Monday, September 7, 2009


My wife Avril and I are preparing to facilitate a meditation retreat at Unity Church of the Triangle in Raleigh this coming Saturday, September 12.  Preparing for a retreat, even a one-day, is still a big deal to me.  I don't take anything for granted and try not to recycle the same old schedule or an old, stale talk.  Each time is different, each retreat and each moment of it are unique.  Sometimes I don't know what the theme will be until the morning the retreat starts.  This time, I'm lucky: I knew what our theme would be yesterday morning, a whole 6 days ahead.  With great synchronicity, the minister at UCT had that exact same theme as the subject of his lesson yesterday and he kindly put in a plug for the retreat.  He also referred to me as "our resident guru" on mindfulness and insight meditation, and I nearly hid my head in my hands.

I believe I'm so sensitive about anyone referring to me as a "guru" because I've had the good fortune to spend time with a few.  The word "guru" refers to an individual who has the unusual capacity to let you see yourself exactly as you are, to hold the space of Divine Being wide open so you are invited to step in.  I know the real thing; I may be a good teacher, but I'm no guru.

My original Zen Master, Seung Sanh, was a guru.  He appeared to me from out of nowhere, clear as day, while I was walking around Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts, and then abruptly vanished into the ether.  He led me to the Cambridge Zen Center where I finally met him in a more permanent form.  He knew me before I knew myself, held my feet to the fire, laughed heartily and readily, and had eyes that were vast, open, and completely still and unmoving.  So does Gurumayi Chidvalasananda, a true Siddha guru with whom I've had the great good fortune to spend time as well.  She reflected back to me the reality of who I was right at that moment and held the space so clearly that I had no choice but to feel and accept it.  I've also spent time with Amachi, and had the good fortune to see the Dalai Lama speak to a crowd of less than 2,000.  They all are human, they all have feet of clay, and at the same time they are all gurus.  They have that ability to show us with absolute clarity the best and worst of who we are.

We've taken the word "guru" to mean "expert," and I'm sure that's what Neusom Holmes, the marvelous minister and Unity Church of the Triangle, meant when he called me a "guru."  I really don't see myself as an expert on mindfulness practice or insight meditation either, but if he does that's ok.  I just prepare, do my best and trust the Divine to be there and guide me.  The Divine always obliges.  Whatever I ask for, whatever I truly and honestly hold in my heart, manifests.  I'm the side-show: I do my tapdance and soft-shoe and the Divine does the heavy lifting effortlessly.

I can be a bit more sanguine about this "guru" business when I remember Swami Beyondananda's "Guru Chant:"

G  U  R  U
G  U  R  U
G  U  R  U
Gee, You Are You!!

That works for me!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Losing the red-tips

When Avril and I moved into our townhouse in 2006, our small back yard was bordered with a long row of red-tips.  These were not your typical red-tips; these were Jack-in-the-Beanstalk red-tips, left to grow higher than the rooftops, climbing toward the clouds a little more each year.  They were closely spaced, forming a hedge-row stretching from the inside edge of our yard out beyond our neighbor's yard toward the street.

Like all fairy-tale plants, the red-tips were magical.  Birds lived in them, squirrels played keep-away, they were a magical forest for one of our neighbor's young children.  They gave us shade and a sense of seclusion.  From the window of my study on the second floor, I looked out into a copse of treetops.  Their flower gave us nose-numbing fragrance every year.  They also gave so much shade that our living-room lights had to be on during the day and little but shade-plants would grow in our back gardens, but I was willing to live with that because they gave us so much that was good.

Have you noticed that all of this is written in the past tense?  You get a sense of what's coming.  Avril kept asking for more sunlight in the living-room; be careful what you ask for.

