I am not sure exactly when I first became aware of the dharma path, but my first brush with it was through reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s Beyond the Self a translation of the Sutra on the Middle Way. At the time I had been in recovery for about 10 years and had a sustain spiritual practice of self-reflection and service, but I had never been exposed to the truth of Dependent Origination. Being exposed to such an obvious but esoteric view of reality inspired a continued exploration of the dharma. About a year later I attended a 7 day retreat that Thich Nhat Hanh led. That retreat served a my real “initiation” into committed dharma practice. I have been on the path for about 8 years now. When I picked up Beyond the Self, I had no intention of becoming involved in dharma practice. Yet the deep but practical approach to understanding life and how to skillfully participate in it was (and still is) unsurpassed by other traditions I have found. For me, the pragmatic approach of American Buddhist is the perfect fit.
I think I had it’s sort of a slow journey into the Dharma path, and really it started when I was a child. My great aunt had a collection of religious text and sort of books on different great religions throughout the world, and one of them was Buddhism. And when I was a kid, I was really attracted to the book and I tried to read it at different points in time, but I couldn’t pronounce any of the names. So, you know, Zakir Mooney was due to difficult, you know, for a guy from Mississippi at 13. But but it sort of planted a seed of interest in different religious aspects in the one I had grown up with. And so I got into recovery about 20 years ago and. Started to experiment with meditation on and off for a number of years and eventually settled into a meditation practice. Late 2010, 2011 and shortly thereafter kind of became interested in Dharma practice after reading a book that take not Hahn had written. And at the time, I didn’t know anything about the Dharma or Dharma communities, and so I was curious if Tig Notaro was still alive at the time, and I thought, This is great. I wonder if he gives lectures. That’s kind of how I thought. Maybe I could connect with him in person and I looked up and he has a practice center in North Mississippi. And so I went from really just kind of sitting on my own to going on a seven day retreat that he led. And that was my baptism into the dharma and the sort of the initiation. And at that point in time, I went from really being interested in meditation. To interested in what the Dharma could offer, and I came back home to Nashville and found a practice community in what was then against the stream, what’s now a wild heart meditation center and have been practicing with them since and. You know, I think there’s been three important things in my life. one was one was getting clean. The other was having my daughter. And the third sort of great revolution in my life was was finding the dharma and sitting practice.
I don’t know that I really went out searching for it other than that was, I was always sort of open minded to it, but it was it was when I read Take That Hides Beyond the self, which was really kind of oddly looking back on it about the dependent origination, which I wouldn’t think, Hey, for somebody who doesn’t know anything about this realm of practice or knowledge would be the kind of intro topic that would be interesting. But it certainly totally captivated me because my worldview at that point in time was certainly Western. You know, there is a self, I think therefore I am kind of thinking. And so when I read that book, it opened my mind to that, hey, there’s a totally different way to look at the constituent pieces of what life is is about. And instead of it being kind of a collection of different objects that fit together in some way. It really being a continuum of everything in the universe, supporting every other thing in the universe and without that interdependent support, there not being anything at all. And so that for some reason really caught my interest. And so the meditation practice kind of followed this philosophical introduction, if you will, and. Eventually ended up at the Magnolia Grove Retreat Center, and that’s when I really had been meditating, but I think that’s when I became dedicated to the body that I look at as the turning point for me of being. A non practitioner to a practitioner, if that makes sense for me, I think my most deep kind of the deepest narrative in my being is one about the universe being a place to distrust and something that’s unsafe. And so what I think about like that being this almost unconscious and I think for a long time about life , it was the unconscious narrative. Hey, things are not safe. Be wary. You know, you’ve got to be vigilant and everything you do because you have to create outcomes because you live in basically this hostile, unknown territory. And I don’t know really where that came from. I’ve got some ideas, but I think that ultimately Dora Dora practices enabled me to say, maybe that’s not right. You know, maybe it looks like that. Sometimes it feels like that sometimes, but maybe that’s just your perception of things. And so I think the ability to really rest in the safety of not knowing and rest in finding a safe place in this trust has really been maybe the biggest fruit that sort of permeates out you. Because then what I can know that it’s OK just to be distrustful. It’s OK not to know it’s OK not to play, and it’s OK just to relax and let things flow in that space. You know, I think that’s really where the Dharma opens. You know, that to me is like, Oh, well, that’s that’s the true space. That’s a place where transformation can happen. That’s where the magic of being alive really is. For me personally, and I think on one hand, it’s like a deeply personal experience. And then on the other hand, I think so much of this practice is about being able to recognize and let be and let go. And so from these kind of the deepest narratives of of, you know, where we come from and what things are like to the kind of minuscule day to day do it all that practice holds all of that comfortably. And so I’m very fortunate to be a part of it. Yeah. Yeah, I think that’s that’s one more wonderful insight into the way you just articulate again, I think, to serve in the grand scheme of the karma. Yeah, our bonds are.
