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Lions Roar : January 2013
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2013 72 In my twenties, I took ten years off from school and worked to heal myself through psychotherapy and Zen meditation. I depended on family and friends financially and sometimes lived on the streets. I was told by close friends and teachers, includ- ing Thich Nhat Hanh, that I needed to love myself first before I could really love others. I did not understand what that meant and questioned it whenever the advice appeared. In my late twenties I ordained as a lay member of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing. Our order is composed of monas- tic and non-monastic practitioners dedicated to a life of service through compassionate listening, applied mindfulness, and eth- ics for a healthy life and society. I began to witness the deep effect of personal transformation. When others find out I am a survivor of abuse, queer, a musician, and an activist, they often ask me questions. Many are curious about how I found Zen at a young age, what allowed me to stay for so long, and how the practice and tradition has affected me. As an Order of Interbeing member, I have learned skills in being more fully present for those with questions and in answering from my heart, from the depth of what is true for me. Because the object of practice, says Thich Nhat Hanh, “is to grow our hearts big.” I came to Zen with my heart on fire. The more afflictions I burn up, the more beings can take refuge in me. After everything I have experienced, others can look toward me as a model for change. If I can do it, so can you. BRIAN OTTO KIMMEL is a non-monastic member of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing. Professionally, he works with individuals and groups seeking an integrative approach to con- templative practice in daily life. Sex Happens STILLMAN BROWN RADEGAST BEER HALL, Brooklyn, on a Friday night in February: twenty- and thirty-somethings are three bod- ies deep at the bar. There’s the roar of conversation, enormous steins of beer being hefted and emptied, a big smok- ing grill in the corner covered with bratwurst and kielbasa. A chaos of peo- ple having a good time. I was there with friends who were on a mission to hook me up with someone—anyone—after a bruising split with a long- time girlfriend. They located a girl who seemed a little shy (good for me), and she was pushed forward like we were at an eighth- grade dance. I remember thinking she looked a little like a young Amelia Earhart (also good for me). “She has a boyfriend but he’s in France,” one of her friends shouted in my ear. And even though I wasn’t looking for anything but drinks with my friends and an early bedtime, I accessed that familiar hook-up mindset, dusted it off, and got to work. I went through my checklist: She’s into fashion (negative); she lives in the East Village (positive, geographically convenient); she’s a student at FIT (neutral); she enjoys reading Tom Clancy (unexpected, intriguing). I was flirting, sending and receiving energy, but I felt lifeless inside. The reason was simple: I was still in love with my ex. When I first moved to New York, it seemed like everyone had come there for some particular creative or professional pursuit and had an agenda, and that energy could carry over in to mat- ters sexual and relational. I’m from Indiana, where if you liked someone you simply kind of hung around until attraction, time, and communication got you laid. Not so in New York. You just want to... “get to know me?” the girls seemed to say. Seriously? And for a while I tried to fit in with this culture. Finding a Buddhist community helped change that. I realized it was possible for me to be genuinely myself and be attractive. It’s not a coincidence that around the time I started meditating and wrestling with self-acceptance, my love life began to pick up. On the subway during my morning commute, I sometimes daydream about threading my way up misty peaks and contem- plating the dharma as a wandering mendicant. But right now I am a practitioner in an American city. I have a job, obligations to friends and family, a social life. I’ve had to ask myself: Is it possible to be mindful and genuine in such a chaotic and sexual environment? And if you take this Buddhism thing seriously, is it possible to practice right conduct and still play the game? When I took the Five Precepts as part of my Refuge vow, the third was, “Abstain from sexual misconduct.” That can mean no sex out- side of a committed relationship, but is it practicable in a modern, urban context? Young people hook up. Sex happens. In taking ref- uge I was asked to approach the third precept from an intentional perspective: refrain from using sex to mislead or manipulate, to dis- tract from loneliness or suffering, or to fill an addiction or craving. But back to the beer hall and Ms. Earhart. I was, in fact, break- ing several precepts that night: drinking hard to keep up the cha- rade, saying a bunch of untruthful stuff (“I think you’re really great,” “Fashion is awesome,” “I’ll call you”), and engaging in the kind of sexual misconduct that is intentional rather than literal. I missed my girlfriend terribly and there was still grieving to do. My flirting had arisen out of a place of suffering, misleading Amelia and doing a disservice to my own broken heart. It has been a year since that night in Brooklyn—time enough to sit with a broken heart until it’s mended. As I return to New York’s dating scene, I’m trying to see it not as a minefield but as just another part of practice. In intimacy and sex, we transcend the little walls we construct around our hearts and bodies, and Buddhist practice can help us come to each new encounter as an opportunity to be more honest, embodied, and fearless. ♦ STILLMAN BROWN is a writer, producer, and adventurer who lives in Brooklyn.