Our first signal of a real problem with the red-tips came when I tried to dig a hole in our back garden and hit a nest of roots.  The red-tips had been left to grow so high that the root system had spread out.  Planting in the back garden meant chopping away at the roots more than digging up soil.  There were other problems our neighbors had and of which we were unaware at the time: one neighbor had roots coming into her crawl-space; another had plumbing backups and occasional problems with electrical outages.

It turns out that these red-tips had been planted on top of a sewer-line and in very close proximity to underground power lines.  In legal terms, they were sitting on top of two utility easements.  An easement is something a property owner gives to someone else, such as the sewer department, to install a utility on her land and to maintain it.  In our town in North Carolina, it is unlawful to plant a tree or shrub on a sewer easement.


The first set of red-tips, backing up to the homes to our left, came out some months back.  Our homeowners' association manager left her communication skills on the shelf and they were removed unannounced.  There was a lot of upset from this.  These red-tips were a fixture, they gave our neighborhood its secluded, "country" feel.  The manger did what she knew was right: she complied with the law and took out overgrown shrubs which were causing a problem.  Instead of gratitude, she got a lot of grief.  What would have helped?  A neighborhood meeting, perhaps; a detailed explanation of why we had to remove those red-tips; an opportunity for people to voice their displeasure and share their feelings of anger and sadness.  For many folks, it's not easy to sit through meetings like that, and I can understand why our manager decided she didn't want to bother.

But this is because that is; this is not because that is not.  Removing something beloved, even a shrub, triggers seeds of sadness and anger; not communicating triggers seeds of hostility.

Our manager learned from this, and when it came time for the red-tips behind us to be taken out we got ample warning.  One of our neighbors, who heads up the landscaping committee, talked with us at length and together we explored options for creating more seclusion and privacy without infringing on the sewer and power easements.  When the tree-cutters arrived two days ago, Avril and I were ready.

We said goodbye to the red-tips and sat on the back deck, bearing witness to their removal.  We thanked them for all the good they'd given, all the beauty and shelter.  We talked with the tree-cutters, marveled at their skill and teamwork, and thanked them for being so diligent and cleaning up so well after themselves.

The red-tips, the middle-aged oak and the gum tree all came down.  I stood on our back deck and felt exposed, I could see directly into the street and people in the street could see me.  No more coming out in my bathrobe to read the Sunday paper, I thought.  I felt some shock and sadness at the loss, and gave thanks for the practices of mindfulness which have taught me that emotions are impermanent, to feel them and let them go.

I also have noticed over the last two days how much more light we get in our living room and how lovely that is.  I've noticed how much more spacious our back yard feels.  I've started looking at trellises to put on top of our fences and to let ivy and southern jasmine grow upon.  Avril wished for more light and we got it.  My study is brighter in the afternoon and I enjoy looking out the window and seeing the trees across the way.  The birds who lived in the red-tips have taken up residence in our gardenia bushes.

We all adapt.  The Divine lives even in our pain.  Beauty emerges.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

First Post

Good morning, and welcome to my new blog. It's a snowy one in Raleigh, unusual for this warm winter. My intention is to use this blog as a way to communicate events in Avril's and my lives with family and friends. Since we've moved to Raleigh, many of the people we know and love haven't gotten alot of information about what's happening with us. I know others may see this blog and I hope, if you're interested and like-minded, you'll join our community of friends.

Here's a quick bio. If you're a friend or family member, you can skip this posting if you want and return in a few days when I'm posting more about current events.

My name is Andrew Weiss. I'm a pre-Baby-Boom man, born when WWII was still going on (by 6 months) and FDR was still President (by 5 months). I grew up in New Britain, Connecticut, went through the public school system there, and went to college at Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire. My interests ever since childhood have been literature, music, people and spiritual life. I've pursued each of these throughout my life.

I've been married twice. My first wife, Sara Brookwood, died in 1982 waiting for a liver transplant. Sara's story is a beautiful one, and I will most likely post pieces of it on this blog from time to time. My second wife, Avril, and I married in 1989 and have been happily together ever since. I've had no children from either marriage. I've lived most of my life in New England -- Connecticut until I was 18, New Hampshire for 4 years, and finally Massachusetts from 1971 until this past August, 2006. That's when we finally made the move south, to North Carolina.