Yeah, so I think having you know, I feel like it’s a very fortunate thing to. Having established, you know, having my perspective is almost fundamentally rooted in recovery because I feel like I was total child, you know, until I got clean and was able to become an adult. And you know, so my perspective about recovery is you’re really fortunate if you can stay clean. And I think, you know, if you really stay involved in the practice dharma practice, you’re very fortunate because it’s not always easy. And there’s there’s a story that Joseph Goldstein quotes and mindfulness, where he talks about, you know, how many people are born and how many people are exposed to the Dharma and how many of those people end up practicing and how many of those people sustain a practice and how many of those people end up attaining enlightenment? Is very few. So I think for you two, fundamentally, it’s hard for me to even think about that without kind of at least mentally acknowledging, and I’m a fortunate guy for having the practice at all. But having done it for a little while and had some foundation built around it and really allowed the practice in the Dharma to infiltrate my life, I think the first area it kind of shows up. What I think of just life in general is it’s it’s organized by priorities. And so there was a time where I thought my role as an adult male with a family in American society was to earn money. And I set out, you know, in life to earn money for my family, and that was kind of just I thought that was my basic responsibility. And I think one of the big pivots the Dharma practice gave me in this sense of prioritization was I really reorganize my thinking. Well, to me right now, family’s more important and having a daughter that gets to spend some time with their father, whether that’s a pleasant thing or not, you know, it was important to me. I wanted to build a relationship with her. I wanted to sustain a relationship with my partner, my wife now that was healthy and was invested. And so I think the first thing it really broke the sense of of traditional role. And then I think, you know, as we were talking about it, it sort of infiltrated not the work I do necessarily, which can be kind of dry, but the sense of purpose and work, which is if I can do something, if I can invest time. In trying to aid a patient’s care, even in a small way, even in a remote way, then that’s a worthy endeavor. You know, and it’s not I’m not a hero, doctor or clinician at all. You know, I’m just kind of some nerd that sits in a back office. But it’s a real pleasure to think that some of this work trickles down to how clinicians do interact with patients and that the quality of their care can improve because ultimately , the mission is. Can I help reduce suffering in the world? And so I think that was a big reorganization. I thought I’d changed industries. I stopped working and one that I had been in for a long time and and took something up in another. And so that was a big pivot. Oh yeah. Oh, sorry. That’s OK. It’s just it’s OK. Go ahead. OK. And I think a third sort of region reorientation for me has certainly been in the way I relate with people of all stripes. And so I think that that primary family core relationship, so that was a real prioritization. But how do I interact with, you know, everyone I come in contact with? And I think for me and perhaps being a little bit of a. Having sort of a scientific approach to work, you know, there can be some room to become more personable. And I think I was really scared. I there’s a lot of social anxiety I grew up with. I had especially coming into recovery and just carried in as an adult and not at all, oftentimes not fine feeling like I had a fit. And so one thing Darwin practice has done is sort of reduce that sense of self that big self starts to deflate a little bit. And with that, a lot of the anxiety I had. And it gave me the chance to really. Understand that for myself, how I want to spend this life is in sort of open hearted relationships with people and not worrying about being comfortable and not worrying about fitting in, but really, really worrying about being real with somebody to give them the chance to be real back. And that’s a gift, because the reciprocity of of just trying to be a little more authentic or not even having to try necessarily, but just the authenticity that comes from from practicing open heartedness is. You know, I don’t know that’s borne fruit, but that’s a different way of relating to the world. And I think in probably less popular and less maybe interesting is I think it certainly extended my sense of compassion towards life in general. And you know, I’ve always been concerned about the environment growing up in the in the period I’ve grown up in. Always cared about the welfare of animals. But I think it very much deepened my sense of commitment that, yes, human life is precious and valuable. And there’s something special about the opportunity to be human and to practice dharma and to serve others. But that all life is, is, is valuable and all life should be respected and cared for. And that’s changed the way I engage in this change, the way I eat, that’s changed the way I I think about. What organizations are worth supporting and which ones are not in that kind of thing? But that’s sort of another subtle pivot of mind, I think an approach. I think that’s I think that’s what I think it covers it a little bit, is there something else? They didn’t cover was just sort of some of the activities that you’re doing giving back so that you could talk about that in terms of, yeah, serving . And so just expand on that a little bit. Yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah, I know. Yeah. And so I think, you know, I almost think of it as like, what are my hobbies these days? You know, and so so I have had the privilege to be engaged with a couple of songs and be able to serve