Blogging Evolved

Daily life tends to fluctuate between inward and outward patterns, sometimes moment by moment. On a deeper level, one’s life generally follows patterns of entering and pulling back from engagement with the world. After a long period of such pulling back, I’ve stared writing publicly again. I spent most of the past 15 months in practice environments. This time was split between my Zen Monastery in Crestone, Colorado and the Meditation/Yoga schools of Hridaya and Agama based in Koh Phangan, Thailand and Mazunte, Mexico. This time was focused very much on self-discovery, intimate relationship and seeking a truer way of life. While this inward journey continues, I find myself longing more and more for engagement – in a creative sense.  With and through others, developing a community of individuals seeking to come together around one of the most important questions – Who am I ?

My current writing is focused on my day to day experiences, re-developing a habit of writing and articulating inward experience to others. I find writing incredibly nourishing in the sense that it provides me the opportunity to pause and reflect in this world of ceaseless activity. These pauses enable me to more closely examine my life and make adjustments of my relationships to others and the world with a greater sense of clarity then simply going with the flow and relaying on a more frantic mind to make such decisions.

Regarding the title of this post, I want to share my greater vision for this blog and my writing. Speaking in a pure business sense, all of my writing and ideas are in a sense creating something like a brand. Just as one is identified in the world via their personality, their actions and words, a blog is an extension of this. So this Keith brand, what exactly do I want it to be about? I’m not necessarily talking about turning my blog into a business or something that generates income (although that would be nice!), but something that is an extension of who I am.  Well who am I then? This is where the blog evolves. As I continue to hold deeply to the question of Who am I? while engaging in the world, the evolution occurs.

As I see it right now, there are four themes that my life continuously engages in and that I would like to more deeply explore for myself and others:

  1. Meditation (and Yoga)
  2. Masculinity (and intimate relationship)
  3. Personal finance
  4. ~TBD

The forth category is quite broad at the moment and I need help refining it. It revolves around lifestyle and some of its main components:

  1. Simple Living
  2. Alternative lifestyles (Escaping the 9-5)
  3. Health
  4. a few more random topics

Somehow I want to create a place where these themes weave together in a way that will help me continue to evolve in my own life, intermingling the fundamental topics of meditation and spirituality along with the more conventional topics of finance, relationship and day to day life.

As a reader, I would really appreciate some feedback on this one – does it make sense to focus on these themes? Are they too broad/disparate? What areas would you individually like to read about?  Thanks in advance for your feedback!

The Story Only I Can Tell

This weekend I culminated an 8 week series of writing classes with an all-day workshop titled “The Story Only You Can Tell”. Led by Shari Caudron, it was a nice capstone to a more formal attempt at developing myself as a writer this year.

My friend Val, who is pursuing his MFA in writing at Naropa University recommended that I look into a group called Lighthouse Writers Workshop, an organization of writers based in Denver. He said I would get university level instruction for a fraction of cost – which ended up being absolutely true!

I took two 4-week introductory based courses (they are considered introductory when you don’t have to do in-class critiquing), called Writing 101 and The Write Mind.  Both of these focused more on writing as a craft, developing a daily practice and overcoming gremlins to your writing. I highly recommend Doug Kurtz’s Write Mind – despite only 8 hours of class time, Doug managed to pack in an incredible amount of material and was an inspiring and motivating instructor.

This weekend’s workshop was a great complement to the prior courses. Rather than focusing on the craft of writing, it was trying to pull out the actual story that needs to be written.  The day progressed through a large number of free-writing prompts that examined ones life, passions, memories and obsessions, determining whether fiction or nonfiction was the better platform developing and introducing the main character and ultimately reducing things to the final question:

    Why do I need to write this story now?

My answer: I must right this story now because I am desperately seeking creative expression of my human experience.  My days are filled with time playing in this gray space between the known and the unknown that constantly unfolds in my experience, the world, my mind. I seek to bring some of these unknowns into light. Although this yearning for light begins with myself, there exists a strong sense that I am not alone, that this pursuit is a fundamental aspect of the human experience.

While writing this, I was reminded of a beautiful poem by Gary Snyder, Beat Poet and Zen Student:

How Poetry Comes to Me

It comes blundering over the

Boulders at night, it stays

Frightened outside the

Range of my campfire

I go to meet it at the

Edge of the light

One of the most profound insights that came to me was that my story may best be told through fiction, whereas prior to this weekend I had never given it a thought. Something like a modern day Siddhartha by Herman Hesse… However, I reminded myself that my focus now is my blog, finding my daily writing practice and niche in this spiritual blogging community.

