When were you first exposed to dharma?

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.

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.


Ryan’s journey into the Dharma path was a gradual process that began in childhood. His great aunt’s collection of religious texts, including a book on Buddhism, sparked his early interest, though the challenging names made it difficult for him to fully engage at a young age. The seed of curiosity planted in his youth blossomed when he entered recovery about 20 years ago, leading him to experiment with meditation.

Over the years, Ryan developed a consistent meditation practice, and in late 2010 or 2011, he delved into Dharma practice after reading a book by Thich Nhat Hanh. Unfamiliar with Dharma communities, he discovered a practice center in North Mississippi and attended a seven-day retreat led by Thich Nhat Hanh. This experience marked his baptism into the Dharma, shifting his focus from meditation to exploring what the Dharma could offer.

Returning to Nashville, Ryan connected with a practice community, initially known as Against the Stream and now Wild Heart Meditation Center. This community became his spiritual home, where he continued to deepen his practice. Reflecting on his life, Ryan identified three significant milestones: overcoming addiction, becoming a father, and discovering the transformative power of the Dharma through sitting practice.


Ryan’s exploration of Buddhism wasn’t a deliberate pursuit, but rather an openness to new ideas. The turning point came when he read Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Being Peace,” which focused on dependent origination—a surprising entry point for someone unfamiliar with the concept. This perspective challenged his Western worldview, where the self was central, introducing the idea of life as an interconnected continuum.

The philosophical shift influenced his meditation practice, leading him to the Magnolia Grove Retreat Center. It marked the transition from a casual meditator to a dedicated practitioner. Reflecting on his deepest narrative, Ryan recognized an underlying sense of distrust and a belief in life as an unsafe, hostile territory. Dharma practice became a transformative tool, allowing him to question this narrative, rest in the safety of uncertainty, and let go of the need to control outcomes.

For Ryan, the essence of Dharma lies in the ability to embrace the unknown, find a safe place in trust, and relax into the flow of life. This shift from distrust to acceptance has been the most significant transformation in his journey. On a personal level, it’s a deeply profound experience, yet it also aligns with the broader theme of recognizing, letting be, and letting go—a fundamental aspect of Dharma practice. Ryan expresses gratitude for being part of this transformative process and acknowledges the practice’s capacity to hold the vast spectrum of human experience, from the profound to the mundane.


Ryan reflects on the fortuitous aspects of his life, particularly rooted in his recovery journey. Having transitioned from a tumultuous past, he views both recovery and Dharma practice as significant privileges. Acknowledging the challenges, he recognizes the rarity of individuals who not only encounter the Dharma but sustain and attain enlightenment through practice.

The impact of Dharma on Ryan’s life is profound. It triggers a reevaluation of priorities, challenging the conventional role of earning money to prioritize family relationships. This shift extends to his work, where he finds purpose in aiding patients’ care, contributing to the broader mission of reducing suffering in the world. Embracing change, he even switches industries to align his work with his values.

The practice also reshapes his interactions with others. Overcoming social anxiety, he learns to be more personable and authentic in relationships. This newfound openness extends to his approach to the environment, deepening his compassion for all life and influencing his lifestyle choices.

In terms of service, Ryan engages with various sanghas, facilitating groups and serving as a program coordinator. This involvement not only benefits the communities that supported him but also provides a healthy outlet for him to transcend self-involvement. Drawing inspiration from the principles of twelve-step recovery, Ryan sees service as a way to give back and honor the freely offered support he has received.


Ryan’s journey into the Dharma began with a philosophical exploration of Buddhism, particularly drawn to the fundamental concept of dependent origination. Initially viewing knowledge as synonymous with understanding, his perspective shifted during a retreat where he learned that true comprehension arises from practice, not just intellectual pursuit. This realization marked a crucial shift from knowledge-centric thinking to recognizing the importance of experiential understanding, rooted in heartfelt engagement.

With a background in data analytics, Ryan’s professional inclinations toward concrete, well-organized information have influenced his approach to both work and practice. In the healthcare sector, where he has spent the last decade, he sees a direct connection between his analytical skills and making evidence-backed cases. This analytical mindset also aligns with his interest in healthcare, driven by a desire to address the core aspects of suffering related to illness and injury.

Ryan highlights the importance of subjective evidence in Buddhist teachings, emphasizing the spirit of exploration and personal discovery. He appreciates the invitation to come and see for oneself, acknowledging that belief is secondary to direct experience. This resonated with him, aligning with his vocation and worldview, as it communicated the Dharma in a way that prioritized personal experience and tangible results over mere belief systems.

Looking ahead

Ryan reflects on his journey into the Dharma, acknowledging the serendipity that led him to various teachers and practice centers, such as Wild Heart Center and One Dharma. His progression as a practitioner unfolded organically, with needs arising naturally, from sustaining a daily practice to seeking guidance from skilled teachers like Lisa Ernst.

Looking ahead, Ryan expresses a genuine curiosity about the Tibetan school of Buddhism. While appreciating the pragmatics and accessibility of his current approach, he feels a longing to explore beyond his familiar scope. This curiosity becomes a driving force, and while he’s uncertain about the specific path, he trusts that his intentions and engagement will lead him where he needs to be.

Ryan shares his evolving perspective on planning and rigidity. His nature is to plan meticulously, but Dharma practice has taught him to be mindful of this tendency and to let go when needed. Trusting the process and having faith that the road will unfold before him, he emphasizes the relief of letting go and the deep exhale that comes with not having to hold onto rigid plans. For Ryan, Dharma practice is about putting energy into the journey, allowing the garden of his practice to grow fuller and more beautiful over time, with a sense of openness to the unknown.


In Ryan’s reflections on the practice’s impact on significant relationships, he explores its manifestation in his marriage and parenting. In his marriage, characterized by the dynamic of opposites attracting, the Dharma has prompted him to step back from preconceived notions about healthy partnership. This involves cultivating spaciousness in the heart to accept and support his wife’s uniqueness, acknowledging the impermanence of self and personality in each moment. The practice encourages Ryan to offer others, whether intimately connected or strangers, the gift of space to be themselves.

With his daughter, Ryan endeavors to instill openness, allowing her to be her authentic self while navigating the challenges of parenting. He contrasts his approach with the instructor and teacher model he experienced in his own upbringing, emphasizing the importance of creating an open space for his daughter to grow. Struggling with the decision to introduce her to the practice, Ryan eventually incorporates it into their family routine. This decision arises from a desire to provide a spiritual home, a sense of belonging, and a supportive community for his daughter, echoing the invaluable support he has found in the Sangha. Despite initial hesitations, Ryan emphasizes the richness and depth of the practice’s impact, underscoring the universal accessibility and transformative potential of the Dharma.


In reflecting on the role of community in his Dharma practice, Ryan emphasizes its foundational importance. Recognizing the inherent challenges of Dharma practice and the potential loneliness in navigating it alone, he underscores the significance of communal support. For Ryan, walking into One Dharma or the Wild Heart Meditation Center brings a palpable sense of encouragement and connection. The community not only comprises individuals who share his personal interests but also those who deeply understand him. Ryan finds inspiration in interacting with practitioners at various stages, from beginners to those with decades of experience. The collective energy of the community, filled with inspiration and warmth, serves as a driving force that keeps him engaged and motivated in his practice. Without this communal support, Ryan suggests that the metaphorical train of his practice might lose its momentum, highlighting the essential role of inspiring and beloved fellow practitioners in sustaining his spiritual journey.

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