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Lions Roar : November 2015
Enter someone I’ll call Janelle, who suggested I look into Buddhism. I learned about fear, suffering, the end of suffering, and compassion for ourselves and for others. I decided to visit the Cedar Rapids Zen Center, where the priest, Zuiko, greeted me with a big smile. “I’m glad you’re here,” she said. Sitting wasn’t easy, but I returned each week, presenting as a man with short hair and a three o’clock shadow. After several weeks, I got up the guts to ask: Was I delusional to think that I was a woman with a man’s body? Wouldn’t that be grasping for something unattainable? “No, that’s not what delusion means,” Zuiko said softly. “If someone allows their inner essence to surface, that isn’t delusion. It’s quite the opposite, actually. Knowing your true self is called enlightenment.” This was what I needed to hear. “It looks like you’ve come home,” Zuiko said. “I’m so happy for you.” Within months, I would move to Minneapolis, begin presenting as female, and come out as “Ellen” in a letter to 200 clients, judges, and colleagues. Barely two months later, I tried my first Iowa jury case as “Ellen Krug”—and won. (My practice didn’t ultimately survive, but I happily head a small Minneapolis nonprofit, connecting low-income people with legal resources.) And yes, thanks to sex-reassignment surgery, my body is no longer a mismatch for my brain. But I remain a Buddhist, grateful to be free of fear and suffering that controlled me for so much of my life. Counting to One STEVE SILBERMAN recalls early and lasting loves. ONE DAY AT NAROPA in 1977, Allen Ginsberg turned to the students in his class on the literary history of the Beat Generation and asked them pointedly: “How many of you have signed up for meditation instruction?” Seeing only a few hands rise tentatively into the air, he grimaced and said, “Aw, you’re all amateurs in a professional universe!” I was one of those abashed students, and I had a serious student/mentor crush on Allen, who seemed like the most awake and alive middle-aged man I’d ever seen. I immediately signed up for a morning class in zazen and was impressed when the teacher for our small, shambling group of beginners turned out to be Taizan Maezumi-roshi, the founder of Los Angeles Zen Center. With his shaven head and black robes, he looked like a Jedi. (Star Wars had just opened that summer.) I can still remember turning my mind inward for the first time, toward the rising and falling of my breath, as Roshi’s hand gently but firmly encouraged me to sit with a straight spine. Little did I know that I would spend the rest of my life doing STEVE SILBERMAN is the author of NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity. the same thing nearly every day. I would sit, counting my breaths, on a deck looking out on Cape Cod Bay, in the library at Oberlin College in Ohio, in the zendo at San Francisco Zen Center, on airplanes as they bucked and shuddered with turbulence, and at my father’s bedside in an ICU in Jersey City as he lay in the coma that would end with his death. I would sit on meditation cushions, in office chairs, on rocks in the desert, and in a buzzing and clattering MRI machine, and I would recline on a foam wedge when I developed circulation problems in my legs from sitting too long at my desk while writing a book. I would sit alone, with my former boyfriend John, on my honeymoon in Paris with my husband, Keith, and beside the corpse of the poet and Zen teacher Philip Whalen, who was my friend. The extraordinarily ordinary quality of all these hours spent “counting to one,” as my old teacher Richard Baker-roshi put it, cannot be overstated. I never had the lightning-flash of insight—the dropping off of body and mind—that I yearned so hard for when I was young. Perhaps I’m a very bad Buddhist, or even a failed Buddhist. Now I’m older than Allen was when I fell in love with him. I quit writing poetry a couple of decades ago, but the sitting thing has stuck with me: my cranky mentor’s most lasting gift in an ephemeral universe. I’m grateful. PHOTOBYDAVEMOSHER SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2015 43