As I write this, I’m on a plane from London bound for Montreal. I arrived in London on a plane from Glasgow. In Montreal I’ll catch another plane to Toronto. And finally from there I’ll get yet another plane to Los Angeles. That’s four airplanes (aeroplanes) in one 20-hour day of travel.
It’s not as bad as taking a horse to London, then a wooden ship to America and then a few stagecoaches across the country and eventually arriving in Los Angeles three years after the start of your journey. But in contemporary first world terms it’s a pretty long haul. My month-long stay in Europe is over. It’s been fun. But it’s been exhausting. I’m fairly certain I’ll go to Europe again. But I’m not doing it the same way next time.
This was my third one-man tour of Europe. I did not undertake this tour — nor have I undertaken any of my tours — with the backing of my publishers or of any religious institution. I have planned and financed them all myself and I have gone alone — just me and my suitcase and my backpack and a big box of books that I attempt to sell to help pay for the trips. For a person as disorganized and averse to planning as I am, this is a major undertaking.
I get a lot of help along the way, of course. I can’t afford to stay in hotels, so I mostly stay in people’s apartments, sometimes on fold-out couches in living rooms, sometimes in a room of my own. I hobnob with cats and dogs and newborn babies. I take discount busses leaving at uncomfortable hours with stinky toilets and surly seatmates or make use of local rideshare programs to save on expenses.
This isn’t to say I dislike what I do. It’s fun and interesting. I meet all kinds of odd people and see places I never even knew existed. Most of the people I stay with are incredibly kind, if often eccentric as befitting people who are interested in the kinds of books I write. I like talking about Zen to people, making this practice and philosophy that was so helpful to me available to others. I like sitting with people who want to sit with me. It’s a damned good life.
But man-oh-man, it takes a lot to do the teenage punk rock road trip for a living after playing at being a grown-up for years by working at a “real job” with normal hours and a steady paycheck.
Nor is it possible to keep up with what’s going on back at home when you’re on the go as much as I am and running the whole show as a solo act. While I was away, Southern California Gas saw fit to shut off my gas. Apparently they’d sent a couple of notices about this, which the person looking after my apartment didn’t notice until the hot water stopped working and the stove wouldn’t come on. This will be fixed three or four days after I arrive. Till then I’ll be eating out and going to friends’ places for showers.
Here are some of the highlights of my trip in no specific order:
• Meeting Wiligus Jager, the head of Benediktushof. Benediktushof is a former Benedictine monastery in rural southern Germany and Wiligis is the Benedictine monk who serves as the spiritual leader. Wiligus is a forward thinking monk in his 80s who managed to piss off the pope, which makes him cool in my book. He practices Zen and now teaches a kind of Zen-inspired mystical Christianity.
• The apfel kruchen (apple pie) at Benediktusfhof’s café. It is heavenly!
• Arriving late one night at the place I was supposed to stay only to find out it had suddenly become unavailable. This forced us to try and scramble something together at the last minute, which actually turned out to be a very nice place. It’s great when people you’ve only just met step up to take care of you in ways far beyond what you’d have any right to expect.
• A long car ride through the wilds of Germany and the Netherlands in a Smart Car with Jannis, a very kind fan of my stuff who lives in Amsterdam. You get to see a whole different side of the countries you visit by traveling this way. How would I ever have stopped in a petrol station in the middle of the night in rural Holland that had just been invaded by a bunch of crazed drunken football fans? How would I have learned all the strange flavorings the Dutch put on potato chips?
• A very interesting discussion about the intricacies of passing on the Buddhist lineage with a group of people whose teacher has recently been accused of being less than clear about how he came by his set of brown Buddhist teacher’s robes. I’m staying out of this particular argument myself since I don’t know what really happened and the group I spoke to seemed very sincere and were very kind. But it was very interesting to see where the discussion went.
• The BDSM couple I stayed with, the male partner of whom showed me a video of one of their public play sessions. I have a pretty high tolerance for such stuff. But I had to ask him to turn it off after a while because it was just too intense for me to take. I didn’t mean to offend him. But he seemed really, really sad when I did that. My sincere apologies.
• Supper at the Three Treasures shop in Bonn, Germany, where every week Patrick, the leader of a Zen group in town, feeds the homeless with delicious meals he cooks from donated vegetables.
• Seeing my old frenemy Michael Leutchford for the first time in many years. Mike had already been one of Nishijima Roshi’s long time students for quite a while when I appeared on the scene. Though Mike has been often harshly critical of what he saw as my lack of commitment to Zen practice, he has also praised my books very highly. I like Mike. Yeah. I’m pretty sure I do.
• Meeting Rachelle Allen, one of my oldest and bestest friends for vegetarian Thai food in London’s Camden Town.
• Cheese pie and chips backstage before the lively on-stage interview with Manchester punk rock legend John Robb.
• Another on-stage interview in Glasgow with TV psychologist Dr Cynthia McVey. Her questions were pointed and difficult, just what I like! I recorded it so maybe we can make a podcast out of that.
• Bailey and Lisa in Glasgow and their fabulous transgender poodle, Guy!
Next up I’m speaking at Ventura College on November 6th. I’m not sure if this is open to the public or not. If it is, I’ll let you know.
Then on November 7th I’m participating in something called The Human Library at Loyola Marymount University. Again, I don’t know if it’s a public even tor not.
But the big event that definitely is open to anyone who wants to participate is the Zen and Yoga Retreat at Mount Baldy Zen Center November 8-10 (1 & 1/2 hours east of Los Angeles). All info is at the link on the words “Mount Baldy Zen Center.” See you there!
* * *
As always, your kind donations are deeply appreciated!