I originally called my blog ‘Zen and relationships’, because they’re the two subjects which I’ve spent most of my life studying – I’ve been looking for the meaning of life and love for as long as I can remember, and you could say that’s what Zen is all about. As a child I was one of those annoyingly earnest, serious types, ploughing my way through an analysis of Grimm’s Fairy Tales rather than running round the playground.
My reflections are also a sort of global medley, because I grew up on different continents. My mom’s Filipina, my dad Swedish, and they first bonded out of a love for travel. So they took us three kids everywhere, and in addition to their home countries we spent some years growing up in Zimbabwe, Indonesia, Laos and Cambodia. I became an amateur anthropologist, watching carefully how people in different cultures do things, imitating and learning from them as children naturally do.
At nineteen I came across Philip Kapleau’s seminal work The Three Pillars of Zen which helped shape my thinking in the direction of Zen. It wasn’t until I was twenty-nine however that I went on my first Buddhist retreat. I then “shopped around” trying different schools of Buddhism, as well as shamanism and alternative therapies, before finally finding my home in a Zen monastery.
You know when you’re at home. It was a relief after all that travelling to leave my shoes outside the door and rest my soul inside. In 2005 I committed to formal training at Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey in the UK. I never felt the calling to become a monk, but I was allowed to live there for a year in order to train in Zen, before returning to normal life.
As for relationships, I was studying those in Grimm’s Fairy Tales, too. For thirty years I laboured under the conviction that prince + princess = happiness ever after. That’s funny now, but I went down some very dark places in pursuit of that ideal. I couldn’t understand why, when I meant well and was trying so hard to do the right thing, it kept going so very wrong. Three broken engagements saw me crying enough tears to keep the Mekong River going for the foreseeable future.
It isn’t without irony that a group of celibate monks helped set my head straight. They taught me a set of attitudes which steered the course away from delusive dreams, towards reality. Breaking delusions was (and probably always will be) hard and painful, but it eventually gave me a more genuine and lasting happiness, which doesn’t depend on others.
Having said that, some bits of fairy tales sometimes come true. Years after studying at the monastery, I met the love of my life. By that time I thought I’d be better off without the trouble, but relationships are so much more fun and easy-going when you’ve figured out how to approach them differently.
More about that in posts to come! You can see linkedin for a more traditional bio. This blog is about you, so if you have subject requests, questions or comments, please get in touch via the contact form and comments.