So this is what I said to my family. And to anyone else who may have a concern for me, this is for you, too...



Well, this is going to be an interesting letter for many of you. So, read on... :)

As you all know, my partner and I are in the process of getting divorced. I haven’t said a whole lot regarding this except that it’s a good thing, it’s what I want (not something being forced upon me), and it is something she and I are doing FOR each-other out of love, and not TO each-other out of anger or bitterness. We’ve been together for nine years, and married for seven. Our time together has been vastly more sweet than sour, and I feel blessed by that time, our marriage, and our friendship. But the time has come for me to move my life in a very different direction.

As many of you know, I’ve always been a very spiritual person, even to the point of considering and participating in seminary while in college. It took me a long time to find the right path in this life. Dad was actually a great help in this process. His own personal faith was very inspirational to me, and helped me see something very clearly; faith itself is what’s important, not the particular flavor of it. When he came to visit me in Portland in 2003, he was happy that I’d found a faith that fit me, and one that was based in peace and helping people. “Looks like it fits you pretty well,” he said. “Good. A man has to have faith in something...”

That faith--Buddhism--has grown as the intervening years have passed. It has gotten me through so much: his death, the death of other close friends and loved-ones, a number of whom I’ve helped care for in their last weeks and days, sicknesses, financial crisis, divorce. But beyond that, it has also brought me great joy. These joys are very hard to explain and put into words without sounding painfully trite and (possibly) disingenuously esoteric. But my faith (often referred to as a “practice”) has become more deep than at any other time in my life, to the point where I must make a decision.

I have an opportunity right now to use this transition period in my life to explore something that I’ve always wanted to do. This particular avenue will be very challenging, but the reward--in my opinion--will be even greater. I accept that it may not be what I want it to be, what I want to do for the rest of my life, or that I may simply fail at it. But I won’t know the answers to any of those things unless I try. Having said that...

In either May or June of this year, I will move from Portland, about an hour and a half northwest of here to the small town of Clatskanie, OR. I am applying to become a resident of Great Vow Zen Monastery, the monastery and retreat center founded by my teachers, Jan Chozen Bays-Roshi, and her husband, Hogen Bays. I wish to explore this special type of life--monasticism--in order to help me decide if I want to pursue Zen as a vocation. That is; I am going to decide if I want to dedicate the rest of my life to becoming a Zen monk and possibly a priest.

A brief bit about Great Vow: My teachers Chozen-Roshi and Hogen founded Great Vow in 2002 after running a Zen practice and retreat center on Larch Mountain in the Columbia River Gorge for 10 years prior to that. They wanted a larger place to be able to offer year-round retreats, as well as residential Zen training--something they both believe very strongly in. They found a decommissioned elementary school in Clatskanie. This worked very well; a medium-sized facility with an institutional-sized kitchen, showers, large and small areas for dorms and some more private housing, a large formal zendo (meditation hall) spacious grounds for large food and walking gardens, and quite a bit more. At any given time, about a dozen people live there, either as practicing residents, monastics, or priests-in-training. Once a month, a week-long silent retreat (or “seshin”) is held, as well as one or two shorter weekend retreats each month. You can read more about the monastery by visiting:

There are a number of reasons why this is a perfect time for me to explore this opportunity, not the least of which is financial. As we’re all painfully aware, this is the worst economy this country has known since the Great Depression. It’s not a really fabulous time to be without a job (seeing that I’m a freelance writer, it essentially means I’m nearly always unemployed) trying to get an apartment and set up a life on Social Security disability pension alone. Add my debt load on top of that, and it’s a pretty big hill to climb.

Living at the monastery doesn’t cost much; roughly the price of a tiny studio apartment, but this includes all meals, and no costs like utilities. I couldn’t possibly live this cheaply on my own. Actually, with the cost being this low, even on my tiny SSD income, while at the monastery, I’ll actually be able to pay down some of my debt-load AND save some money; something that would be absolutely impossible were I to be living on my own.

