Right Under my Nose!

I am winding down my time at Lake Atitlan, spending my final days in this magical, mythical and mysterious land. Two weeks ago, as I sat through illness and mild depression, I could not imagine this time coming soon enough. But now I feel like putting the brakes on, extending my time, and slowing down to take in the people and the places that I very much appreciate. I may be back; I may not. But, I most likely will be. I have always noticed how the appreciation of a place increases once I am away from it.

Today marks the 12th day my right ear has been blocked since the illness I contracted at the beginning of the year. It has added an extra layer of challenge to the last two weeks. Finally, after the body gained strength and energy, a friendly omicron leftover invited me to lean into a (hopefully) temporary disability to navigate, leading an event that deeply depended on my listening and speaking skills. With no success, I’ve attempted ALL of the methods to unblock this ear known to mankind and the internet. I have seen a doctor who diagnosed an infection and gave me antibiotic drops, which have also been futile. Continuing to cross my fingers that the pressure will relax before flying in two days.

Amid this rather significant impairment, I facilitated and led an Authentic Relating Training for 20 people. It was the culmination of a lot of hard work: marketing, following leads, promotional events, working with a challenging venue, etc. However, once the event began, I found myself slowing down, relaxing, and doing what I love – being with others and helping and teaching them tools to be more with themselves and others. With the blocked ear, I felt like I was speaking underwater. I had no idea how loud I was talking and found it took extended effort to stay focused. Fortunately, I was with my trusted co-lead, Ash, who helped ensure nothing was missed.

I guess everything above is a preamble for what I want to speak about today: A recent dissonance that has appeared in my awareness around my purpose and meaningful place in the world. I have had the good fortune of hosting a weekly brothers circle here in San Marcos the past two months, full of rich harvests and insights and a space of healing for many of the men, myself included. Yesterday we ranged in age from 20 to 65 and spent a good portion of the circle sincerely inquiring into each man to level him up in a specific area of life that he was struggling with. For one man, it was faith in light of a terminal illness. For another, his leadership in his intimate relationship, my inner conflict between what I have found deeply satisfying recently and my pre-existing story of what success is supposed to look like. Let me unpack this:

Recently, or more or less for the past three years, I’ve been contemplating, exploring, considering my purpose in the world, my search for meaning, which has shown up as a repeated theme on my blog. I now notice that I may have been missing something directly under my nose. The pain of not feeling on-purpose is due to this fixed idea of what being ‘on-purpose’ is supposed to look like: a pre-defined notion of what being satisfied in my purpose is. My ego wrestles with and opposes the idea that being on purpose might look very different than what it has gripped for so long: success in the masculine sense: having a significant impact, owning a brand or center, being in the limelight, earning fist loads of money changing the world.

When I measure my last couple of years against this idea of success, no wonder I feel like I have fallen short! Being diagnosed with cancer in the middle of a pandemic and spending most of my energy healing myself and nourishing my relationships and emotional intelligence – what a tremendous waste of time (from that vantage point)! But wait a minute – maybe there is something here that I have been missing? What have I discovered, developed, and nourished these past two years? One-one relating, small group interactions, esoteric body-mind-spirit practices, nature, deep healing, sensemaking, poetry, and mysticism.

But what if, just what if…the purpose of this leadership was in these inner realms, in the more feminine aspects of leadership: empathetic, intuitive, passionate, collaborative, instinctual, versus the more traditional masculine individualistic, analytical, decisive, independent, and logical?

Leadership in community, service and teaching are clearly part of my calling and path. However, I realize that while my WHY is clear, I may have been envisioning the wrong HOW and WHAT. As I transition away from Guatemala, returning to Colorado briefly before heading abroad again, I will ponder this possibility and continue to allow my lived experience to challenge my old stories and beliefs. Let’s see what unfolds next. Thanks for being with me.

A Field of Potentialities

I am writing today from my small room in Crestone Colorado. An arctic cold front has moved through Colorado, providing us a foot of snow, and 10F (-12C) temperatures. I moved from Boulder to the Crestone Mountain Zen Center on October 1st. I feel as though I have written a blog post like this before – in fact, I did, in 2011!

