to live with people who you may not choose to live with of all sorts, people coming and going different ages, different backgrounds, different interests and coming together with the shared aspiration. Mostly, it’s been a very beautiful experience. I think that the amount of friendship I have in my life, I’ve really trustworthy and and warm people is such an abundance. And that’s partially from living in community. The thing about the Sangha life when you do it residentially is that you you see your practice reflected in all the interactions you go through through the day. It’s this most potent mirror of what is my state of mind? How open is my heart? So I’ve had times where I’ve lived with people who were very challenging for me, and in a way they were a great blessing because they kept revealing my own shadow. The parts of myself I couldn’t see. So I projected onto them and I could maybe catch those projections in my mind, difficulty in my irritation with this person or that person. So there’s that aspect of learning to get along with others and understanding when we don’t know what that’s about. And on the other hand, it’s tremendously inspiring to live an intentional community where everyone who has comes to the monastery for a length of time is here because they want to do Buddhist practice. And so there’s this sense of a certain kind of friendship and camaraderie that happens in that shared intention and. And it’s tremendously supportive. Yeah, I feel like I can, you know, walk out of the door of where I live and have a deep and meaningful conversation with somebody almost every day. And so there’s there’s a real richness to living in a dharma community. In a way, we call it spiritual peer pressure that it’s positive peer pressure when you live with other practitioners or you, let’s say you have a Sangha that you go to regularly. You don’t have to just live with them. It’s like I may start to drift off in my heart from the reason I’m here and I might. Or let’s say I have. I’ve had times where my aspiration is is flagging, but there’s definitely other people here who are really aligned with that. And so in a way, they they hold me up, they hold my hand or they buoy me up when when my aspiration has been in times of of of weakness or just, I’m not really there.
That’s the question, isn’t it? How do you carry this off the cushion? You know, because you could spend ten weeks in retreat in the deep, serene state of mind and then walk out the door and open your phone and or open your email box and get carried away and in distraction and overwhelm and reactivity. And so that’s that’s the vital question, unless we’re going to live a kind of yogi lifestyle and retreat. And I think we’re called in this era for the Dharma to really function beyond its traditional circumstances, and maybe that’s an evolution rather than some kind of secular compromise. So for me, and this is part of the emphasis of the zen tradition, is that where we are embodied and present moment by moment? That’s a manifestation of practice we’re present and awareness has wisdom in it. Awareness has the ability of warmth and compassion and relating to daily activities. Yeah, we’re really there. We’re really we’re really in our senses. We’re really in the texture of the moment. We’re really present enough that we can respond not just from our habit mind, but from a place of creativity and resourcefulness. So one of my teachers is often says that the hardest thing about the practice is remembering to do it. In a way, all all we’re dealing with is an intention. You’re always alive. Your senses are always functioning. You always have a mind, you always have a moment. The question is whether I’m bringing wakefulness and sensitivity and wisdom to that moment or not. Every moment has that potential to be on the toilet, on the computer, making love, shopping for records, cooking a meal on the bus, having a conversation. There is not a single moment that cannot be really lit with awareness. And so for me, and this is interesting, I’ve done this for a long time. The question is, do I remember to do that? And how do I deepen the aspiration to carry this innate capacity for wise awareness and for sensitivity into everything I do? Where does that passion come from? Because I actually think that it’s the it’s the continuity of practice throughout the day that opens our life up more than something that happens in a particular moment on a cushion that that can change the depth of awareness that’s available. The insights in retreat or in our daily practice. But I’ve got to I’ve got to give life to my life. With that, I’ve got to. Practice awareness and what I do, and in a sense, that’s only an intention. It’s only it’s only remembering not to be distracted. It’s interesting I live in this monastic environment most of the time, you know, and everywhere I look, there’s a Buddha or there’s a sign that says, be aware there’s somebody else who looks like they’re aware. You know, that’s a reminder. But even in this environment, we get distracted. We get carried away in daydreams and fantasies, and we go unconscious. Maybe for a moment, maybe for a week. So I’ve found that I have to be resourceful. And so some of the little things I’ve done is I’ll often write something on my hand, you know, pay attention or I’ll put little signs on my computer, wake up. Or I’ve even put rocks in my shoe and put a little pebble in my shoe. So as I walk around, I have this little bit of pain. And that reminds me to to pay attention. So we just have to be creative. You know, and for me, just to choose some kind of visual reminder of what I want to do helps. Maybe wearing a Marla, you know, Marla’s look cool. Maybe. But actually, if you really know what that means that you’re a practitioner, having that on your wrist might remind you of, Oh yeah, this is a state of mind I want to hold now. So I think we can be be resourceful and it becomes a habit, and maybe this is where prayers and like practices of aspiration really matter, because I think in the Buddhist teaching, we’re really recognizing the power of