Moving to the Monastery

Its early October, yet summer lingers here in Boulder. Fall is sneaking in slowly with its changing leaves and cool nights. Snow is in the forecast soon. I find myself in transition along with the seasons. After a whirlwind of travel from Thailand, Holland, Crestone and Seattle, I finally settled in Boulder in mid-September.

I traveled to Thailand with the pure intention to deepen my spiritual practice, to explore different paths and simply to get away for a while. My experiences this summer were incredible. I traveled differently than I ever had in the past. I simply went to one location and stayed put. I rented a house and integrated myself into the local community. I became active in the Agama Yoga school, taking several workshops, two months of intensive Yoga study and practice as well as two 10-day silent meditation retreats. I experimented with fasting and cleansing. I lived simply and slowly.

I set a clear intention that this would be a summer of inner work, that I would not seek social gratifications or female companionship.  Yet one cannot deny the human existence and the powers at play between certain individuals. The most extraordinary element of my summer, and possibly my life to this point was meeting Ingrid at the conclusion of a ten-day meditation retreat together. I could fill this page with all that we’ve experienced and explored together, but as a general rule, I try to keep relationships out of my writing. I must however say that our meeting has coincided with an opening of my heart, with a deep yearning to to be united with someone as inspiring, beautiful and amazing as she is. A wild set of circumstances have collided that have allowed an American man and a Dutch woman to dance on loves stage together.

I find it difficult to articulate my experience this summer, as much of what occurred for me was very subtle – shifts in my world views, my relationship to myself, others and the world. Aspects of my personal experience I once had taken for granted or simply dismissed are now accessible to me. There is a sense of surrender to the unknown ahead, a diminishing need to control the uncontrollable future. I consider much more often what is nourishing me in this very moment rather than in some projection of the future. In a practical sense I have no idea where my life is headed, yet the clarity of simply trusting my heart and intuition is very powerful.

Throughout the summer I weighed a large decision for early 2012 – would I participate in a 90-day Practice Period at my Zen Monastery in Crestone, or would I travel to Mexico to participate in a 90-day teacher training program in Yoga and Meditation? Over time the decision became very clear for me – I found myself longing for time in Crestone, to be immersed in the stream of ancient teaching passed down over the past 2600 years. A teacher’s training program might very well be in my future, but right now my path is asking me to spend more time practicing, deepening my meditation practice more so than gaining an intellectual understanding of what meditation is. Helping others bring meditation into their lives and bring their lives to meditation would bring me tremendous of joy, yet right now I feel the most nourishing way for me to move towards such a vision is to live and practice in a monastic setting.

imageIngrid will be joining me for the move to Crestone in a couple of weeks, where we will practice together at the monastery this fall.  In January, I will begin Practice Period and she will travel to Mexico to help organize and teach the Teacher’s Training I nearly decided to attend. You can see this was no easy decision for me! In all I will be at the monastery for at least 6 months, finishing the practice period in mid-April. Other then the desire to reunite with Ingrid at that time, the world is a blank slate, full of possibility.

Rationality versus Intuition

A major reason I began this pilgrimage was to perform a reset in my life, to sell my possessions, abandon my apartment and live as simply as possible. The physical and material aspects of house-cleaning, while not easy, are much easier than the psychological and intellectual ones. You can throw out an old couch but can you throw out a way of thinking? An opinion? A habit? I believe you can, and as I find myself away from home for over 5 months, I have found myself successful in some of this cleaning. This process stems from my Zen Buddhist practice and the concept of returning to a beginner’s mind.  A beginner’s mind being one always coming out of the moment, in the present, not relying on the storehouse of memory, society or intellect to act. To see directly into relationships as if a pure mirror, without the haze and dirt that inhibits and hurts these relationships. I of course mean relationships to people, but I am also talking about relationships to nature, to objects, to thoughts and of course ourselves.

For me, and for many of us, we over-rely on our intellect to guide us in this uncertain world. We often distrust our intuition, our heart or small signs that come to us through the universe. A friend of mine recently said to me, “Men tend to make daily decisions rationally and the most difficult decisions intuitively while women tend to make daily decisions intuitively while making the most difficult decisions rationally.” While this is highly generalized, I can say it is for me, true. Or more accurately, I used to make ALL of my decisions rationally and/or practically, often completely ignoring my intuition. That sort of decision making has kept me in relationships longer than I should have been, sent me on a life path that was not aligned with true self, kept me in a job I was disinterested in because it was the most practical thing to do.

Before this trip, and definitely on it, I find myself beginning to fall on the other side of the coin. For me this is often scary and uncertain. Intellect allows us to put nice little boxes around decisions, to weigh the pros and cons, to move forward with a sense of certainty. Intuition is a curious thing – showing up in dreams, small signs throughout the day and in partial concepts and emotions, never painting a complete picture. When one moves forward with an intuitive decision, they are placing great faith in the unknown, in themselves and their ability to listen to their heart, gut, or the universe depending on where you think intuition lies. I can tell you for sure its not in your head!

Recently I have not felt the creative urge to write, to blog or even to read. I’m playing in the space of intuition, scribbling little notes in my notebook, questioning EVERYTHING I have ever thought or believed. I’m struggling to take off the chains of the past that I’ve allowed to define me. Yes, my name is Keith, I grew up here, went to school here, had this training and this job, lived here, traveled here, etc, etc. BUT, that is not who I am, right now. That is the path my body and mind have taken to reach this particular place in space and time. I’m not suggesting ignoring the past, but when someone asks you, “Who are you?”, don’t take that question lightly. Great masters have sat in caves for a decade holding only this question. Or more modernly, a quote from the book, Fight Club: “You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your fucking khakis. You’re the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world”.

Not only do you create an idea of who you are, but your friends, your partners and your families often heavily reinforce this. An astrological reading I once received informed me that this is especially difficult for me – that people in my life often see me as an image of the past, that I can struggle to redefine myself around those I spend a lot of time with. Who knows if its different for me than anyone else – but I am aware of this difficulty. I find myself wanting to surround myself with people who DO allow their own images of me to change, to shatter old boxes and those that give me space to grow. I think about this a lot. Only the enlightened can truly see other individuals as momentary manifestations of a divine force, not images from their own memory and opinion. The rest of us, as it is human nature, tend to create images of those close to us, its easier and safer (If a masked man comes at you with a baseball bat, you may want to rely on a few stereotypes). BUT, when a loved one says or does something that is not part of your image, we struggle, we say “I don’t know you!” That is really like saying, “You are not acting in a way consistent with my image of you!”. Often this image is our own projection from the past of what is right, what is wrong, a belief that our path in life and view of truth is the same as everyone else’s. I’ve written about how one of the things I struggle most with while traveling is not finding people to connect to. As I write this blog, however, I realize that this is because it is easier and more comfortable to sit in other people’s boxes at home than to express yourself anew all the time. So we all end up creating these images and boxes and never truly communicating soul to soul with those most close to us. More recently I’ve been on a few guided trips where I was able to spend time with the same people for a couple weeks. I truly enjoyed the opportunity to talk, to share, to experiment in this space of a present relationship, one without a past. Yesterday, I said to someone, “I can’t believe how much I shared with you, I would often not share that much with someone from home”. Why not??? Because it would force me out of that comfortable box! Well, sorry everyone, but I won’t sit in your box anymore.

So let me pose the question – who exactly are YOU?