When I left the Monastery just short of two years ago I did not know what would become of me. I had no idea what I would do with my sudden freedom or how I would choose to be in the world. I expected to give up the ways of a monk, to get a job and a place to live, to find a woman who would love me, and live like normal person. I wanted to try out a life in the world, at any rate, and see if it suited me, so this is what I have done. I live in a beautiful place; I share a nice house by a river with a wonderful woman named Anna; I have a job I like that pays the bills, a bicycle, and a pick-up truck. I have exactly what conditioned mind said I needed in order to be happy all those years whenever it tortured me at the monastery with fantasies about life beyond the gates. And I am happy. I love Life more now than I ever have before, and it excites me more than I am able to express--but this is not because of the place, the house, the job, the stuff, or even dear sweet Anna. It is because I know how to be happy.
It has been a wild and riveting experiment these past two years. I have seen myself against all sorts of backdrops that were not available at the Monastery, and have learned tremendously. I have tried out many things that were prohibited when I lived as a monk (more about that in an upcoming blog, perhaps), partly out of curiosity and partly because I felt I needed to leave no possibility unexamined. Anything I have not thoroughly looked into is something conditioned mind can hold up to me as something I want, to suffer over, and so I must look into everything to see what serves me and my happiness in this life, and what does not. This is what I have attempted to do.
I feel that I am coming to the end of this experiment, at least in terms of how I want to be in the world. The variety of specific human experiences is infinite, of course, but I cannot think of any general circumstance or any pleasure I still need to try. What I have come to is this, that I am still a monk. I am not living as a monk, but in my heart the orientation of a monk is still there. I don't care, really, about outward things. I only care about my relationship with Life, that invisible something that inhabits all things and causes them somehow to be. The way of life that most people seem to follow, based upon acquiring and consuming, with the attention focused on circumstances instead of the interior processes of the mind and heart, is not for me. I only want to love Life and live in a way that manifests that love.
At the same time, I have become fascinated by the way the world operates, and in particular by the injustice, the unkindness, and the resulting trauma that happens around the globe every day. Here in this valley where I live there is a great deal of money, and the economic injustice that is embedded in our social systems is apparent everywhere. I have discovered that I really care about that. This may seem in contradiction to what I said above, that I only care about my relationship with Life, but these, to me, are the same. I care about the great hurt that is happening all around the world because I care about Life: all those who are suffering are manifestations of Life, and so it is natural that I would care about them and want to care for them. When I see our human suffering I see the cause of the suffering as well. As I asserted in a recent blog, we suffer on the outside in the same way as we suffering on the inside, through the same processes of selfishness and self-centeredness. I would like to do something about that.
These two threads, that I remain a monk and that I care, came together about six weeks ago in an idea. I was asking myself how we can end the injustice and unfairness of the world. The answer, it seemed clear, was this: we must all be what we want the world to be. As Ghandi reportedly said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world." If everyone were working to let go of conditioned mind and be their authentic selves, our suffering would come to an end. We would still have earthquakes and disease, and so on, but we would not have abuse. To do the work of ending suffering is a joyful process, and the world would fill with that joy. "How do I want to contribute to this possibility?" I wondered. "How do I want to be what I want the world to be?" Here's the answer that popped into my head: I want to do a ride for peace and justice.
Immediately after I left the Monastery I rode a bicycle across country, from San Francisco to Raleigh. This was partly in order to provide a period of transition for myself, and partly a means to visit my mother for Christmas for the first time in many years. It was a solitary adventure: I spoke to people occasionally as I rode through their towns, but mostly I wanted just my own company so that I might have the space to process the tremendous change that was happening to me. This next adventure, as I see it now, will be quite different. I'll still live without support on my bike, sleeping in the woods or the deserts beside the road at night, cooking my food on a tiny camping stove, as I did before, but this time I am going out to be with people. I want to talk with people about peace and justice. I want to learn from people, to hear their stories and be inspired by them. I feel that I know how to be happy, how to practice peace and justice on a moment by moment basis, and how to live in the flow of Life. I would like to share these things if anyone is interested. I imagine myself rolling into town and setting up shop in some busy place, with a banner advertising the ride, some materials that describe what I'm up to, information about my book and blog, and a donation basket of some sort (I'm thinking I'll use my cycling helmet). Then I'll pull out my ipad and write while people walk by. Hopefully some will be interested and will want to talk with me. As to what happens after that, I won't know until I try.
I plan to leave on November 7 from Durango, Colorado. Traveling in the winter is not ideal, but I need to work in the summer, and so that's just what I've got. In the past I have always traveled in the winter for the same reason, so perhaps this is best by way of familiarity. I'll head south to get out of the cold, turn west round about Tuscon, then head for the ocean. I've made plans to meet with family for Christmas is San Francisco, where my brother lives, so I'll need to hustle on up the coast to be in time for that. Then I will head back down the coast and across the southwest until it is time for me to return to work and to Anna. Over my last trip I averaged about sixty miles a day. This time I intend to just ride thirty to make time for writing and talking to people. I expect the trip to last for four months or so, and to ride four thousand miles during that time.
I'll keep you posted. Since I decided to commit to this adventure a month ago I've been organizing gear and making plans. Once I start I'll keep a regular blog with photos here on this website, so people can follow along who want to. If you have suggestions, encouragements, questions, or doubts, feel free to email me at email@example.com. If not, just wish me luck!