intention. And that intention is a deep force that if I’m not living from intention, from conscious intention, what I will be lived by is karmic energy. I will be live by habit and impulse and instinct. And so some daily ritual, which is part of what pervades the monastic situation, some daily ritual of reminding ourselves of our intention. You know, maybe that’s after you get up, before you get off the meditation cushion you you make some kind of intention that may I be wake for sensitive and compassionate and every interaction. one practice I recommend is that at the end of a meditation session, when the mind is at, it’s more settled state to think of a relationship or a situation where you want to bring more sensitivity, more kindness or more wisdom to to actually imagine doing so. And then it makes some kind of prayer like may I, when I interact with Robert at the office, be less reactive and more patient and present. And doing that on a daily basis, I believe, has a power that we will witness because it’s like intention is an energy that gets put in the system. Let’s say it gets put in the circuits of the body mind. And once you put it in there and you keep putting it in there, it starts to have a life of its own. So as far as how do we bring the practice off the cushion is tap the power of intention. It’s not necessarily some magic thing, but it’s something that can have some deep effect. Make a practice of intention.
So one of so Suzuki Roche’s book Beginner’s Mind. It was like a revelation for me. I was reading other things books by the Dalai Lama and books by tech, not horn and other Buddhist teachers, but somehow Suzuki Roche’s book and the way he presented the teachings. I felt like I could step forward into it because at that time being being, maybe I was 20 years old. Any sense of dogma or religious imposition? I felt very. Allergic to. I didn’t I didn’t want to be told a new way to think at that time. I wasn’t ready to be challenged in my belief system. And his emphasis was it’s not so necessary that you believe something, but that you sit and you really rest. In yourself with intimacy. And you discover who you are. You resume who you are by really being one with the present moment, really settling into yourself as you are. And from there, the teachings of Buddhism reveal themselves intuitively and so medically and in your heart, rather than. Here’s this belief system I had to take on. And so as a as a young man, I can really trust that and I could I could find out for myself. And that was the main encouragement in the soto’s in that I was receiving through this book was sit and find out what what this is all about from the inside out. And it was very encouraging. So, Soto, Zen is definitely one of the lineage inheritances of Zen community of Oregon and present at the monastery where we’re a mixed lineage because my Zoom Roshi, who chosen and Hogan trained with in that Zen Center of Los Angeles, he was a Soto priest but also studied with rinses and teachers. So the white plum lineage that comes from him is very much a unique kind of blend of those two approaches usually resides in is associated with a more robust and spirited approach to practice and also working with the Koan as a method. And so to Zen is is stereotyped as a gentle more, you could say, a faith based approach to Zen. These are these generalizations really break down, I think they’re just helpful from the outside. So it was in manifest here and in a few ways. Many of the traditional forms ritual forms are alive here and the way the monastery is structured, the daily rhythms and the chants we do, and some of the ways that we do what we call body practice, like how we, you know, put our our palms together and make God show these. These body forms are some of the ways that the tradition is. The spirit of the practice is done through your body, not just through how you’re training your mind, because Dorgan’s Energy, the founder of the Soto lineage in Japan, he he really emphasize the unity of body and mind. So we train, we activate awakening, which is our deepest nature, not just through how we orient the mind, but also with how we hold our bodies and how we how we express through our bodies. So. Also, Dawkins enjoys teaching is present here as an influence. He’s both someone who, you know, if I’m honest, I’ll say I understand almost nothing of what he teaches is just a very like, very deep and profound teacher, very challenging, but also really inspiring and really poetic. And his images can really act on the heart and like, open up the dharma in very subtle ways. So his teachings are present here as a as a touchstone, as a foundation. one of the main practices that we do here, and this depends on different students is called Shakuntala, which is the approach to meditation that is associated with the Soto School. And that is a way of sitting meditation where there is no striving for any goal. The practice is just to sit in. Sit as awareness to sit as a tension, to have faith that awakening whatever that is. It fully exists right here and now, and we harmonize and we let that reveal itself through sitting with a spirit of openness and full embodied attention. It’s in a way you have to discover what she can Taza is, but it’s explicit that it’s not a means to an end. It’s the means in the end simultaneously, if the practice in the goal or one Dawkins ends, you would say that practice and awakening are one thing or one moment . So in a way, that’s our faith, and that’s our practice, and that’s our koan to actually discover what he means because it’s not so simple. Yeah, he’s not saying you just sit there and feel good and let everything be in. Gee, that’s enlightenment. It’s an invitation to discover the depth of what we are in the present moment, rather than a meditation system that says, OK, train your mind like this, attain this state of mind, then do this looking into the nature of mind, have this inside and so forth, rather than a gradual unfolding of meditation. It’s saying it’s right here. And how deeply can you let go and unfold the reality of right here?
