How did you learn about Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay or TNH)?
I was renovating my kitchen in the summer of 2003 when a Madison police captain by the name of Cheri Maples was interviewed on WORT about a TNH retreat at Green Lake later that summer. I decided to go to the retreat as soon as I heard Cheri’s description of TNH.
What was the first TNH book you read?
The Path of Emancipation, which was the first book I picked up at the book sale at Green Lake. My two favorite books of Thay’s are The Miracle of Mindfulness and Zen Keys.
What is your favorite TNH quote or teaching?
I have two: Paraphrasing one of Thay’s insights about happiness when he asks us, “How many things have to be right in our lives before we’re happy?” It seems that there is always something that’s not quite right or the way we think it should be. And that’s what we choose to focus on, instead of the multitude of things that are right in our privileged Western lives.
The other is Thay’s advice on stopping or shamatha (in Chapter 6 of The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching). It is the first of two aspects of meditation; the second is looking deeply or insight (vipashyana).
Thay describes four functions of stopping: 1) stopping our habit energies, 2) calming our body and mind, 3) resting like a pebble sinking and coming to rest at the bottom of a river, and 4) healing by just resting without a worry in the world or trying to attain anything. I’ve found this practice helps me in many ways and in many situations.
How did you hear about SnowFlower?
My breakout group at the Green Lake retreat was essentially Snowflower Sangha. I couldn’t get away from them! I have been coming to SnowFlower ever since, starting in September 2003.
Remembering your first time at SnowFlower, what did you like best? Put another way, why did you decide to come back?
Being in the midst of a small community of long-term Zen Buddhist practitioners. I could see the benefits of the practice in their smiles and their ways of being in the world.
If you could change one thing about SnowFlower, what would it be?
I wish we still came together as a full Sangha once a week, while still continuing our smaller weekly gatherings.
What other Buddhist teachers do you like?
Krishnamurti (though not Buddhist), Dogen, Shunryu Suzuki (Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind), Philip Kapleau (Three Pillars of Zen), Stephen Batchelor (Buddhism Without Belief), Jack Kornfield, James Baraz, and Pema Chodron.
How does Buddhism as taught by TNH fit into your daily life? Why is it important to you?
“Waking up” is the key teaching and practice to me.
It is the most helpful and important of the Buddha’s and Thay’s teachings—to be fully present to the wonderful world around and within me instead of consumed by thoughts and feelings manufactured by my mind and its conditioning.
To me, the beauty of Zen Buddhism is that there is no belief system or canon. The Dharma is the most accurate description of how the world really works, particularly in seeking to lead a meaningful and joyous life. Zen Buddhism is the best way for me to understand the world as I perceive it.
If you are working, what do you do?
I’m a management consultant who helps organizations that are making their communities and the world better. I founded the Center for World-Changing Organizations to provide them with ideas and tools to make a bigger impact through their work and increase their funding.
I’ve consulted for many types of organizations through the years, including international development projects in Afghanistan, the former Soviet Union Republic of Georgia, and Trinidad. It’s questionable whether my graduate research on cranes nesting inside the Arctic Circle and seabirds attracted to man-made lights in Hawaii and Panama adequately prepared me for this work.
Do you do any volunteer work?
I have served on two boards: Wisconsin Wetlands Association and World SHARE. I do pro bono work for various organizations. Given my background, I’ve found it challenging to serve on boards; I prefer advising them as an outside consultant.
I have a few cousins who I’m close to, but mostly my friends and my sangha are my family.
Favorite hobbies or pastimes?
Practicing mindfulness every day, getting together with friends, being out in nature at all times of the year, biking, bird watching, going to sangha and retreats, good dharma talks, helping organizations that are making a difference, traveling, XC skiing, running, watching good films, and reading fiction and nonfiction.
Favorite guilty pleasure?
Home brewed lattes made from Lavazza Super Crema Espresso beans.