How did you learn about TNH?
I was intensively studying Buddhism in college in the early 1980s, One of my professors worked on Buddhist-Christian dialogue and had spent some time with Thich Nhat Hanh. My parents had something by Thich Nhat Hanh. We had a lot of good books lying around, and I started reading those things when I was 10 or 11, Thomas Merton, D.T. Suzuki, Basho.
I was drawn to Buddhism that young partly because I deeply loved the earth and all the creatures of earth and sky, and was already grieving environmental carelessness and destruction. I felt like the world was going so fast, and I always wanted to slow down and pay attention.
Growing up as a transgender kid in the ‘60s and ‘70s, I was also desperate for teachings that could help me exist at all. In those years, there was little understanding about transgender people—people refused to believe that I was who I knew myself to be. By the time I was 10 years old, I was questioning whether it would be possible for me to live with humans, and I was preparing myself for a future in which I lived in the wilderness with animals. At the same time, I was starting to read mystics and monastics of all traditions, trying to find ways to stay connected to human life despite the ways we misunderstand each other. Buddhism then affirmed my sense of interbeing, and it taught me enough about compassion and non-judgment that I could keep a toe-hold on human community and nurture whatever connections were possible.
I often think about how Thich Nhat Hanh developed his practice while experiencing the violence and devastation of war in his own country. How can we help but acknowledge all of this within us and around us? We are not separate.
What is your favorite TNH book?
These days I’m reading the mindfulness trainings a lot. I don’t actually read much; one poem, or a single paragraph or even a sentence is enough to live with for a while. Some years ago, I spent an entire year reading Buddha Mind, Buddha Body!
What is your favorite TNH quote or teaching?
Teachings on interbeing, deep listening, and engaged practice.
Thich Nhat Hanh isn’t the only one to teach these things, but I appreciate the ways he makes his teachings accessible, and this makes the practice accessible. It doesn’t have to be complicated.
How did you hear about SnowFlower?
My partner, Nan, started going to SnowFlower in 2008. We had talked about finding some kind of practicing community, but she is the one who took the initiative. It had been decades since I had practiced Buddhism in any real way, much less with a community. Nan went to SnowFlower for nearly a year before I finally went as well. I’m grateful to her; SnowFlower has changed my life and ours.
Remembering your first time at SnowFlower, what did you like best? Put another way, why did you decide to come back?
When I arrived the first time, I felt that the space held room for all the ways we are, for the ways that we all might be experiencing joy or sorrow, crisis, transformation, whatever it might be. That felt incredibly supportive to me in a time of struggle and also a gentle way of learning to engage the world without judgment.
It’s really special that everyone who wants to lead can do so; I feel lucky to get to hear so many people’s teachings and insights. SnowFlower feels like a democratic and generous space; we don’t all have to think or believe or experience the same things, and there is room to respect all of it.
If you could change one thing about SnowFlower, what would it be?
I always feel happy when new people come and we grow in diversity and experience. I appreciate every effort to keep the doors open and reach out in new directions.
If you are working, what do you do? If you are retired, what did you do in your last job?
I teach history and gender studies at UW, and I love it.
Favorite hobbies or pastimes?
Most of all, being outside and touching into what is refreshing and wondrous right where I am. I love exploring with Nan, because together we find the most surprising things in the most ordinary places. I spend hours marveling at the ways our cats continue to develop new grammars for getting us to play with them, constantly. I draw and paint. I play kora, a West-African bridge-harp with 21 strings. I love trying new things. Recently I’ve been singing in choirs for the first time in my life.
Favorite guilty pleasure?