Yeah, so I benefited from meditation technology with my grandfather’s light and sound meditation device. It really helped me. And so I haven’t used any of these apps, but I bet they’re useful for people and especially if it’s a gateway or help sustain their daily practice. I think that’s great. one thing I feel it is really important is that Buddhist practice is a practice of human beings relating. You know, compassion is abstract if we’re not relating to living beings. And so at some point for a Buddhist practice, at least to mature, we’ve got to do it in relationship with people. You’ve got to do it in relationship with people, and maybe. An internet situation is that on some level, we are interacting through cyberspace with people that could be a very genuine interaction. But maybe I’m a traditionalist, but I feel like actually being with human beings, living breathing beings with ceremonial fields and, you know, being in proximity to and living creatures who are doing the dharma really matters.
Practicing for a while, I realized that I had I carried this resentment around my childhood and towards my mother. I carried a grudge and. In in sitting with myself and understanding my own heart and mind over a long period of time and seeing how much I am at the mercy of conditions and how much who I am is a result of just patterns that developed in response to the stresses of life. You know, just think, see what am I made of and why am I the way I am? In thinking of my mother and her coming to mind, I really was able to understand how much that she was a product of the conditions that she was raised in and the traumas that she had, and how much of that in a way, was not a choice. It was just like circumstances formed her. It’s not the whole picture, but it’s a large part of it. And so what I found is that as I understand how I’m a constructed being, I was able to understand that about her and I found that this deep forgiveness came forward and has continued to come forward. And so gradually I found that this grudge or this sense that my mother should be different than she is or should treat me differently gradually went away. And at this point now there’s a lot of tenderness and there’s a lot more acceptance. And I feel like I’m not carrying the past into our current relationship to the degree that I used to. And so there’s much more flow of love and being able to meet each other as human beings now. And she recognizes that. And it was when that started to happen that she started to say, Oh, OK, I think the work you’re doing there is worthwhile. I understand what you’re doing because we were able to meet. As as genuine beings not lugging around our past. And I attribute that to to the meditation practice and to the self investigation.
Well, I found affinity with the Zen tradition. Early on. So I went to my first. Monastic experience when I was 22 and I loved it and I was challenged by it and I found the lineage beautiful, and I found that people who had practiced it for a long time inspiring and mature like I had never seen people before. And so I basically just trusted. And the more I got into the teachings and the history of the lineage, the more I fell in love with it. So for me, it was really a matter of heart, heart and kind of serendipity. I just fell into it. That’s what what presented itself to me, and it was what was natural for me to trust. So I would say that that is a primary thing is what do you trust, what teachings or tradition open the heart? What do you feel invites you in? That really matters? You know, I could think about, OK, I really liked the varjayana teachings, or I like the teachings from the Pali canon, but what really felt inviting was the Zen tradition for me. So I stepped I stepped forward into that. It was really vital for me to commit to a lineage and a teacher, and partially I just wanted to go to go deep. And that a lot of that had to do with the teacher student relationship is my teachers are zen teachers, and that’s what they had to offer, and I wanted to soak up what they had to offer. And so that meant really entering this tradition. And for a time, I really only practiced Zen. And probably a good ten years I just worked with them, did retreat in the Zen style. Occasionally we’d have guest teachers and other influences that other approaches that influence me, but I was really focused on what Zen had to offer. And I had a sense that you can’t really unpack the wisdom and heart of a lineage quickly. You can you can’t you can’t know what Zen is from one retreat. You can’t know what Vajrayana is from one book or one retreat, you have to give yourself to it. And then what it is and what it has to offer unfolds in your own being. And so I recognize that and that’s why I just said, OK, I’m going to settle down here.
