From the first time I met Brian Kimmel, about 12 years ago, my heart rejoiced because I am drawn to younger people who embody spiritual values. When I heard Brian sing, chant and watched him move gracefully in a walking meditation, I was filled with joyful tears to meet such a radiant Soul. My own journey began when I was nineteen, and when one approaches enlightenment at that age, especially when it is a priority above all else, there is a spiritual beauty and power that grows in the Soul. There are also challenges to maintain a balance while living in this physical world. Along with the vitality of youth that is so valuable for intense spiritual practices, there is the rebelliousness that needs to be transformed into shining creativity. Because of this, I have extraordinary respect for those who begin and stay true to their spiritual journey and to the wisdom of their spiritual teacher. The following is an excerpt from Brian’s article published in the “Shambhala SunSpace – From the Under 35 Project.”
Heart on Fire by Brian Kimmel – Finding Zen
I came to Zen in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh with my heart on fire. I came without knowing I was in need of inspiration. I came without recognizing the sufferings in my life as unnecessary burdens. I was a survivor of sexual child abuse; a queer teen coming out; a singer-songwriter, pianist and accompanist for local choirs and bands; and an activist for causes important to my community—the protection of forests, clean water and an absence of bullying at elementary schools which I was victim.
I had a momentary glimpse of freedom the first time I sat, my eyes closed and butt cushioned by a tuft of moss underneath a cherry tree in my Dad’s front yard. I was inspired to sit after reading the first few pages of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Being Peace. A classmate at the community college I attended for high school credit introduced me. For a few small seconds as I sat under the cherry tree I was aware of having no burdens, no obtrusive thoughts, no catastrophic emotional meltdowns, no worries, and no concerns. For a moment I was being peace. That one moment inspired me to return. Returning to the cushion, to my freedom seat, did not come naturally at first and it did not always feel enlightening.
Modeling Social Change
Thich Nhat Hanh once offered a teaching in Indonesia at the foot of the Cosmic Mountain, the great Buddhist monument, Borobudur. “As practitioners we can be like a mountain,” Thich Nhat Hanh said. A mountain is a refuge for many beings. A place one can turn to for solace, peace, freedom and food—spiritual food and other. I am becoming a mountain through Zen mindfulness practice. Like many of the great sages and leaders of our world: Aung San Suu Kyi, H.H. Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh, I learn to cool the flames or use the fire in my heart to burn up inhibiting afflictions. When I burn up what prevents me from showing up in the outer world, through practice, I am then more available, freer to love and serve others. “The object of practice,” says Thich Nhat Hanh, “is to grow our hearts big.”
The more afflictions I burn up, the more beings can take refuge in me. Arriving in the world courageously through everything I have experienced, with open heart and open mind, others can look toward my actions as a model for social change. If I can do it, so can you. If the Cosmic Mountain has stood for hundreds of years amidst volcanoes, typhoons, floods, millions of stampeding tourists and the heavy steps of pilgrims unloading their burdens, I can too. So can you.
My burning heart gifted real joy, intimacy and the immediate need for waking up. The gift of Zen mindfulness practice offered tools to touch my burning heart. With heart and practice, grew my personal method of working with pain, healing suffering, taking refuge, and continuing by the grace of impermanence. True service is when actions stem from actually lived moments. Life becomes a teaching when I have done what I advocate and practiced what I preach. My social work need not be separate from daily life. Practice need not be different from what I do every day. When I learned to stay, my whole world blossomed. Through the process of accepting myself, my ability to show up in the outside world grew. My burning heart and how I related to it became a form of social action. May this life continue in true service and love.
To read the full article, click here: “Shambhala SunSpace.”
Mahalo and Blessings