those songs in different capacities. one, I guess, in my favorite capacity as a facilitator of groups and leading different groups for these these different communities, but also to be involved in what’s probably really more truly my strong suit, which is kind of administration and helping to organize things. So. And working as the program coordinator now for a wild heart and I I’m the sort of programing coordinator for a specific class at one dorm, both of which are the song is here in town and that takes a ton of time. But that takes enough time from me and my kind of own selfish pursuits and what I that it is this beautiful way to engage with these communities that have supported me so much while also. Being benefited. And receiving the fruit of of less self, less time for self, less time to be self-involved. And so it’s really a healthy thing for me to spend time either preparing talks or thinking about the structure of a group or leading a group or scheduling other facilitators or whatever it may be. Because it’s really less time for me to be self-involved and, you know, that’s a state I can lean towards very naturally. So I, you know, I’ve done that for a while and that’s that’s really how I like to spend my spare time. And I think some of that definitely comes from from what I received from twelve step recovery, which has a big emphasis on service and a big emphasis on giving back. And if you were offered something freely, then there’s an obligation and a responsibility to try to offer that back or pay that forward. As is often said.
Importance of Practice
I guess it is, and I never think about how, you know, how does everybody else come to the door, right? Essentially, I meet people and they show up at the meditation center and we start relationally at that point. But my journey into the Dharma was through this sort of philosophy of Buddhism. And this sort of what I think of is the fundamental Buddhist concept of, you know, dependent origination being, well, this is how the whole thing works. And and that was attractive to me intellectually. And so what was kind of neat is that at that point in time, I really would have thought, you know, I thought that to know something was to understand something. And that’s kind of where I was like, if you know it, then you understand it. And what I think was powerful and compelling when I went on the retreat. The thing that led one of the most consistent messages throughout the retreat was this is about practice, it’s not about knowledge. You know, it doesn’t matter. You can read every book in the world, but you have to engage in the practice. If you want to understand it, so my shift then went from if you know something you understand it to knowing is useful and it’s helpful, and it’s certainly I get around town because I know how to drive the car. But from from a sense of opening to life as it is to caring about life as it presents itself, that really came from practice. And there’s no amount of learning that I could have engaged in that would have ever been a replacement for that. And so I think one of my points of gratitude was that I was at a place at a time with a teacher that was able to speak clearly to me so that I could kind of break the addiction to thinking that knowledge is an understanding are the same thing and realize that understanding is, I would say it now comes from the heart, you know? Um, so but that that is definitely, uh, that’s only part of it. Know, and I think for me, you know, I’ve worked for the last ten years as a as a in data and data analytics. And so there’s a definite part of me that is interested in concrete, finite, well-organized things. And by nature of what I’ve done professionally and really how I was brought up. Statements and. At claims. Cases are built on facts. You know, if I’m going to go in, I work in health care, and so if I’m going to go to a doctor and say, I think the best approach to address this quality improvement initiative you have is x y z. I’m going to have to strenuously back that up with evidence that comes from data. And you know, for me, there’s not there’s a little bit of overlap with my employment in my practice and that I’ve chosen to work in health care and work in certain areas of health care because there’s a connection with patients. And though I’m not a clinician. The work that I’ve done impacts how patients are cared for. And so I think my interest in that is really because it’s such a core piece of suffering to be ill, to be injured. It’s just that’s one of the basics, you know, from the very first time the Buddha taught you, that’s what he identified as that suffering is so. So I love that piece of it. But I think the other piece to me that I don’t know is kind of circles in here. Is that there? Is subjective evidence in practice. And in other words, it really is so much of Buddhist teaching that I’ve experienced, maybe not all across the world, is just based on that. The idea that if you. Don’t believe it. Practice it and find out for yourself, I can’t remember exactly what the exact phrase was for that offhand, but you know it come and explore, come and see. And if it works, it works. If it’s true, it’s true. But don’t take my word for it. You know, and so I think that the kind of spirit of there’s nothing to believe. If you discover the evidence for yourself, then it’s there. And if you don’t, then it’s not. But there’s no sleight of hand in this. And so I think to me that as far as, you know, kind of thinking about how I’ve chosen to engage in vocation and what I think is, in a general sense, how I view the world and how we communicate Buddhist dharma practice communicated with me in a way that was sort of on the terms that I could understand and could work with, which was we’re not asking you to work on a belief system. We’re asking you to actually do work to see if it produces fruit. And if it does, and you got it.
