Story of a former Zen monk

For the first 30 years of my life, I spent a great deal of time and energy putting stuff into me.

I consumed everything. Books, information, music, friends, videos, products — everything.

Until I was standing there in a new age bookstore on South Street in Philadelphia reading a book that flipped my world upside down.

In it, the author made this simple statement, “Wanting leads to wanting. Wanting does not lead to having. Only having leads to having. One process does not lead to another.”

And there, in that instant, I saw the folly of my actions. I had been hunting, collecting and gathering everything I thought should make me happy. So when I stood back and considered it for a moment — I had everything already. It was amazing. But I wasn’t happy. I kept going and going and going thinking that if only I had this one thing — this one missing thing — one more thing — then, then I would be happy.

Do you know what? When that one thing came it never equaled happiness. That’s because all the wanting I had was producing more wanting. I never actually had anything. I didn’t understand the process of having. Of experiencing BEING WITH something enough to know what it was like.

I didn’t have myself. I had this shell I described as “Alex.” And when I described him I talked about what he liked, what he did for a living, his age, where he lived, what he loved, what he disliked, what his music tastes were, the kinds of books he read, etc. But I never really knew Alex.

None of those descriptions were me. They’re the things that I, and the world, had stapled onto me. So I wouldn’t confuse myself with Sally Jones or Billy Bob.

But I suspected that there was something else beyond all the stuff I was putting into me and how I was polishing my surface.

So I trekked out to a Zen monastery to see if they could shed some light onto the issue. The book had jumpstarted my curiosity — perhaps they could help me find myself.

Unfortunately, it was a little more than I had bargained for. Instead of teaching me a new way, they left me alone to see if I could catch a glimpse of who I really was out of the corner of my eye, in the stillness. And when I wasn’t alone, they walked me through magic funhouses of distorted mirrors and shifting floors so I can see HOW I responded. In this way, I could see a great deal about how I was put together and how I caused myself to suffer.

There was exhilaration, fear, joy, sadness, insight, rage, overwhelm, hopelessness and bliss.

As more and more was revealed, I found more and more to accept, embrace and let go.

The joy I was experiencing was the process of unlearning — of finally unfilling.

Of getting to that which is there when I stopped identifying with everything else.

Had I known what I was in for, I’m not sure I would have gone to the monastery. I consider it to be one of those happy blessings and good fortunes when the instincts in me knew better than I did.

When the heart screamed “YES!” while the head screamed, “WTF!!!”

Deep gratitude to the young man of 30 who was able to, in an instant, walk away from everything he thought he had to find something more incredible than he had ever dreamed possible.

Himself.
Photos of me taken while I was training at the Zen monastery.

In lovingkindness,
Alex

p.s. This post originally appeared in my private Facebook group, The Zen Life.



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