So there is a story behind every transformation. Every Anglo who walks into a Buddhist temple is a possible even probable story of transformation. Not because entry to a Buddhist temple is required but because it usually signals seeking and dissatisfaction.
I have come to a spiritual awakening of sorts through significant dissatisfaction(s). It starts in 1982 with a dependence on cocaine to alleviate the emotional pain associated with a lost love interest. I twisted the age old adage that “time heals all wounds” and decided if I could use coke to numb my pain it would eventually pass. It was a flawed plan.
A year after I put that plan in motion I was ready to enter a treatment center for drug abuse. I spent 3 weeks there being introduced to 12 steps and the underlying foundation of a belief in a higher power. My initial reaction which I openly expressed went like this. “If it will take God to keep me clean, then I am hopeless.” But I decided to try the 12 step programs because I really didn’t have a better plan.
Putting myself into close proximity to the people in AA and Narcotics Anonymous made me want what they had. I found a willingness to pray just because it worked for them and I had nothing better. I spent the next 14 years in recovery and I practiced and eventually believed that there was a higher God-like power and it was helpful to pray to said power.
In the process I undertook tasks that had once seemed impossible. I started school, I went to sleep at regular hours and I exercised consistently. I, a high school dropout, got through law school. I, an incurable insomniac, began to sleep. And I became a regular in the gym and on the triathlon circuit.
But, complacency eventually became my constant companion. I got cocky and believed that I had molded myself into a normal guy. Time though has shown that I am not normal even at my most normal. I can mimic a community. If it is a criminal community, I’m in. Recovery? OK. PTA? I’m good. I won’t blend in but my behavior will comport to societal norms.
So subsequently I drank and then drugged again. If I missed doing a drug in the first go round, I got to it this time. I wouldn’t even try in this story to recount the horrors of my addiction. That is a book in and of itself. Nope this is about the spiritual transformation that then occurred over the next several years.
I went back to 12 step meetings. I sought mentors and sponsors. I inadvertently read books about transformation, starting with Eckhart Tolle. I taught myself to meditate. I sought a meditation teacher and wound up practicing with Ajahn Sarayut a Buddhist monk from Thailand. (ajahn means teacher in Thai)
I was teaching Ajahn how to navigate amongst Anglos and he taught me meditation and the practice of Buddhism. After 2 years spent constantly studying with each other, we undertook to open a new Buddhist temple in Tucson. I subsequently felt compelled to continue and deepen my practice by becoming ordained. To serve as a temporary Buddhist monk required the permission of my family, shaving off my head and facial hair and living exclusively in the temple and having no physical contact with females. I was allowed to eat the single meal of the day that monks eat, I wore only the saffron robes and I participated in twice daily chanting and meditation. I learned to chant in Pali. (The word Pali is used as a name for the language of the Theravadan Buddhist scriptures.)
I sought training with other teachers as well. Jack Kornfield, Lila Wheeler, Eric Kolvig, Lama Marut and more. I crossed the country to spend days in lectures to attend silent meditation retreats.
I “unordained” and returned to my family a little after 4 months. Ajahn completed my training as a teacher of meditation and provided me with a letter of introduction to the Buddhist Center of Dallas when we subsequently relocated to Dallas TX. I have been teaching meditation at least 3 times weekly for the past 4 years in and around the area.
I have left behind my drugging and drinking. I have long left the world where I owned adult entertainment nightclubs and websites. I am an infrequent participant in the firearms world where I made a living for so many years.
Everyone American I meet in the Buddhist temples is a seeker. None of us were born into Buddhism. To arrive here we had to have dissatisfaction with whatever came before. Some will embrace Buddhism and others will simply develop a mindful meditation practice. We are driven consciously or unconsciously to seek answers to our discontent. Some find what they are looking for. Others do not. But the practice of mindful meditation will facilitate or perpetuate transformation to all who practice it.
So if you know me it is no surprise that I am writing about transitions the day my pal Jerry died. But the subject is not really about Jerry but about me. I have been transitioning before your very eyes. Social media, specifically Facebook has been the playground you can see me play, fight, grow.
When this all started, I had issues and my issues had issues. I had skills but I had at least one specific deficit, dealing with pain. Jerry’s dying has given me an opportunity to see my own transformation. Sometimes I am directly connected to my shifts, at other times I find myself merely a keen observer.
Like everyone I know, I have suffered losses in my life. Family and friends die Colleagues die. Physical, psychological and emotional pain are often my constant companions. I have mad coping skills sometimes. I am seriously good in a crisis. Like everyone I know, I also must suffer through loss. It is inevitable.
What is weird to watch is a pronounced absence of a type of suffering which I experienced which I think was caused by two things. A lack of tools and spiritual ignorance. That type of suffering has evaporated. In its place, for now, is an acceptance of thoughts and feelings that previously went undetected, ignored or silenced.