Yeah. So, you know, as far as sort of what what lies ahead, I think I stumbled. I was lucky enough to stumble into the drama. You know, I picked up a book that looked interesting. I read it. I went and saw the guy who wrote it and practice with that individual for a while. And then I found the Wild Heart Center and I found the teacher and Lisa Ernst at one dharma and all these. All these things on the path kind of unfolded in a way that was really natural and wasn’t. There was no real intention. I feel like I was. I got in the car and it started going down the highway. And so a lot of these needs that have evolved as a practice practitioner from the need to be able to just sustain a daily practice to the need to have a teacher and have mentorship and direct instruction from someone who has more skill than I am and those kind of things. I don’t know that I ever. I didn’t think about any of that. It just kind of arose as a Hey, now it’s time for this. And so I don’t know exactly what’s next, but I do think that 11 area that I would really like to know more about and be able to incorporate more into the practices is the Tibetan school. And so I have practiced in the boarding school for a long time and feel like this sort of pragmatics of that approach , as it’s taught in the West, where I can speak to it is incredibly useful and incredibly accessible for people that are new to the practice. But I think there’s a real interest in a longing to kind of explore more and to see what’s outside of the scope that I know really well. And so that’s kind of the work. I think curiosity is leading me now. And so I’m not sure where it will go, but I definitely my my heart is sort of driven to engage and stay engaged and be useful. And I think with that kind of intention ish, if you will, that. You know, I’ll end up where I need to be. And there’s there’s some real confidence, you know, and it’s like, I think everybody in. The practice communities I’m familiar with is really careful about using a word like faith, but I think if I were, if I were to be kind of is real and honest about it, it’s possible. I would say practicing has led me to a faith that if I keep going, the road keeps unfolding before me. There’s I’m not going to walk off a cliff. You know, as long as the intention is there to keep moving and keep being useful, then what I need on the path will present itself as I as I walk along. And so I guess part of me is really just curious to see what comes and how the story continues to unfold. Yeah, that’s beautiful and just trusting the process. Yes, the practice. Again, it’s sort of like, you are overthink it. Yeah, exactly, exactly. And I think my nature is my nature is to plan and be meticulous and execute. And I think there is a real rigidity developed within me around those things. You know, there’s real rigidity about it’s got to be like this or is good. And so the practice in general certainly has is broken that approach and has made me not only kind of mindful of when that arises, but is giving me the capacity to let go of some of that when it arises. And so I think part of Dharma practice for me is to say you don’t have to have the feeling you just there’s like almost the relief of a deep exhale you don’t have. There’s, you know, if you have a plan, you don’t have to have anywhere to go. As long as you’re willing to put the energy into the practice, the practice will continue to bear fruit and the garden will get fuller and richer and more beautiful as its time moves on. Yeah, I think it’s you know, for me, that’s kind of that’s been the experience so far. I mean, who knows if I will see?
