So, 2020 happened … and given how much of it I spent sitting in front of this computer screen, one would think that I’d have managed to write an update or two here along the way. But it wasn’t that kind of year—in fact, writing professionally is among the many things I’ve put on pause during this trip around the sun, and it has taken some time to get back into right relationship with this process that used to feel so effortless when I started this site as a jazz blog over a decade ago.
As I’ve been thinking about this year, what stands out the most to me is how much I’ve been able to let go. I’m grateful that the anxiety about professional livelihood that had been nipping at my heels since losing my job last June transformed into a modest and supportive portfolio of independent writing and consulting work; that my doubt and worry about reconnecting with regular meditation practice in the wake of leaving my previous sangha is now supported by a robust and vibrant new community, Bhumisparsha, that I’ve had the good fortune to help manifest; and also that my ambivalent attachment to the possibility of a traditional North American academic career has eased into a more confident feeling of belonging to the community of scholars on my own terms. Last month, I even managed to quit using Facebook and Twitter!
I’m also humbled and fascinated by what this transition has left intact: a kind of distillation of some parts of my previous path that seem obvious in hindsight, but were invisible to me at the time. Strangely enough, I’ve found myself inhabiting the role of “Professional Buddhist” throughout this shift, as if this aspect of my life was insisting on manifesting in the world more fully. Two recent decisions have made it clear that I’ll be leaning into this work even more in the year ahead:
The first is that, after working as a consultant to shepherd the sangha through the process of legal incorporation and formation, I’ve accepted a position as General Coordinator for Bhumisparsha, which will involve supporting the sangha’s operations as we grow into the year ahead. (It turns out that the answer to the question, “So what can you do with a PhD in Ethnomusicology, anyway?” is “incorporate an online Buddhist church during a pandemic.”)
The second is that the Board of Directors of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship has elected me President for the year ahead, which means that I will be supporting that organization through this next year of its ongoing organizational transformation as well. BPF’s mission statement opens with a line that I’ve been coming back to in my head over and over again recently:
At Buddhist Peace Fellowship, we come together from multiple lineages, Buddhist and otherwise.
When I read this the first time, I thought of that otherwise as meaning, basically, “non-Buddhist,” a statement of inclusivity that recognizes the powerful heterogeneity of spiritual lineages manifesting here on Turtle Island. But later, recalling Ashon Crawley’s phenomenal book Blackpentacostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility, it came to have a second meaning, too: related to what Crawley calls otherwise possibility, gesturing towards how spiritual rituals can hold space for the emergence of radically different futures grounded in friendship and care. This otherwise has been perhaps as important during this intense year of transition as the Buddhism; I’m grateful to be practicing with deeply reflective and committed people in both spaces who are authentically trying to live into that otherwise possibility together in the year ahead.
For a nice glimpse of these worlds colliding, check out this interview that BPF’s Katie Loncke conducted with Lama Rod Owens, one of Bhumisparsha’s Founding Teachers, on his excellent book that also came out this year, Love and Rage: The Path of Liberation Through Anger.
And lastly, please consider making a charitable donation this year to either of these excellent organizations!