9 years later, I am making a similar choice. A synchronistic set of circumstances came together to allow this to happen. First, earlier in the summer, my Zen teacher, Zentatsu Baker Roshi, who was forced to remain in the US due to the pandemic, decided to unretire and began teaching and managing the monastery again. There were some significant leadership changes this summer at the monastery and several of my closest sangha friends over the years agreed to support my teacher through this transition. Suddenly a space that had felt uninviting in recent years was very open and welcoming to me.

In June, Roshi invited me to live at the monastery in any capacity possible. As my health at that time was still very compromised, I knew I would be unable to make an immediate decision. All my advisors were very clear that making big decisions in a state of depression and ill health, was not a good idea! Therefore, I left the decision open as my health improved until I felt more capable of a decision requiring a big change. With time, I noticed my heart was feeling increasingly at ease with the idea of returning to a monastic existence, and there was some excitement at the concept of being invited to participate in a part-time manner, something I will discuss below.

This time, the circumstances are wildly different. First, I will not “be dancing on loves stage with a beautiful Dutch woman” as I wrote 9 years ago. One of the more difficult aspects of moving here was choosing to leave behind two deeply satisfying and nourishing romantic relationships that had developed in recent months. At the monastery, my risk tolerance for coronavirus merges with the risk tolerance of the entire sangha – and that is a very low tolerance. Essentially the group here is self-isolating to keep our residents safe (Three residents are over 70 and my teacher is nearly 85). Aside from essential medical or shopping trips, my only engagement with others outside the monastery will be outside walks or Zoom calls. Anyone with significant exposure outside the monastery must quarantine and test before returning to communal practice life. The positive side of this is that it is as-if the pandemic does not exist here – because of the group self-quarantine, we do not need to wear masks, we eat and work closely together, hugging and touch are encouraged and what was once normal to everyone outside, remains normal here. Today I shared practice and meals with a group of 18 people which feels incredibly nourishing and intimate after the long period of chemo and corona isolation.

Although nearly four weeks have passed since I arrived, a clear sense of timelessness has accompanied living here. The schedule, the first teacher, is repetitive and unforgiving. The wake-up bell rings at 4:30, although many of us need to stir even earlier to prepare for our various practice roles. I am finding such deep nourishment in my daily meditation. Post-chemotherapy, I took an unintended hiatus from regular practice, possibly for the longest period since I began meditating regularly a decade ago. Each morning, despite the cold and darkness, I eagerly seek that cushion, coming back home to one of the most intimate places I have discovered in this life.

I am experimenting with a part-time schedule here, participating in about 2/3 of the daily activities while allowing myself extra space for ensuring I get enough rest to continue my healing. This means I skip the afternoon work period and the evening meditation – I would prefer not to miss this meditation, but it means I would not get to sleep until past 9. Right now, I need a solid 8 hours of sleep to remain healthy and not deplete my immune system. Once I see the clock strike at 8 pm, it’s lights out for me, which seems unbelievable, although completely necessary!

The other benefit of being on a 2/3 schedule is that I have some flexibility to remain connected to the outside world with better frequency and I am continuing to pursue several threads that have become very important to me in the last year. Authentic Relating is one of the primary ones: I am teaching an online course in Authentic Relating and am also mentoring several people in a leadership development course. I have also headed up a crowdfunding project for the Realness Project where we are raising funds to get authentic relating workbooks into prisons to bring some light to incarcerated people who are facing much more difficult and isolated conditions than many of us. There are a few other threads I may describe later, but the point is that my agreement with the staff here makes it possible for me to occasionally miss part of the morning work period for a meeting or to take a couple of days here or there to teach or take an online course. Normally such half-time positions are not possible, but because I have a long relationship and a developed practice with this monastery, we have come to this seemingly mutually beneficial agreement.

I think I’ll leave it here – I had intended to reach into the subtle aspects, the emotional and spiritual shifts and reflections, however, the practical points took over!  I hope to continue writing more consistently and plan to take you all along on this next stage of my healing and evolution!