Yeah, so, you know, I think as far as you know, how has the practice manifested in some of these most important and critical relationships with my wife? I think maybe this is true for a lot of people. Maybe it’s not, but my wife and I story stories that opposites attract. You know, and so she is a completely different personality than I am. And so in that way, she’s always sort of fills a lot of the empty spaces I leave perfectly. But, you know, in that kind of sense of of being with someone who has a different personality and is a little bit different, there can be conflict . You know, and I think there can be a rub and think, you know, in feeling like, Oh, this person doesn’t understand me or this person doesn’t really get what I need in this situation. And so for me, you know, practicing the Dharma and really trying to take the teachings and put them into that relationship has meant taking some steps back, not from the relationship, but from my perspective of what marriage is, what partnership is, what healthy partnership looks like, what unhealthy partnership looks like, and really being able to really open the heart to say, first off, you really maybe don’t know the narratives you have about all those things may be inaccurate. And so the kind of again, rest in the sense of not knowing, Hey, it’s OK to not know. And the other thing is to really open the space for her to be who she is. And so can this person that’s so different from me in so many ways. And yet someone who I love and cherish so much. Can I? Am I big enough? As far as spaciousness of the heart is there? Is there enough spaciousness of the heart to really let this person be who they are and support them and love them completely? And so I think that’s what that’s really what the practice has taught me. And by no means what I want that misconstrued that I execute that perfectly because I certainly don’t and I have a really patient wife. But but I think for me, you know, it’s really the gift that we can offer other people, whether it’s the most intimate relationships or a perfect stranger, you know, can I can I give this person the space to be who they are in this moment as they are? And it’s not, you know, for me, a guy like me, I think I know a thing or two, you know? And so, you know what? I get caught up in that sort of ego sense of things should be like this really hard for me to to to let go of those notions. But I think the most beautiful gift that I receive. And then I try to reciprocate is allowing someone to be who they are right now, you know, knowing that that that sense of self or that sense of personality isn’t fixed and it’s ever changing. But in this moment, in this moment of connection and interaction, can I let you be you? Can you let me be me? And and that is certainly that is certainly to me what the Dharma looks like in marriage. And then with, you know, I think with my daughter, the other significant important relationship in my life. I mean, I think. Its influence to my sense of priority and what it means to be a parent and what it means to kind of show up. And I’ve certainly tried to bring that sense of openness and letting her be her. And, you know, I failed miserably, I’m sure, all along the way. But but I think that’s one intention. And the other intention too, is that, you know, I think and the way I was parented was that really. My parents gave me love and support, but I think they saw their job as being an instructor and a teacher . And so for better and worse, I kind of brought that same sense in and I’ve really tried to be loving and supporting and really create that open space for Carter to grow up and be be whatever she is in the moment she’s in. But I also have felt a strong desire to show her the things that I think are important about life and that ranges from academic things to get, most importantly, your practice. And so one of the things that I’ve done with her after a lot of wrestling with myself about it was to kind of make part of our family routine to go to the practice center together. And so. When I first started thinking about doing that, she was younger, and I think it was pretty easy to say inappropriate timing. But as she became a teenager, I felt the sense that when I was young and I first set out on my own, even though I really had very little affiliation with the Episcopal Church, I knew that there was a spiritual home there because that’s what I was raised with. And so I think for me, teaching or not teaching, but bringing Carter into the community and into the practice is one about the sort of pragmatics of there is benefit here and there. If you if you so you’ll reap with meditation practice. But it’s also so she knows there is somewhere that you can belong wherever you are on the planet. For the most part that you can find a spiritual home and practice communities and that there’s support there. And the same things I’ve found in community and Sangha that have been valued valuable. Scuse me to me. We’ll also be there for you if you need it or desire in your life. But I think for me, the real struggle was to say the air for somebody into doing something. And I think the idea of bringing somebody in to say long enough and in a sustained way to see this is a community and it fits for everybody and anybody can come here and anybody can come to a practice center and find people who are trying to live lives that are of similar ethics with similar priorities and similar practices or ritual in a way. And you know, there’s support in that. And there’s there is a un known mysterious universe. There’s safety in that. There’s support in that and you can you can find a home there. So I think for me, looking at her growing up and moving on is important as the practice now that I’m saying this out loud is the sense that there’s always somewhere you can belong, you know, and that the Dharma really is for everybody. And that if I come, if I come to the practice, if I come to the community and I’m willing to give of myself there, there is again that rich garden that’ll grow around me. That’s that’s really so much richer than the effort invested in it and so much more meaningful than I would have ever imagined. And so I wanted her to have that, and I want her to know that that was there.