My writing will clearly come from a Buddhist perspective and will continue to be about about spirituality, travel, yoga, mind, life, simple living, well-being.

My subject is spiritual evolution and my theme is something like: expanding consciousness, love and compassion. The process of self-realization, embodiment of truth, learning how to be alive.

As I just mentioned above, I am in a place in my life where I am examining my experience, the world, my mind. I have a sense that others have inklings of these experiences or passions and I want to express the sometimes inexpressible through language. Its through language that we develop a conceptual framework of the world, and these concepts can be than be analyzed and destroyed to make room for more or just pure, empty space, being, or Self.

The Buddhist theme makes sense, because ultimately I believe Buddha’s basic teachings: The first of the 4 Noble Truths: Life is filled with discontent. This truth is prevalent for EVERYONE and we are running around like hamsters on a wheel trying to find a way off by going faster. But what we really need to do is simply step off the wheel. Most of us don’t even know we’re on a wheel and are scared senseless of not being on it. Ironically this is the only way to end this discontent and start to be alive.

Other aspects of my writing will continue to be around travel, social critique, life. These are lighter topics but ones that can be infused with more spiritual presence in a way that may allow others, if not completely to step off the hamster wheel, to at least slow down a little to a walk and catch a breath.

We looked at fears, at things that prevent us from really going for it. One of my big ones is “Nobody wants to read this stuff”.  And while I have a good idea about a subject and a theme, I start to get stuck in the story.  I know I want it to be about profound inner transformation, yet what is that really? How does one write about it?  It’s this story that must evoke emotions in people to be interesting. I wonder what emotions my writing does evoke? Sometimes I see a set of opposites: Peace, stillness, joy AND Longing, frustration, self-judgment. These are often the feelings I personally have while writing.

I want to evoke the feeling that I get when I read or meet great teachers. A sense of a guide helping me navigate the world that calls on deep human mythology. A desire to answer life’s highest calling, returning to the source or Self. Its hard to say the kind of reaction that might occur, as for some it will cause disgust, pushing their carefully erected boundaries of safety. For others it might be an answer, an opportunity for self-evolution and development. But if I want to evoke anything, it is definitely a questioning of everything one perceives as real.

There you have it. More questions than answers. But what would life be if you had all of the answers? Please comment on this one. As a reader of this blog, why do you read it? What type of topics and discussions would you like to see?

No place to go and Nothing to do

This has been my mantra as of late. Of course there are many things to do and places to go, but what I’m after is the state of mind that accompanies such a phrase. If you examine your thoughts, you’ll find that your mind generally is wanting to do something (eat, sleep, talk, etc.) or go some place.  When you are unemployed and wondering where your life is headed, this tends to happen even more.

Where have I been and what have I been doing?

First, the usual apology – why haven’t I been writing? Some of you know I spent six weeks this fall at the monastery, undergoing a rigorous spiritual practice. Wasn’t this full of juicy, bloggable insight?? Well yes, and no. A feeling has developed for me around sharing my spiritual progress (Is there such a thing?) that feels somewhat counterintuitive.  Zen is often described as a practice of meeting and speaking, and I have found outlets here at home that I never had while traveling – my sangha, my teachers, and my very close relationships. Its through these relationships, these meeting and speaking’s that I can explore the teachings, practice the radial views that the Buddha provided as a hypothesis to meet the world and free oneself from discontent.  I however still feel a strong need to express myself creatively, specifically through writing. I’ve gone through a goal-setting process for 2011 and have selected writer as one of my major focuses. I’m enrolled in a couple of writing classes and seminars this winter and I hope to become much more regular on the blog scene. I’m aware that all blog posts do not have to be deeply personal and profoundly insightful, but rather interesting and contain something that appeals to people. Longer-term, I am hoping to expand into a wider field of writing that includes yoga, wellness, meditation, simple living,  stress reduction, responsible investing, etc. As I re-read the above excuse about why I haven’t been writing, I find myself feeling this is not completely true, that there is another element at play beyond just being usurped by a community. There is also the shear fact that my life in America, in Colorado, is filled with baggage (good and bad), that seems to fill my day. Or more clearly, misdirects my energy from a place where I can get quiet enough to write. An example of this is my addiction to technology which will require a future blog post to decipher… Yes its clear that the world here runs on a much different wave-length than the holy cities of India or the mountain villages of Laos, but what is still needed, and this is something I’ve spoken of in the past, is the development of my own posture to maintain my own wavelength despite external circumstances. Its not as though I don’t have idle time – I have loads of it! Its more the undercurrent of motion or pressure that persists in my environment, as if it has some form of life or energetic pull of its own. I’ve discovered this is especially true of material objects( I will address these thoughts later on my technology addiction…). These energetic pulls do not allow for as much pure space with ones Self.  I am fully aware that this is my own minds perception of the circumstances, not an actual fact, yet I must slowly work on these habits, impulses and perceptions to be free of them.

