Tell us a little about your upbringing. Anything you want to share about where you’re from and your home life?
I grew up in Virginia and went to an Episcopalian school. I was one of four children. Currently, I am married with a 16-year-old daughter.
Can you sketch out the arc of your spiritual and religious journey?
Starting in my late teens, I had a spiritual yearning, but I wasn’t sure what to do about it. When I was 19, I went traveling around Europe. I decided during that time I wasn’t going to read books, I wasn’t going to have music, and I was just going to try to be in the moment. And so that’s what I did. I traveled around, and I worked on farms and volunteered at a couple places. I remember just walking around a lot and noticing the environment and noticing my thoughts. Looking back on it as a Buddhist, it seems that I maybe had an inclination toward Buddhism even in that time period.
When I was in my mid 20s, I became a bilingual teacher in the South Bronx. I was accepted into a program where you get training after you start teaching, so I only had a couple months of preparation. They taught me how to give students gold stars, and then they said, “Okay. Go teach.” I didn’t really know what I was doing, and I was not a very good teacher. My students didn’t want to listen to me or pay attention to me. They were good kids, but they could tell I was clueless, and so they were very wild, and I would get frustrated. Things would build up, and I would yell at them. There was something else in my life too, where I had been in a romantic relationship, and I was careless and had hurt someone.
I remember riding in the subway thinking, “I really want to be a good person, but I don’t know how. I don’t want to be the kind of person that I see I’m being, where I’m yelling at kids and harming people.” I wanted guidance on how to be the kind of person I aspired to be. That was when I first got involved in meditation practice. It was loosely Chinese Buddhism, although it included elements of Taoism. I practiced that for 10 years very seriously. After that I meditated on my own, and then I practiced Tibetan Buddhism.
In my early 20s, I was so optimistic, and I had so much faith and trust. By the time I was in my 40s, I had had experiences in different practices that I think can be fruitful, but they weren’t a good fit for me. I always felt there was something missing. By then, I had lost trust in myself and had lost faith that I could find a spiritual path.
Then I thought, “Well, at least I can trust the words of Buddha Shakyamuni. I know I can trust that.” I started to read the old Pāli Canon, the suttas, on my own. That felt really good to me. I was increasingly drawn to the older texts. I first came here to Bhavana almost two years ago and that cinched it for me. Seeing a living practice based on the original suttas was so inspiring for me.
Do you have any insights that you’d be willing to share with us?
Coming to Bhāvanā and being in this environment helps me correct how things are going in my practice. But the real test occurs when I go back home. When practicing at home, I find it is helpful to stick to a regular routine. It says in the Metta Sutta that to have good conditions for cultivating loving kindness, a person should, “live lightly, having few duties.” I notice that it’s helpful for me to really scale back to just what is absolutely necessary. Then I have time and also spaciousness to maintain a good routine so I can live a life of mindfulness, no matter where I am or what I’m doing. This has been difficult for me to do, so I am still working on it.
I have a teenage daughter and a husband. I love coming to Bhāvanā for short stays to connect with my practice, but for me, the real task is integrating this practice into my everyday life.
What are some ways you incorporate Buddhism in your everyday life?
It’s been 20 years since I was a second grade teacher in the South Bronx, but I’ve always worked in education, and now I’m in education research and program design. I’ve been thinking recently about how to approach my work from a Buddhist perspective. One question I have been asking myself is: What does it mean to infuse the ways that a Buddhist sees the world into a research practice?
I’ve been thinking about how Buddhist principles can more intentionally inform my attitude as a researcher. For one thing, research should be good for everyone involved. Research should not just be good for the person reading my end report. How can I bring more awareness and thoughtfulness to the research process so it brings benefit for me as a researcher, for the people that I’m working with, and for my research subjects? I have also been thinking about how I can report findings in a way that encourage compassion and loving-kindness.
What do you appreciate most about being at Bhāvanā Society?
I feel like Bhāvanā really exemplifies dana, or generosity. Bhavana meets people wherever they’re at in their spiritual path. It is able to be many different things to many different people. This is not easy to do, and I see it takes a great heart of generosity. For me, every time I come here, I have a completely different experience, and yet I always deepen my practice. It makes me think of how the Buddha’s teachings are directed to kings, followers from different practices, housewives, merchants, monks, and nuns. The Buddha taught so many different kinds of people, and what he said was always beneficial.
I also learn about generosity being here because people with big hearts are attracted to this place. By watching others, I have learned a lot about how to give selflessly and to give with love and kindness.