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Learning to Walk Alone

I've been alone my entire life.  I don't mean that literally, of course.  I have a large family, a girlfriend, and a job that requires me to speak with people on a near-constant basis.  

When I was younger, I served in the Marine Corps. where I routinely shared a squad bay with 60 other men.  And when I worked as a farmer's apprentice, I shared a bunkhouse with 5 other people.

So, it's rare that my aloneness has been of a physical kind.  Rather, it is in the mental and spiritual realms that isolation has been my only friend.

For a time, this bothered me.  I thought I was defective because I didn't care about the sports teams, the TV shows, and the popular culture of the people around me.  

I tried to fake it.  

I watched football highlights on the weekend, so I had something to chat about with coworkers on Monday.  I studied mannequins in storefront windows, so I could learn to dress fashionably.  And I researched the bands I heard on Top 40 radio stations, so I could better understand pop culture references.

It worked for a time.  I elbowed my way into the inner circle of society.  I drank IPAs, I listened to Dane Cook, and I drove a sports car.  But the deeper I moved into popular culture the less I liked what I saw.

More than that, the bleak, shallow nature of it all was killing me inside.

When I think about those days, I often think about this passage from The Rhinoceros Sutta:

For a sociable person
there are allurements;
on the heels of allurement, there is pain.
Seeing allurement's drawbacks,
wander alone
like a rhinoceros

I'd been entranced by the allurements of the world, but the pain that came with them was unbearable.  So, I chose to walk a different path.

I gave my life to Buddhism, and I learned to walk alone.

On the weekend, I sat in Buddhist temples and focused on my breath.  During the week I poured over Buddhist scriptures; trying to find the marrow of Buddha's teachings. At some point, I started this blog.

I'm still not exactly sure why I did that.  I've always enjoyed writing and keeping journals, so I think part of it was me trying to process my thoughts.  

Also, when I left corporate America to do farm apprenticeships, I was without cell phone service for long periods of time. And this blog was the only way my family had of knowing I was still alive.

Over time, my practice grew, and so did my writing.  I became a Buddhist teacher, and I wrote Dharma books.  I was invited to give Dharma talks, and I started a YouTube channel.  

This led to me having a larger social media presence.  Through this experience, I learned that I liked having solitude as a friend.  More than that, I missed her when she was away.

The algorithms, ratios, and engagement stats of social media were a poor substitute for the peacefulness that solitude carried with her.  But I had good news that I wanted to share, and I couldn't do that in isolation, so I carried on as best I could.

I tried to fake it.

I should stop here and say that I have connected with some of the kindest, gentlest souls due to my time on social media.  Their encouraging comments and funny stories have brought countless smiles to my face.  And I will be forever grateful for their support.

But I've reached a breaking point this past year.  

It seems like I spend less time teaching Buddhism, and more time maintaining my social media accounts.  I love Buddhism.  I don't love planning social media strategies.

To put it another way, I was intoxicated by the allurement of building a social media platform.  But I've started to see the drawbacks.

So, I'm going to do something I haven't done in a while.  I'm going to walk alone.  

My social media will get less (almost none) of my attention.  And all of my energy will be put into teaching the Dharma.

Moving forward, my essays and Dharma talks will be available in the following places:

I know this is risky.  In our digital era, Buddhist teachers are expected to do everything, everywhere, all at once.  But it's necessary.  

And it's my hope that people will make the extra effort to find me in this vast internet of things.

Namu Amida Butsu

If you enjoyed this essay, you'll love my books!


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