Yeah. No, I think for me, community is the foundation of practice. You know, it’s a hard it’s a hard thing to practice Dharma. You know, it’s a hard thing to say, Hey, look, you know, I’m going to really dedicate myself to doing some things that can sometimes be unpleasant. And I think the whole notion or prospect of trying to reduce the impact of the ego for lack of a better way to put it can be really unpleasant business. And so to do that alone can be a lonely path, and it can be hard and it’s definitely doable. You know, and I mean the dedication to dedication. But when I walk into one dharma or I walk into the wild heart, I can feel the support. And I know that there’s people not only that I relate to in the deepest sense of my own kind of personal interest. And indeed, that really kind of know me. But these folks also inspire me. And so when I go into a sort of a beginner’s class or something that I might facilitate and there’s people there that have been practicing for three months, that’s as amazing to me as being able to sit with somebody and learn from somebody who’s been practicing for 30 years because any time anybody embarks on the on the on the journey or the challenging journey of practice and discovering. What life is and what’s real? It sort of warms my heart and it fills me up and allows me to keep taking that that step that day or the next day or whatever. And so I think the energy of community and the energy of that inspiration is a driving force, which for me, I think the train would would probably run out of coal and just stop on the tracks somewhere if I didn’t have people around me that were so that were so inspiring and endearing and beloved to me.
How has the path manifest in your daily experience? Does it reflect in your work and relationships?
The path is the guide and guardian of my daily experience and it informs my sense of purpose and priority in what is most important to engage with during the precious and fleeting time I am alive. I have a fourteen year old daughter who is the greatest joy in my life. The dharma path has guided me as a parent both in how I relate and interact with my daughter and what I think is important to teach her as her father. Ultimately, this bright spot in my life will grow up and move away and it is dharma practice that has allowed me to see and embrace that reality and respond to it with enthusiastic engagement for our time together. The path has also been the greatest support in my work life. It has enabled me to be balanced in my approach to work and understanding and compassionate with my co-workers. What motivates me to practice and study and stay engaged with the community is the fruit the practice bears. For me, meditative insight is a gift, but the crown jewel of practice is being able to relate to life with loving detachment.
The benefits I have received from dharma practice have definitely inspired me to share those gifts with other, and I am very grateful to be able to serve in these ways.
If you explore other lineages within buddhism, how did you come to decide on which lineage was right for you?
I have explored other lineages and found much inspiration in how the dharma has manifest across time and space, but the plain spoken straightforwardness of the Theravada traditions has been a powerful foundation for practice. Secondly, who are your primarily teachers and what role/influence do they have on your practice? Though I have learned from a multitude of people and consider every person and circumstance to be teacher, Lisa Ernst of One Dharma Nashville has been my primary teacher for several years. She has been a gift for me and I deeply appreciate all her time and wisdom.
How long/often do you meditate? How has it evolved over the years?
I practice daily for 30-40 minutes. My daily meditation practice has evolved in length and scope over the years. I started with a short daily breathe practice and evolved to a practice that incorporates open awareness and compassion practices.
Which sangha do you normally attend ?
I am involved in both One Dharma Nashville and Wild Heart Meditation Center. Please describe how the role of the sangha has supported/inspired your practice. The community so vital to my practice and we are fortunate to have so many dedicated practitioners in Nashville. This town really has individual who are dedicated to living lives that are guided by the dharma. I have made so many friends in this community that it is an embarrassment of riches. Both Wild Heart and One Dharma have poured so much of the water of community into my cup, it runs over.
What is your primarily profession?
Data Analytics Consultant. My practice has not influenced the technical aspects of my profession, but my hobby is definitely being of service to the sanghas I am apart of. I facilitate groups for both communities, and serve in programming capacities for both communities. The benefits I have received from dharma practice have definitely inspired me to share those gifts with other, and I am very grateful to be able to serve in these ways.
In the tradition that you practice, how do you think it has adapted to western culture?
I think western psychology has definitely influenced the tradition in a positive and relatable way. I also think William James’ philosophy of pragmatism, which permeates much of American culture, definitely has informed the approach to which the dharma is taught in this country.
For me, meditative insight is a gift, but the crown jewel of practice is being able to relate to life with loving detachment.