Spiritual Autobiography

From childhood, I harbored a keen interest in seeking and understanding God. I delved into the Bible and took strides, even at the age of 8, to engage with Catholic nuns across the street to learn the rosary. My prayers often echoed a yearning for guidance. In my 20s, I explored Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism, practicing chanting and meditating on my personal sound. Despite recognizing early on that meditation was my chosen path, I struggled to find suitable mentors within Western traditions. Undeterred, I participated in retreats with various Buddhist groups and concurrently pursued a PhD in World Religions and Psychology.

Then, in September 1980, serendipity unfolded in the bustling “diamond district” of NYC. Leaning against a building with a friend, I encountered a Tibetan man in robes, none other than the 16th Karmapa, whom my friend had introduced to me the night before. In a timeless, wordless exchange, we faced each other before he gracefully entered a car parked in front of us.

This unexpected meeting marked the beginning of a transformative journey. Throughout the 1980 trip, I shadowed the 16th Karmapa across the country, contemplating leaving everything behind to follow him. However, he advised me to stay in the United States. Undeterred, I searched for Tibetan Buddhist teachers in the country and, months later in Woodstock, crossed paths with Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche.

In that moment, something profound stirred within me, transcending rational thought. I mustered the courage to ask him to be my teacher. Following a timeless, wordless interlude, he responded, “You seem sincere. That will be all right.” Thus commenced one of the two deepest relationships in my life.

Zoe is currently leading the effort
to build a stupa for her teacher.

An alternate narrative unfolds as well: My father’s frequent drunken rages cast a dark shadow on my early years. Twice, he attempted to take my life during those episodes, leaving behind injuries and instilling constant fear. Three women and I lived in perpetual dread until I found the courage to leave home at 18. Despite the various forms of violence, my father, a highly intelligent and creative individual, provoked conflicting feelings of both hatred and love within me.

In the mid-sixties, I escaped to New York City, securing a role as the editorial assistant to the Feature Editor of House Beautiful Magazine. Subsequently, I joined the production crew of the Apollo 12 moonshot at NBC. Engaging in diverse pursuits, from starting a literary magazine to participating in an off-off-Broadway play and giving poetry readings, I recited mantras, seeking solace for the emptiness that persisted despite outward successes. I referred to this internal void as “zeroness,” and the yearning for death loomed.

In a span of one year, I descended into severe alcoholism, consuming round the clock until I passed out. Brief stints living on the street and a near-fatal cold turkey withdrawal marked this dark period. Despite daily battles to survive, physical exertion, prayers, and moments of sobriety, I succumbed to the allure of alcohol each day by 3 PM. Throughout this turmoil, my quest for a connection with God persisted.

Over three tumultuous years, I attempted suicide three times, with the last two incidents occurring on consecutive nights. Aware of the imminent danger, I sought refuge in a locked ward of a mental hospital, where the suffering of others shattered my self-pity. Forming connections and offering support, I found solace and even learned to weave on a loom. Yet, upon leaving the hospital, I resumed drinking, sensing that the end was near.

A childhood memory involving a friend’s struggle with alcoholism inspired a turning point. I downed a quart of vodka, dialed the operator, and requested AA. Women from the organization promised to fetch me, leading me to a meeting that triggered a profound awakening. My mind cracked open, and I became one with everything, transcending compulsions to drink and end my life. This transformative experience, resembling a Grand Satori, marked my liberation on Earth Day, April 22, 1975, my spiritual birthday.

For five years, I faithfully attended AA meetings, simultaneously seeking a meditation teacher. In 1980, a serendipitous encounter with the 16th Karmapa and Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche steered me onto the Tibetan Buddhist Path. Despite earning a PhD in world religions and psychology during this time, my daily practice centers on appreciating the heart of various traditions and the spiritual giants within each. I describe them as my “flowers,” and each morning, I visit my Garden to commune with these treasures of humanity.

Since the revelation of my lifelong path in meditation and prayer, the traditional 3-year retreat became a beacon. In 1983, while granted an opportunity to study Sanskrit in Germany, I visited the retreat center in La Dordogne, France. However, a severe back issue confined me for days, presenting a challenge to my departure. Despite this setback, my determination to pursue the path of meditation persisted.

Rinpoche was the shining example of what we humans
can accomplish with effort,
prayer but mostly it became apparent through love

I took the Bodhisattva Vows with Khenpo Karthar and began Ngondro in 1981. Completing the prostrations phase took about ten years, and the subsequent steps followed swiftly. Throughout the initial years of practice, I cherished meditation, had profound experiences, found the discipline of Ngondro challenging, but didn’t sense a deepening within for quite some time. What sustained me was my love for meditation, the deepening connection with Rinpoche, and the profound love I felt for him. He swiftly became the most significant person in my life, a constant presence at the back or forefront of my heart/mind, even in foreign lands and everyday experiences.

I had the opportunity to attend the second traditional 3-year Retreat under Rinpoche’s guidance in Delhi, NY. Despite the difficulties, it remains a cherished time with Rinpoche, providing daily interaction during a challenging period.

In 2019, sensing the need to be closer to Rinpoche, I moved to Delhi from Washington. I was fortunate to be nearby before his illness and subsequent departure from his body. I still feel his presence within and am actively involved in constructing a stupa dedicated to him and enlightenment in Crestone, CO, next to the 16th Karmapa Stupa, fulfilling the wishes of the person who was his boss.

In 2003, amidst the Iraq War, I decided to put teachings from the 3-year retreat into practice through solitary retreat in Canada. Dedication of my practices and prayers aimed at ending war as a solution to individual and global problems.

During this retreat, focusing on the 6 Yogas of Naropa, I sensed a deepening of my practice, 23 years after meeting the 16th Karmapa and having Rinpoche as my teacher. Over seven years of intensive daily practice, I experienced a discernible shift in how I perceived the world. It was a remarkably contented time, except for the 49 days following Rinpoche’s death.

Reflecting back, I realize that this contentment stemmed from no longer feeling the internal emptiness and greyness. There was discernible light, connected to prana, ch’i, lung, coursing through the subtle body, burning through energetic and emotional knots—the conditioned behaviors and fabric of ego. This process started in 2004 and continues today. Layers of veils and misperceptions are being lifted, allowing the light to function as it should. Rinpoche’s early guidance on letting everything happen naturally has proven true. Purification is occurring, though it is not swift. False aspects are being burned through, and clarity is increasing. Although there’s much more purification to undergo, what has changed is the faith that it will indeed happen, even if it takes lifetimes. I know this from the depths of my being.

The relationship with the guru deepens with practice, especially in retreat. The bond of love between Rinpoche and me deepened because he exemplified what humans can achieve with effort, prayer, and, most notably, love. Love, a challenging word, can be substituted with Beauty. Rinpoche is the closest I’ve witnessed to a human embodying the potential and beauty we can achieve. I desire the joining that love ultimately represents with everything.

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