Steven resides in Bozeman, Montana, with his wife and 13-year-old son, accompanied by a couple of cats. Despite a professional background in science education and media production, Steven now primarily fulfills the role of a house spouse, dedicating himself to supporting his family, Sangha community, and Dharma community.

A digital artist and enthusiast of photography and outdoor activities, Steven finds joy in creating art and contributing to the beauty of the world. His commitment to fostering relationships and communities stems from a deep desire to bring more beauty into the world. However, he acknowledges the challenges he faced in establishing connections earlier in life, crediting his Dharma practice for helping align his aspirations with skills and abilities.

Raised in a unique United Methodist Church in Portland, Oregon, Steven’s upbringing emphasized social justice and inclusiveness. Despite not being drawn to the metaphysics of Christian theology, he retained a commitment to ethical living and inclusivity. In 2006, a talk by Michael Soborski, a former monk at Plum Village, deeply resonated with Steven, leading him to attend a Montana Open Way retreat. This marked the beginning of his engagement with the Plum Village tradition.

Steven’s retreat experience was transformative, providing a sense of grounding and reassurance. Despite initial anxiety about fitting into the practice, he found the Sangha welcoming. Returning home, he discovered a practice rather than seeking a guru, influenced by Thich Nhat Hanh’s philosophy that the next Buddha is the Sangha. Steven became an integral part of the Open Way Sangha in Missoula, actively contributing to the community’s practice and leadership. Grateful for the inclusiveness and training he received, Steven continues his involvement in Sangha building and remains connected to the Plum Village tradition.


In Plum Village practice, Steven emphasizes the core element of mindfulness, cultivating presence in every moment. Central to this is zazen, or sitting meditation, with a focus on the awareness of breath, body, feelings, thoughts, and mind. The practice involves letting go of distractions to achieve a state of presence and relaxation. Influenced by Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings, Steven incorporates various practices, such as vipassana techniques and metameditation, to enhance mindfulness.

Plum Village practice includes practices like “touchings of the earth,” which connects practitioners with spiritual ancestors, biological lineage, and the interconnectedness of all life. Walking meditation complements sitting meditation, encouraging awareness of surroundings and beauty. Steven appreciates the embodied nature of the tradition, recognizing the profound connection between emotions, trauma, and the physical body.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s emphasis on returning to the original teachings of the historical Buddha, as found in the Pali Canon, is a core aspect of Plum Village tradition. Practices like “Beginning anew” are relational tools for repairing harm in relationships. Steven values the practicality and mundanity of Plum Village practice, highlighting the importance of being present in everyday activities, whether doing chores or cooking. The tradition encourages mindfulness not only on the cushion but in every aspect of life, fostering a sense of awareness in daily moments.

Personally, Steven resonates with the lack of metaphysics in Plum Village teachings, appreciating the focus on Buddhism as psychology rather than a doctrinal or religious system. Rejecting metaphysical questions about life after death or the existence of a self, Plum Village practice, according to Steven, is a humanistic and spiritual approach rooted in the ability to perceive reality and respond appropriately. Unlike traditions that emphasize literal reincarnation, Plum Village practice does not rule it out but places greater emphasis on the practical and psychological aspects of the path.

Deepening with Ordination 

Steven, raised in a service-oriented family and church, embraced a commitment to helping others. The Plum Village tradition’s ordination process, initiated by Thich Nhat Hanh in response to the Vietnam War, involved the Order of Interbeing. Steven’s decision to pursue ordination aligned with his existing dedication to service, supported by teachers encouraging him to continue his path.

The online ordination ceremony during the pandemic marked a significant moment for Steven and around 400 others, emphasizing service and humility. Wearing brown serves as a reminder of humility in Plum Village, and while disclosure about ordination remains a topic of community tension, Steven values its role in signaling availability as a resource.

Despite being ordained, Steven emphasizes the egalitarian nature of the Plum Village community, where everyone is both a teacher and a student. Recent experiences underscored the power of collective wisdom in supporting members facing crises. Plum Village teachings have deepened Steven’s practice of humility, providing tools to embody it and find solace and refuge.


The Plum Village’s retreats focuses on cultivating joy and incorporates various practices like sitting and walking meditation, sutra recitations, Dharma talks, and mindful eating. Singing plays a role in creating a communal atmosphere. Silent mindful eating meditation encourages deep reflection on food sources and intentions. Outdoor walking meditation, with an outward focus on the environment, promotes presence and connection with surroundings and fellow practitioners.

The retreat involves noble silence in the evenings and mornings, with mindful silence during the day to reduce unnecessary conversation. For Steven, as someone with social anxiety, the practice of being with others without the pressure to talk is liberating. Retreats also include work meditations, emphasizing that every activity is a form of meditation. The overarching goal is to provide participants with an immersive experience in mindfulness and fellowship.


