Like the writing of history, writing a bio is something of a fiction. What people choose to include in their bios does seem rather selective, an imagination of a life (often performed by a part of the brain not noted for its imagination). But since this is my website, I get to do it any way I like.
Karma is a subtle and intricate phenomenon. I can’t fully account for how I got here, into this particular life I wake to each morning – nor do I yet know what I will eat for breakfast. I do know what I have always loved – what Keats called “the holiness of the heart’s affections” – and beyond coffee and toast, perhaps this is significant.
From the time I was 6 or 7, I have always loved solitude in nature. When I was 20 years old I dropped out of (my third) college – again having made Dean’s List – to become a forest ranger in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. More so than the many educational institutions I’ve attended, this is something that greatly shaped my sensibility. I lived in a cabin at the top of a mountain four miles from the nearest road. Supplies were carried up on my own back. I sawed and chopped firewood, went down to an Indian spring for drinking water. And thought I had stumbled into Paradise.
My main job was to climb a lookout tower each morning and look for forest fires until nightfall. But I was also the marginal representative of law and order in a remote outpost. And I was pretty marginal – my hair at the time came down to my waist, and my ranger’s badge was often pinned to an African dashiki that draped loosely down to my ankles.
A lot of the time the mountains were socked in by clouds, so then there was really nothing I had to do. Often whole weeks would pass in which I never encountered another human being, a string of days to meditate, write, read and bake bread. And then too, for some reason, the local high school kids liked to stay at the nearby lean-too, and come talk to me when they were high on LSD. But the otherwise prevailing solitude I experienced here showed me something very interesting. A lot of my neurotic anxiety from those days began to drop away. Even as a 20-year-old, I could thus recognize that much of what psychologically plagued me was socially determined, and that there was a deeper part of myself, still intact, that was not so plagued.
The year before, a twin set of occurrences happened which also seem significant. For when I was 19, I met and began working with my first Zen teacher, and in that year also entered Jungian analysis. Much of my professional life has been shaped by these two elements – some kind of ongoing dialogue between psyche and spirit.
Another cool thing about being being a fire-watch in a cold, wet climate in which there was seldom a fire (and which once led me to report the moon — rising through red clouds — to the Dorchester Fire Warden) is that this was seasonal work. For once the snows came to the high country each fall, the small chance of a forest fire became reduced to none. This meant that you could have nearly six months to travel.
That fall I wound up getting sponsored by some East Coast Jungians to attend the Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland--and stayed there for two years. In Zurich teachers such as James Hillman and M.L. vcn Franz helped further refine my understanding and approach to working with dreams, and I also was introduced to styles of mythological thinking that ranged outside the mythos of monotheism. In retrospect those were great gifts, as both dreams and myth have become life-long – and instructive – loves.
By the time I got back to the States, fire-watch rangers in New Hampshire had become replaced by airplanes, so I couldn’t go back to that. And the only person I’d stayed in touch with was my first Zen teacher – who had just started a small residential practice facility in upstate New York. I lived a monastic life there for the next two years, getting up each morning at dawn, sitting zazen at least five hours a day, and being introduced to the sense of an ongoing, moment by moment, spiritual practice. This too, along with the outrageously wild humor of my first teacher, greatly shaped my sensibility.
In my mid-20s I was invited to spend the summer living with the poet Gary Snyder, who aside from being a name-sake and a more established poet, also had been a former forestry service fire-watch, and long-time Buddhist practitioner. He’d really been a kind of idol of mine. But unfortunately, we didn’t hit it off so well – which can be a problem with people we idealize, they turn out to have feet made of clay – just like the rest of us. After about six weeks, Gary asked me to leave. Some monks from the San Francisco Zen Center were then up on the land that Gary had purchased (along with Alan Ginsberg and Richard Baker, who at the time had been the Abbot of the SFZC). The monks were about to drive down to Berkeley in their van. I hitched a ride. And have been living in the Bay Area ever since.
For poetic, intuitive types like me, the real rub often lies in how such a person is going to make a living. Are they going to take up what amounts to a life of voluntary poverty, while keeping faith with their creative daimon? Does one abandon one’s more creative pursuits in order to follow a more conventional path? Or does one attempt a third approach, attempting to live with two mistresses under the same roof?
I’ve been a two mistresses kind of guy. I generally write each morning from dawn to about noon, and then begin to see my clients. As I’ve gotten older I’ve found that having a dual profession is not so much like a tug of war between “jealous mistresses.” Although it’s meant I’ve kept my consulting practice smaller than I’d otherwise have it, and have published less than I might till now, I’ve found that my work on one front often informs the other. I think I’ve been offered a wider perspective to each of my pursuits, than I might have otherwise been capable.
Working as a therapist for so many years has been a great gift – what else gives such an intimate window to the human soul? And I would hope that being a writer has widened my capacity to say what I’ve seen.