Today is the great Buddhist Blog Swap, and the guest author here is Shane Hennesey of Zenfant’s Home for Dirty Dharma. My post is over at Home Brew Dharma, Adam Johnson’s blog. Thanks to Nate DeMontigny of Precious Metal for setting this all up!
by Shane Hennesey
Meditation for me has been something I have pursued since the age of 13 (I’m 40 now…that’s 27 years for you math types). I guess being an only child and being introverted, it felt fairly normal and natural as a process. I spent a lot of time quietly engaging my imagination, so it was not a stretch to try and focus that sense of play into intentional mental activity.
That being said, the way I got into the use of meditation was out of desire. I grew up a fearful kid and I thought if I could know and see and use the invisible world, I would have an edge over the other kids. I was fascinated with witches, wizards, and fantasy settings and I wanted to do what they could and know what they knew.
At age 17, I made a vow to meditated twice a day for an entire year. I did it faithfully every morning after waking up and every night before bed, regardless of where I was or what was going on. It wasn’t always easy, but I did it. Meditation at this point in my life was all about the proper visualizations. If had the correct symbols and rituals, it would work, otherwise nothing. Practice was very structured with images and sometimes mantras.
Something shifted for me during that year of regular practice. I began to get a sense of something greater about me, my mind, and existence. I didn’t know what it was exactly or how to put it into words, but there was a seed beginning to sprout. I felt curiously calm almost all the time and I felt somehow in my skin but larger than that, connected and part of something ‘more’. The ‘more’ didn’t have a name or an identity to speak of, it just ‘was’.
I explored different practices on a search for something that resonated with me to a degree I could embrace it totally…Wicca, Shamanism, mystical Kabbalah…but nothing fit in its entirety. Growing up Catholic, I felt sure that I would eventually find a table to sit at and that every dish would be yummy and I would stay at that table. I learned how to meditate in ways that were structured or unstructured, silent or wrapped in drum beat, how to ascend thru the spheres of consciousness to reach the ultimate light (yeah never got that high up back then ).
I took these interests with me into my counseling practice. I learned shamanic hypnotherapy and became a Reiki practitioner. In fact, I think Reiki is what pushed me over the meditation edge. It was in that practice that I found how to get very quiet and get ‘myself’ out of the way so the energy could flow. I didn’t know it then but I was practicing zazen or silent illumination style mediation while I was doing Reiki sessions.
The seed that had been growing was coming into full force now. I was starting to get an understanding (experiential, not academic) of how we really are all made of the same thing and we all interpenetrate each other. This wasn’t just people, it was everything in existence. Quantum physics was showing it to us in other ways as well…we are all the same thing; we are all one entity, all one field of being.
Interestingly, I got really burned out about 5.5 years ago on my counseling career and anything that had to do with spiritual practice. I still don’t know exactly why, but I did, and I left it all behind. Curiously, or not so curiously, I also entered a negative relationship with an addict and pretty much shut down emotionally and spiritually for a few years.
I know this will be hard to believe, but the relationship blew up and after a while of feeling lost, the only place I had to go back to was my meditation practice…the only place that let me settle and find peace again. This time, however, I had been introduced to Buddhism and in my random readings and what not, I came across Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen and it really snapped my head around. I’d say something poetic like ‘it resonated with me’, but fact it, it hit me like a fuckin ton of bricks and it was just what I needed.
So for the past 2.5 years I have been practicing zazen almost exclusively. I have been amazed at how zazen and the whole of Buddhism totally echoed the seed that had organically been growing inside me for all those years…years before I even knew what Buddhism was. How could I say no to that?
I have been more committed to my meditation practice than ever before in my life and consequently I have started hitting the formless states of mind on a regular basis. I’m still learning them, and I’m frequently NOT in them, but they are getting steadier and more regular. I’ve also plugged into the Dharma Punx as my sangha…they are the only ones who fit my renegade state of mind. I study Zen and Chan as well as sutras and modern teachings. Though my meditation is always higher on the priority list than academic study. I am the kind of person who feels his way through a process as opposed to studying it to understand it.
It’s interesting to me that for all the years I spent doing visualization based meditations, or what I call ‘full’ or ‘busy’ meditations, that I should feel so very at home in empty meditations…or maybe it’s not interesting or curious at all, but quite the right place to be.
Beyond feeling that Zen is my current path, I don’t feel much strong connection to any other school of Buddhism. What I know for sure is that I’m in the right pool, so I’m gonna keep swimmin’ here.
Thank you, Shane. Burning out spiritually and professionally can be (as I learned) such an opportunity – eventually. Suzuki’s teaching of burning oneself completely and leaving no trace helped me see all things I was tied to. Thank you for reassuring me that returning to meditation is strong practice.
Burning out can fuel new growth…
Excellent post! _/l\_
Shane your mention of Reiki is rather interesting here:
“It was in that practice that I found how to get very quiet and get ‘myself’ out of the way so the energy could flow.”
Although I don’t practice Reiki with clients, about 5 years ago I took the Master-Teacher level and found something quite similar as well. I took it for my own interest rather than as a business or career related venture. It seems to be quite effective as a meditation tool in pushing deeper into practice and dissolving obstacles. Fortunately the woman who taught me Reiki was a meditation instructor and a Buddhist and she incorporated those elements as well. It gave the option to go “deep sea diving” within meditation-that’s the only way I can describe the stillness-and discover some amazing treasures.
Sometimes Reiki gets associated with a lot of flaky New Age things but I think there’s something useful to that technique for Buddhist meditators particularly if anxiety is present. Maybe there’s a helpful blog post in explaining about that. Thanks for bringing it up.
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You’ve obviously found your path. Good to hear Shane.
ty for the comments everyone. @ genju yes i’ve found the same thing finally. kinda sucked getting there. funny thing was, someone at work asked me what I’d do if i had no worries for time or money and i said i’d go to chaplaincy training and work in hospice (i didn’t tell her it was upaya i had in mind)…well…look who i got randomly paired with in this swap…:)
@emily yes for sure
@nellalou you are correct. i, too, am a Reiki Master, tho I don’t usually tell folks about the Master part as in my burnout, i didn’t want to teach. about posting on it, yes, you are on to something there as well. when i’m stuck in meditation, i fall back on my reiki practice.
@adam my path is curvy wurvy upsy downsy coat of many colors and all that shit LOL. I have no idea where it goes next, I just keep a walkin
@Shane – I couldn’t recommend the folks at Upaya highly enough. But I understand – working for myself means time away is a compounded loss. When the time and fiscal fortunes make it possible, go for it! I thought I was just going there for a calligraphy retreat to heal a shattered heart/mind. Hah! I swear they put something in the miso soup… 🙂
nice and honest post. thanks for sharing your story…
Wow, that’s an amazing story. Thank you.
Maia! I just caught the Twitter post re BfBBOTY! Shall I now sign my reports Dr. BOTY? Hey, I voted for you… tried to do so several times… so did Frank… but John was standing guard with this BIG stick! Thank you. See you in a couple of weeks!!!!
A beautiful journey, Shane. Thank you for sharing. I had a similar toxic relationship that rocked my world for a while. It’s one of those experiences that is hard to understand if you’ve never been through it (hard even if you have!). But with time it too becomes a gift to which we must simply open ourselves.