On the topic of Sangha, Steven emphasizes the transformative power of practicing in a community. He sees Sangha as a space for connecting with the world and serving others, moving beyond mere self-soothing. Reflecting on a recent phone call about dealing with a disruptive community member, he underscores the practice of accepting and not judging others within Sangha, building a capacity that extends to relationships, daily life, and societal interactions. He recognizes Sangha as a reservoir of support and refuge, essential in Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings.

Discussing the concept of joy, Steven differentiates it from happiness, aligning joy with an extra level beyond contentment. He sees joy as arising when obstacles to happiness fall away. Steven initially struggled with the idea of gratitude, finding popular expressions of it insincere. However, he eventually embraced the sincerity of expressing gratitude frequently, recognizing its positive impact on both himself and others. Steven shares his shift in understanding, highlighting the liberating effect of expressing gratitude in even the smallest interactions.

Concluding, Steven acknowledges the challenges and rewards of cultivating joy, considering it the next step in his spiritual journey. He expresses readiness to receive this aspect of the teaching, viewing it as a practice and a quality that can be developed over time.


Growing up with a strong intellectual orientation, Steven valued reason and rationality. He pursued a Ph.D. due to his innate curiosity and intellectual inclination. However, he recognized the importance of the emotional aspect of human experience early on, understanding that a purely scholarly approach wasn’t sufficient for a meaningful understanding of people and the world.

While participating in Unitarian Universalism, Steven felt a tension between his intellectual skepticism and the need for a more heart-centered approach. His entry into the Plum Village tradition and ordination in the Order of Interbeing marked a transformative shift. He found that every aspect of the teachings resonated with him, providing a better way to be at ease in the world.

Discussing the mindfulness trainings, Steven highlighted his sincere engagement, acknowledging that his approach might not align with everyone else’s. For example, he’s not a vegetarian but maintains a commitment to nonviolence in his dietary choices. Similarly, he initially continued consuming alcohol after receiving mindfulness trainings but eventually quit as his awareness grew.

Steven emphasized the gradual and transformative nature of Buddhist practice, contrasting it with the one-and-done concept of salvation in Christianity. He appreciates the everyday, repeated engagement of Buddhist practice, describing it as a constant process of awareness and capacity development.

A major gain for Steven has been moving beyond an overreliance on intellect and developing curiosity and openness. He views anxiety as a failure of imagination, a tunnel that limits possibilities. Overcoming anxiety involved expanding his awareness, physically and mentally, learning to accept uncertainty, and letting things unfold. This shift has been the most transformative aspect of his 17-year practice, allowing him to experience ease and peace by embracing the world in its vastness and accepting himself and others as they are.


Steven faced the challenge of desiring a shared spiritual practice with his partner, envying couples who both embraced Buddhist teachings. Although his wife supported his journey, she wasn’t eager to adopt the practices herself due to a past negative experience and difficulties with meditation techniques. Initially, this disconnect felt like a loss, but over time, Steven learned to appreciate her support and found ways to communicate effectively about his experiences without being overly demanding.

Navigating the mindfulness trainings posed another challenge, triggering self-evaluation against Christian ideals. Steven grappled with the notion of measuring his worth as a “good Buddhist” based on adherence to these guidelines. Skillful speech and pausing before reacting were ongoing personal challenges, but he recognized these as personality flaws rather than faults in the teachings. Despite struggles, Steven expressed gratitude for having tools to address these issues and avoid self-condemnation.

The process of becoming an aspirant for ordination initially faced resistance from Steven, who questioned his motivations and potential ego involvement. Upon moving forward, he embraced humility and focused on the commitment to the path rather than viewing it as a personal accomplishment or status symbol. Acknowledging and addressing his own need for ego support became an essential aspect of his spiritual journey.


In reflecting on the broader perspective gained through mindfulness practice, Steven discusses the Four Noble Truths and the source of human suffering, emphasizing the dissatisfaction stemming from the desire for the world to be different than it is. He acknowledges both large and small dissatisfactions and delves into the challenges he faced in his upbringing, particularly within the social justice movement.

Steven contrasts the moralistic demands of past movements, such as voluntary simplicity, with the more appealing and liberating approach of mindfulness teachings. He appreciates the emphasis on living lightly in the world for the joy and liberation it brings, rather than focusing on avoidance due to moral judgments. The shift in mindset encourages gratitude for offering a gift to others through one’s choices.

In applying these principles to his personal life, Steven recognizes how expanding his comfort zone has positively impacted his relationships, especially within his marriage and family dynamics. He shares the transformative journey of opening up to broader perspectives, facilitated by mindfulness practices, therapy, and other tools.

Zooming out, Steven connects his personal growth to navigating the political landscape, citing a recent legislative session in Montana as an example. Despite strong emotions related to transgender rights, he strives to understand the narrow perspectives driving discriminatory legislation. This understanding leads him to view those responsible as individuals caught in their own suffering, prompting contemplation on an engaged Buddhist response to those resistant to empathy and awareness. Ultimately, Steven seeks to find a compassionate approach rather than harboring hatred or condemnation.

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