So I’ve done a lot of retreat myself and and found that tremendously transformative and and challenging, and a lot of insights have arose in that setting and a certain magic to when you fully commit to doing the practice and put aside other activities, there’s a certain potency that comes forward and whether that’s solo or you do that with other people and you get that quality of synergy. It’s sort of like, you know, if you want to really learn to play the guitar well, it’s a powerful thing to sit down and spend six hours just playing the guitar and keep playing it, even when you hit those points when you’re bored. You keep at it. You stay in relationship with the instrument. And when you stay in relationship with the instrument or coming back to retreat, you stay in relationship with your meditation practice, which is essentially sustaining an intimacy with yourself. Awake moment by moment. When you do that, even past your initial enthusiasm, there’s opportunities to go deeper. And so that’s that’s in a way that’s a special circumstance. It’s a matter of, I think it’s the force of commitment. You really put your heart, body, mind and life on the line because you set aside time and resources and you devote and you say this is important. Something comes out of that. You don’t necessarily get what you want, but it is a dynamic, it is a it is a. You step into a certain vessel of of transformation. I’m not I’m not sure I would say that retreat is essential. And that’s interesting, given I’ve done years and years worth. I think what’s essential? Or what is transformative in this practice is sustaining it as much as we can throughout the day. And so I can I can remember as a layperson when I was able to sit, let’s say, a half hour in the morning and a half hour at night that’s sitting itself was. A reminder, an opening, a medicine. But then there was a fragrance, or there was an afterglow of that they were carrying through my day. And there is a way in which the. The intensifying of awareness that happened from the formal practice carried forth into my day, and so I went about my day with just a more heightened and amplified awareness and sensitivity to what I was doing and what my mind was up to. So I actually think that if you’re committed to the practice and you just have this sustained dipping into some formal practice and you have the aspiration to carry that through your day, that the Dharma awareness will work its magic. And the practice will have an effect, and so from that point of view, it’s not necessary that you go to some retreat center and you devote time apart from your daily life. And I think I think. This hypothesis will be tested, and maybe it’s been tested by many, many practitioners to see, is that is that true? one thing that tends to happen is that the more we practice, I found this in myself, the more I practice, the more I wanted to practice. The more I got a taste of how it opened me and kind of redeemed my life, the deeper I wanted to go. So there’s a way in which doing retreat practice is like kind of like, you start dating somebody and you know, that was really nice. I’d like to get to know them better. And so you spend more and more time with them and you can see retreat as an organic unfolding of your relationship with the Dharma. You want to spend more and more time with it. In fact, at some point you want to go on vacation with it. You know, you want to go on a honeymoon, you want to stay committed past the honeymoon phase, you know. So retreat allows for a sustained relationship with the Dharma that, depending on our life, circumstances could be hard. Now, I remember before I got formally involved in Buddhism and I was just meditating, I would go on a Saturday when I was off of work to the mountains with my flute and my meditation cushion. And I had spent time in the quiet, meditating for four or five hours spread through the day, and that was really meaningful. And so I would encourage people to be really creative about what’s possible for you in your life. You know, I’ve done many bedroom retreats. I used to do these bedroom retreats. This is how I would encourage myself to sit for an hour in the morning. I would read some. Then I go out to lunch, get a good, good curry for lunch. I come back. I sit an hour. I’d read a little bit more. I’d sit an hour. Then I let myself go to a movie and come back and sit a couple more hours. And so somehow I was able to like, you know, encourage myself. I’d have enough creature comfort and pleasure and also focus practice that I could find a way to make it work with where I’m at. So for me, it’s a matter of if you can’t do formal retreat and it’s not easy to get that kind of time and we may not have that privilege, frankly, that just be creative if the devotion is in you. Be resourceful about how you can make it work in your life. It’s really a matter of what is activated when you devote yourself and you commit, something happens. Commitment is powerful and retreat is an embodiment of that commitment and a sustained engagement with this intimacy. With yourself, with your mind, with your world.
