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Lions Roar : July 2018
So, I decided to stop trying to get Jeff to like me and observed him from the point of view of an outsider from then on. He joined the football team, while I made music and took drama classes. I had good friends, but I never quite fit in with the cool kids. I marveled at how Jeff and his crew seemed to have things all figured out, how they seemed to be free of the confusion and self-doubt I often felt. IT WAS A SURPRISE, to say the least, when I first learned that Jeff had gotten deeply into Buddhism. We’d been out of college for a few years when I heard a rumor that someone had seen Jeff shopping at the mall—fully decked out in an orange monastic robe. My mom told me that Jeff was living at a monastery in Tai- wan, devoting himself to meditation and Buddhist study. I was dumbfounded. What in the world led to this? Part of me was skeptical that Jeff had become some sort of new person. I wasn’t alone. One of our elemen- tary school teachers said, “I’ve worked with a lot of kids over the years, and you can see who they are at their core by the time they get to my class. I don’t buy Jeff ’s ‘peace and love’ stuff one bit.” I started hearing about Jeff ’s various projects. After returning home from Taiwan, he had opened a temple free to anyone interested in Buddhism. He started The Meditation Initiative, a non- profit that offers classes in places like prisons, homeless shelters, VA hospitals, and sober living centers. He organ- ized a coed service fraternity, Delta Beta Tau, for San Diego college students interested in doing volunteer work. Jeff and I started following each other on Facebook, where he was posting a steady stream of affirmations, calls for more kindness in the world, and reminders to friends about life’s preciousness. As I followed him online and learned more about his activities, I went from incredulous to intrigued. There was no doubt, it seemed, that Jeff had found his true calling, and that he was all in. On a whim, I sent him an email to ask if he’d be interested in spending some time together. I wanted to hear about his journey. He told me he was glad I’d reached out and invited me to visit. JEFF GREETED ME with a big hug at the new home of the Dharma Bum Temple, the Buddhist meditation and study cen- ter he runs with his partner. The temple is beautiful, about 6,000 square feet in a for- mer 1927 Swedenborgian church with a perfect combination of wide-open convening spaces and small alcoves for reading and intimate discussions. It was important to Jeff to retain the church’s historical and religious features, so the large cross that adorns the entrance and the pews inside the congregation area remain intact. The temple’s new home was a result of Jeff ’s tire- less fundraising, which was such a success that numerous fund- raising consultants wanted to tap him for his secrets. “It was the greatest Buddhist practice I’ve ever done in my life,” Jeff said to me about it. “Because every single moment, there was something that needed to be done. And all that could be done in that moment was the one thing that was needed.” As we walked through the temple, several people from the neighborhood dropped in. A longtime resident who had read about the temple in the newspaper said hello and signed the guest book. A homeless man stopped by to relax and ask some questions. Jeff told him the temple is open to all. There are also people who live at the temple, and Jeff took me around to meet them. They were of all shapes and sizes and walks of life. I talked to a mom in her fifties wear- ing a tie-dyed sweatshirt and a guy in his late teens, hunched over a sheet of Boy Scouts Eric (l) and Jeff (r). “None of the bullying was major,” says Steuer, “but I was a painfully sensitive boy and it had lasting effects.” In high school, Steuer (above) took drama and music while Zlotnik played sports. Steuer always felt like an outsider around his bully. LION’S ROAR | JULY 2018 44