What exactly has an unemployed vagabond been doing the past half a year? Often I wonder this myself, wavering between feeling that I’ve done nothing at all and a feeling of having done quite a lot.  First, the big changes. No, not a job! Since I’ve last written, the ever-amazing and beautiful Autumn, has reentered my life in a major way, as we’ve deepened a partnership begun two years ago, this time under new light and circumstances.  Last weekend we moved into a house (its yellow!) together in Denver, providing a significant shift for me (and us). First, leaving the town where I spent the last 8 years (and most of my adult life), and second, living with a woman. “Taking the plunge” as several people have called it recently. 🙂 We’ve moved into a neighborhood called Berkeley, an up and coming (aren’t they all?), neighborhood in NW Denver that is only a 25 minute drive from Boulder: at least at 5 in the morning when I’m often making it (more on this later).  The decision to move to Denver was not a light one. Upon examination of my priorities and values, which include spending more time with Autumn, having a comfortable, affordable space, and simply being open to the current circumstances in life, such as being unemployed and with a partner with a full-time job in Denver, the timing felt right. My heart is still in that yuppie mountain town and if we can ever figure out how to earn enough money to live there comfortably, we will definitely consider it.

And how does one afford living anywhere when they’ve been approaching two full years of unemployment? I am very grateful for the fortune and generosity the world has provided me.  I’ve been funding my mini-retirement or consciousness sabbatical through a generous severance from IBM, unemployment insurance, intelligent investing and a simplistic lifestyle. Due to the market improvements since early 2009, I actually have more net worth than I did the moment I was laid off. While this has been providing me a nice level of security, it has done little for stoking the fire under my ass to get me back into a career. I find myself seeking more engagement with my world, yet still balancing this with the fact that I don’t want a simple exchange of money for my time, which is the traditional method of working. One major step I’ve taken recently towards this end is to create a set of goals.  Based on a book recommendation called My Best Year Yet, originally published in 1994, I worked through a set of worksheets to cross-reference the roles, values, and priorities in my life to create a summary sheet of goals for the year. I highly recommend this book – ultimately it is 5 to 10 hours of work which will provide you clear and simple way to prioritize your year into a one sheet summary. I’m debating sharing my summary as a way to remain accountable, but for now it’s a little too personal. One of the main purposes of the exercise is to really examine which aspects of spending your time actually move you forward towards your goals. Its sort of like a quick gut-check for your day… (Does this activity move me towards or away from what I’ve set out to do in 2011?) that has been useful (albeit frustrating at times) in keeping me on task.

One of my focuses this year is on Zen practice. As many of you know I spent the greater part of October and much of November on retreat in Crestone for something called the study month. This was a powerful time for me to deepen my meditation practice, re-center, and forge a deep connection with the practice and our lineage (the focus of our month). There is a lot to say about this month that I may return to, but the point today is that when I finished and returned to Boulder, there was absolutely no question that this practice, this way of life is paramount to everything else I do. I began sitting 3-4 mornings a week, spending more and more time at the Boulder Zen Center (which operates the Briar Rose B&B – a fabulous place to stay or just stop by for tea next time you’re in Boulder). Someone found out I had an MBA and was good with math and next thing I knew I was elected to the board as treasurer. I often call my mornings at the Zen Center my “old man retired time”.  After meditation and service, those of us that can, usually stick around for tea, shooting the dharma or just catching up on life.  Despite the fact that we aren’t all old, retired or men, I see what the lives of old retired men are all about. I love it!

January came around and two of our pillars at the Zen Center headed to Crestone for Practice Period (90 day intensive practice) and suddenly several mediation periods needed a Doan (person who holds the space, rings the bells and runs service). Despite the upcoming move to Denver, I decided to formally commit to being here on Thursday mornings, Thursday evenings and Friday mornings.  Its sort of like having a mini-retreat every week. As I type this I’m sitting in the Briar Rose living room after tea, enjoying my weekly vagabond day in Boulder.  It has also been a nice way to ‘break-up’ with Boulder, still getting to the gym, my favorite coffee shops and spending time with my friends.

In addition to Zen, there is skiing, working out, reading, and a growing commitment to writing. I’m taking a series of writing courses this winter to get me kick-started on writing more effectively, hopefully at some point this year creating a new blog and website directed towards future income. One of my goals this year is two blog entries a week so watch out!

I hope everyone is off to a great 2011, and I look forward to being much more communicative this year!