Yeah, in a way, I had something of the archetypal. Experience of a seeker and that I met my one of my teachers when I was living in Portland, and I immediately felt a deep affinity and I felt that I could trust him. And what I what I experienced was it was the first time somebody fully accepted who I was with no judgment. I felt that. And so that let me trust him. And. I guess I would say I’m very fickle and distractible and not so courageous myself. And he is a very focused and and full of faith and wise person. And so I really leaned on that relationship to support me in continuing to stay devoted to this work. So my teachers, who I’ve lived with now for 16 years, they they they inspire me with their embodiment of kindness and skillful ness and wisdom and having a very big vision of what life is and what human potential is. And so just being in proximity with my teachers has been a huge support and I think has helped me maintain a more steady level of commitment to practice than I would have been able to otherwise. With the daily example of who they are and the daily encouragement and very regular teaching, very, very frequent feedback about my practice, there’s also this sense of deep dharma work is we have to fully expose ourselves to ourselves. And in a way, you cannot do that by yourself because the mechanisms of self-deception are so deep, we don’t want to see who we are. And in a way you can’t, there is no way to see yourself. It’s impossible. So the teacher and I found with my teachers when there’s enough trust. They can be a mirror and reflect things about myself and point out places where I’m clinging or I’m just not seeing that I maybe would not have been able to see on my own. Could be that community practice. Sangha reflects that as well. But if there’s I found that the trust and love that flowed between my flows between my teachers and I and allows me to hear feedback and for teachings to slide in that otherwise maybe they couldn’t. So it was a relationship that built over time. I happen to I think I was able to trust very quickly. For some reason, and so that lets the work go deeper because. one aspect of deep dharma work is really dismantling your sense of who you are. You know, there’s the work of owning our identity and really being comfortable in our own skin. And then there’s the work of taking it apart and seeing that the self and the self image that we are fuzed with and identified with is actually just a construction. It’s just constructed a thought image habit, impulse. And that work of letting that fall open is scary work, and I think we need help with that. I certainly do. And so my teachers helped me with that work of falling apart, and it’s very intimate. It’s like cherished beliefs about who we are or strategies for making it through daily life, maybe trying to be the one who is always right or trying to be or needing to be the one who is always diminished could be the same thing. These kind of embedded structures of the way we show up as personalities in our practice, they have to be seen through. We have to recognize them, and I found that my teachers could gently help me see those things and hold me as I crumbled a little bit. Because when the personality structures melt a little bit, it’s a time of crisis to do deep dharma work. At some point we hit crisis points where we fall apart. And it’s really important to be held by somebody who understands that process. So I feel very fortunate that my teachers have fallen apart and come back together and that they’ve helped me do that to some degree over the years.
So let’s see, my my family is Jewish, not a religious family. Just. Bare bones, observances of Jewish holidays and things like that, there was nobody who was overtly spiritual as far as having any kind of ritual or meditation practice, except my grandfather, who I found out later had a good amount of meditation practice that he kind of kept behind closed doors because in those days it was a little bit fringe or unusual to be doing that. And so when I was my first introduction to meditation was probably in martial arts classes when I was a little boy. And I remember it being in a taekwondo class at the local YMCA and the instructor having us sit still in meditation for probably 30 seconds at that time. But that was, I think that was impactful. The first time I had some sense of stillness. And then Buddhism didn’t come back around until I was around 18 years old, I went to Japan with a friend of mine whose family was from Japan after I graduated high school and while I was away, my grandfather passed away suddenly. And upon returning, I helped my grandmother clean out his study. He was a book collector and I found various texts that I never really encountered this kind of material. Yoga books, books on Zen and also a new age meditation device that used sound and light to put yourself into a meditative trance.
So I inherited all of that stuff. I was really fascinated by the yoga books by using the device. It was really helpful. It was the first time I actually was without anxiety, I think ever. It was the first time I had some sense of being deeply present. And then also the books about Zen, something about the Japanese Zen approach really spoke to me and I was just captivated my imagination. So I started meditating. Some, some more background kind of rewinding is when I was seven years old, my father died of cancer. So in my family and in my life, there’s this very early disruption and really clear. Impact of impermanence and loss. So I think growing up, I had this. Quality of sorrow in me around that loss, and the family is very fragmented by that.
My mother, of course, very impacted, my sister very impacted. So when I then later encountered the teachings of Buddhism, which really affirmed the difficulty of life, that was that was something I could I could enter into. I could trust that because that’s where it began. So I started meditating. I took to meditation really enthusiastically. I remember it being extremely frustrating and also exhilarating and affirming at the same time. I would sit in my room with a kitchen timer and try to sit for 15 minutes, and I remember many times throwing it across the room because I couldn’t sit still or couldn’t concentrate . Or there would be times where I would just dip in and have a sense of stillness and be really encouraged by that. At this time, I was also experimenting with psychedelics, so I was eating eating psychedelic mushrooms, and I think those experiences were also helping me break out of my fixed state of mind and get some, some freshness. I began going to various sitting groups and temples and doing retreat, and I just got further and further into it, and the more retreat I did and the more I sat, the more I wanted to.
© 2021 Jack Huynh | Orange Photography
Annual update on progress of project.