I began meditating at the age of 22, hoping to find a way to alleviate my deepening discontentment and philosophical depression. As a waiter and aspiring artist, I was living in a dilapidated third-floor apartment next to the Chicago El tracks, with trains thundering past the windows every 3 minutes. It was an ambitious place to try to learn to meditate. But I will always remember the first time I tasted a moment of a calm and contented mind, sitting cross-legged on my bed, facing a cracking plaster wall as rush-hour trains roared and flashed by. Tears of relief ran down my face. I knew I was hooked.
That was the summer of 1996, when His Holiness the Dalai Lama came to visit Chicago. I didn’t really know who he was, but at a friend’s encouraging, I called and got the last available ticket to a live public talk. Sitting in the third row, staring at the Dalai Lama’s simple brown lace-up shoes, I wept unexplainable tears as he spoke of compassion in a way that was more vast and palpable than I had ever imagined. I remember having the thought, “I wonder if this means I’m going to be a Buddhist? That would be weird.”
Shortly thereafter, the wonderful weird journey began. Craving quiet and nature, I moved home to Colorado Springs, where a flyer in a bookstore lead me to a local Buddhist group and Geshe Tsultim Gyeltsen, a senior Tibetan Lama, my first teacher. His brilliant logic, calm presence and remarkable kindness captivated me. To the dismay of my formerly anti-religious self, I formally became a Buddhist, and dove wholeheartedly into the study and practice.
In the meantime, I finished a B.A. in Philosophy at the University of Colorado while living with my grandmother, working as a hospice caregiver, and constantly dreaming of traveling to Asia to ordain as a Buddhist monk. Geshe Gyeltsen and my other mentors helped me work towards that goal, and eventually, in 2002, my dream came true: with a snap of the fingers and a snip of the hair, I was ordained a novice by Lama Zopa Rinpoche in his monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal, and later fully ordained by H.H. the Dalai Lama in his home in Dharamsala, India – truly some of the peak moments of my life.
Under the guidance of my teachers, I trained in monasteries in India, Nepal, France, and the United States. Altogether, I spent more than five years as a monk. Two of those years were in solitary meditation retreat at The Land of Calm Abiding, a remote off-the-grid wilderness hermitage in Big Sur, California, in a sacred valley only accessible by 4-wheel drive about 5 months of the year.
There in retreat, going many months without seeing or talking to another human being, I began to experience a mind-widening, heart-bursting connection to nature, to our planet, and to all living beings. I began to taste and envision the wonder of our human potential, and grieve deeply for the suffering and loss we have inflicted upon ourselves, others, and the natural world.
In 2008, feeling compelled to integrate what I had experienced into a more ordinary life, and to be more creatively and actively engaged in the world at this time of planetary crisis, I made the difficult decision to leave the monkhood. A few months later, I found my life-partner and best friend, Joe, sitting next to me at a teaching by H.H. the Dalai Lama in Aspen, Colorado, and we have been together ever since.
These post-monk years have brought many blessings and challenges. I have continued to study and practice Buddhism with teachers in several lineages, but it has not been easy to maintain the stillness of the monk’s life in our frantic world that is designed to distract. I have experienced days when conditions were perfect for awareness to shine bright, and days when, in the rush of life, my mindfulness was reduced to a tiny flickering spark.
But all of this has helped me to be more determined than ever to find and create support systems that allow mindfulness to flourish in the very midst of our busy modern lives. Through trial and error, I have found ways to make sure I have time to meditate every morning – no matter what. And I have found that talking about meditation and teaching it to others has been one of the best ways to support the deepening of my own practice. As they say, “if you want to learn, teach.”
At the request of my teachers, I have lead courses and retreats in several Buddhist centers, including Lama Yeshe House in Boulder, and Thubten Shedrup Ling, in Colorado Springs. I have also taught mindfulness meditation in a secular context to individuals and groups young and old, in nursing homes, schools, churches and corporate board rooms.
As a meditation instructor, I have found my true passion, and I feel honored to witness the sprouting seeds of peace and planetary healing in every person who discovers their own innate radiantly pure awareness, free of stressful thoughts and emotions. I believe meditation has the power to save us and our world from the inside out, and this website, in its own small way, is dedicated towards that end.
May it be so!