But I want to make a few things clear about my decision to explore living at GVZM. Firstly, my motivation is only partly from financial need; it is vastly more due to a desire to know if this life is for me. I’m going to be 41 in a few weeks; I’d like to decide what direction to take my life. If the priesthood is indeed what I want to work towards, I’d like to get going. The postulantship (novice monk) training period is a year, and the next commitment period (for priesthood) is five years. If this is really what I want to do, I’d like to know as soon as I can, so as to waste no more time than is absolutely necessary. There is also a chance that I’ll decide that it’s not for me, and move back to the Portland area. A season’s stay at Great Vow will only aide that, allowing me to save money so that my start of a new life in Portland will have the greatest chance of success.

Nextly, I know that many of you may be concerned about this decision, thinking I’m running off to join a cult or live in some kind of hippie commune. Let me assure you that neither could be further from the truth. These people are my friends and teachers. They have come to my aid over and over again with love, selfless compassion and genuine concern for my mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. All the residents of GVZM, and all the people in my congregation (“sangha” in Buddhist terms) adhere to a strict code of ethics. No one is forced to do anything, you aren’t required to sign away your life’s savings, property or free-will. There’s no Bhagwan being driven ‘round in a Rolls here. It is a very transparent life. The monastery is a respected member of the community. I will be free to leave at any time I like. In addition, were I to actually become a priest at some point in the future, I will (if I choose) still be able to date and marry--there is no requirement for celibacy, only support for it if you choose it for yourself.

A little bit about living @ Great Vow: Life at Great Vow is communal living, with the co-ed population sleeping in segregated dorms. Meals are eaten together. The life is very structured, some would say rigid. It is that way on purpose, to help free the mind from extraneous worries and distractions. The day starts at 3:50am and ends at 9:30pm. You sit formal meditation (“zazen”) for four hours each day (two 2-hour periods that start and end each day). The rest of the day is filled with work service (cooking, cleaning, groundskeeping, errands, office business, etc), classes, or public service. When in seshin, the monastery observes “noble silence”, although it’s not the classic “vow of silence” like you think of in the case of Dominican monks; you may talk if absolutely necessary, but typically you write each-other notes.

In short: it will be a very interesting experience from top to bottom.

I know that it may be hard any number of you to understand why I’m choosing this, or why I even converted to Buddhism in the first place, but please don’t worry about me. This Buddhist faith--this practice--has made me so much better in so many ways. It has been the best of spiritual, emotional, physical and psychological therapies I could ever have undertaken. And for my community to offer me this great opportunity to nurture myself and grow and heal... it affects me so profoundly I have a hard time putting it in words. We have a chant in our school of Buddhism “We take refuge in the sangha; it is our supreme support.” How special and precious it is to be with a group of people who take that so literally that we dedicate a not-insignificant portion of our collective time, energy and resources to providing a place for people to come together to live, work, and practice.

There’s lots to do before I move; parsing through all of my things, paring down to the minimum that which I keep after weeding through a lifetime of “stuff”. I look forward to having less “stuff” to look after and haul around. Come May, I’ll pack my stuff up into my truck and head up to the monastery. At first, the decision will be made month by month. I won’t even be allowed to ask about postulantship for six months. That’s the final--and greatest--benefit in my eyes: this is something I’m doing for ME, at my own pace. I won’t be pressured, judged, or held to some kind of time-table.

And simply because I’ll be living in a monastery doesn’t mean I’ll be completely cut-off; we do have internet access, so I’ll be able to stay here on the family site and give you all updates from here.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I’m certain a few of you must now think I’m absolutely crazy. That’s okay; you may not be entirely wrong. However, I know in my heart-of-hearts that if I didn’t investigate this opportunity for myself, I would regret it for the rest of my days. This practice means so much to me. It has helped me in so many ways. It has given me new eyes to see the world with. It has, quite literally, saved me from what would very easily have turned into a life of despair. I am not going to hit you with some silly line like “I have finally found happiness” or “I have become enlightened” because neither is even close to being true. However, I have found a way of living that jibes with my ethics, my intellect, and my heart. I have been waiting my whole life for an opportunity to serve a higher purpose--something greater than “me”. And whether you call it “God”, “fellow man” or the “Great Universal Good”, I look forward to growing closer to that which makes us all special: the true, loving and compassionate nature inherent to all of us.

I'll be filling mom in on all of this in the next few days.

I love you all so much.



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