While I find nothing positive about Jerry’s death other than a release from physical suffering, I do find that the journey has been with purpose. Jerry’s death in my life has brought about a willingness to be present with my feelings. I am willing to cry (while still thinking “if you make fun of me crying, I will kill you). I am willing to just be. I have demonstrated to myself and others that I can subjugate my anger and fears in order to be of maximum service to others. Subjugation, crying, acceptance, and being present were not concepts I was interested in exploring before.
Facebook creates this public arena for pain and suffering, joy and happiness and kids photos. In the past, if someone close to me had died, I knew instinctively to share. But I didn’t always know with whom. Or if I knew, either I couldn’t find said person to share with, or I waved off the idea. When my boarding school roommate died years after school was out, I felt quite alone because no one in my world knew him and I couldn’t find anyone that did. Eventually over the years, I heard from two people who went to that boarding school with us, and have reconnected. They helped me bring closure to losing my roommate some time back and now, today, they help me embrace my new loss.
Some of Jerry’s friends are my friends. Facebook has become an outlet for the community to grieve. I do not feel alone in the least. ( I will overeat today. Powerless to resist food when hurt.) Unlike the past where I felt a loss of this type was my loss, today I see it is a community’s loss. It is a loss to Jerry’s community and family as well as to my community and family. My friends who never knew Jerry are still sharing their intimate acquaintance with experiencing losing a loved one. They are empathetic and sympathetic. If I made this about me it would also be about how shallow I could be.
I am uncertain of the value, especially in the long run of exposing ourselves on social media. But in this moment it is quite apparent to me that it is serving me constructively. This blog is a way to harness the thoughts and feelings that come in waves. And then the blog will post to Facebook. Then I think I shall revisit my pain in a healthy way in days ahead versus the neurotic coping I see in people who can only see their pain in a very small context.
Pain and suffering are not the only feelings that are arising. My friends and I share joy, passion and anger also. And in some slightly more mature way than before, I am here for all of it. Sometimes I gloss over Facebook posts about new boyfriends/girlfriends. I skim over hundreds of photos my daughter posts from Korea. And most recipes and book reports go unread. But many life events are noted. Many of those I reply to. Sometimes I even get the right feeling to match the event when I post. (Sometimes not)
So I post photos of my family, friends and I, having fun, surgery, passages and disasters. I sell and buy stuff from Facebook. This is not intended as a promo or an advocacy of the utility of Facebook. It is merely to observe that I am transitioning before your very social media eyes. But big shout out to 12 step recovery, meditation and Buddhism for facilitating the change for others to observe. By the way, if you scratch your head and think, “I don’t get it”, that’s cool too. If you think, “Bull, Facebook and social media are for sissies” or some such, I hear ya. I do not think I care that much what you think.
Today is my little brother Ricky’s birthday. I woulda forgot without the FB reminder. I texted him a greeting as a result. Sometimes I give a birthday shout to mere acquaintances. It just seems reasonable since I was already at the computer and seems a nice thing to do. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers have been lost. Pets have died and I sent condolences to the owners. I am not half-bad at it and sometimes I say something which strikes a chord with someone in the midst of their own difficulties.
Meditation has shown me that feelings and thoughts arise, and they depart. I have no investment in managing or controlling when and how. I need not crumble in the face of great emotional pain. My feelings are simply appropriate and to be expected. My anger is especially interesting as I struggle to put it in perspective without nurturing resentments or feeling guilty. It is just anger I feel. I am not the anger. But it is only by observing these thoughts and feelings that I resist the time old tradition of acting as badly as I feel. Interesting to watch people I resent and know in my heart that most of what I feel is all about my choosing to feel that way. Just as I can choose to feel pain without embarrassment and joy without clinging, I can also let anger arise and leave without the need to exacerbate it.
I hope my growing up in public serves more than a voyeuristic moment for the observer. I hope it stimulates interest and action to spiritual pursuit. Maybe it will encourage the practice of metta. Metta, loving-kindness meditation, is the simple practice of directing well-wishes towards other people, and all living beings. It would be reasonable to think, if Ken can do it, anyone can.
Jerry Cichon passed away today. He was like a brother. We traveled what was frequently and arduous and tortured spiritual journey together in AA and elsewhere. After the 3rd or 4th hour of talking our way up a mountain, you tend to go deeper, to connect deeper. The small talk is long out of the way and straight talk kicks in. I may have known Jerry better than even my oldest friends because Jerry was so raw when we met. I was his lawyer, friend and brother. He was my first new friend in my new sober lifestyle who died in such a way (cancer) that sometimes it felt like we faced it together. It was not sudden for Jerry. It was not without great suffering. But as with most things in his new sober life, Jerry saw it was an opportunity to practice his spiritual and religious beliefs. Circumstances preclude me from sharing with his family the many things he shared. Such a day may come. Jerry said to me in recent days that I was spiritual perfection. Imagine that. Even if it isn’t true, can one man say anything kinder to a pal?