My work life has been varied, and interesting (to me, at least :-). I started my work life apprenticing as an optician in my father's optometry office while I was in high school. After college and graduate school (MA in English, University of Wisconsin), I taught high school English, then worked as a writer and consultant, did drugs and fell apart, moved to Massachusetts, and started work as an optician again. Then came law school (Boston College) and 20+ years of work as a solo-practice lawyer, working primarily in special education law, domestic relations, real estate, small business and nonprofit management, small estate planning, and a little bankruptcy. I've always been a good listener and I had a strong emphasis on mediation and alternative dispute resolution. I finally got my mediation credentials from CDR Associates in Boulder, CO in 1992. I retired from law in 2000, burnt-out and acknowledging that I'd never really been comfortable working as a lawyer, and I returned to optics, working as an optician in Acton, Massachusetts until September last year.

My spiritual life was active, and Jewish, through my teens. Then it went dormant for years, subsumed in my love of literature (especially poetry and the sound of language) and music. It came back full-force when I turned 40. As Avril tells me, I'm a Capricorn, and Capricorns are late bloomers; it takes awhile for us to get our feet underneith us, but we have strength and stamina for the long run.

I began my journey in Buddhism and Zen in late 1985, studied on my own some and then had the good fortune to meet Zen Master Seung Sanh and Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, within 6 months of each other. I studied with both of them and with teachers in Seung Sanh's lineage for many years, practiced hard and learned a great deal about myself, my mind, the world and how we create what we have here. I had also started a journey into energy work, clairvoyance and the metaphysical in early 1985, and I continued to do spiritual readings (tarot, channelling) and healings (hands-on energy work) throughout the late 80's and 1990's. I had the good fortune to study with Eleanore Moore of Peterborough, New Hampshire, an incredibly talented Jungian bodywork healer and intuitive who could blow out the electrical circuits on her side of town when she really got rolling.

Avril has had her own, deep spiritual life, independent from mine and deeply grounded in the Siddha Yoga community. She met Baba Muktananda in 1974 in her home Australia, and practiced in that community ever since, living for periods of time in the ashrams. She took me to meet Baba's successor, Gurumayi Chidvalasananda, in 1988, and I had the privilege of spending many days in the Siddha Yoga ashram and center, spending time with Gurumayi and the swamis and other devotees, and doing practices with (frequently) large groups of people. Having a wife with a strong and different spiritual practice has been good for me; I can't get too much of an ego about my own practices that way.

In 1991, Thich Nhat Hanh ordained me as a Brother in the Tiep Hien Buddhist Order (Order of Interbeing), and in 1994 my friend Harrison Hoblitzelle turned over to me his mindfulness meditation class at Cambridge Center for Adult Education. Thus began my life as a spiritual teacher and counselor. I taught the CCAE class, began offering teachings ad hoc in a local meditation group, and began compiling mindfulness practices to teach to my students. A book grew out of this called "Beginning Mindfulness", which I self-published from 1996 through 2005 and became a basic instruction manual for many of the Thich Nhat Hanh-oriented meditation communities in the US and Canada.

In 2006, New World Library picked the book up and published it, and since then it's sold over 15,000 copies and, I hope, has been a useful guide for many people in learning the benefits of living a mindful life. I've continued to teach, at the New England School of Whole Health Education teaching business law and ethics, communication skills and mindfulness, doing a stint teaching Law and Social Systems at Tufts University, and eventually settling in as the director of the meditation program at Shakti Yoga and Healing Arts Center in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, where I was fortunate to have a core group of students who studied steadily with me for 4, 5, some up to 6 years and whose dedication has spurred on my own spiritual development.

I also made a strong connection with Claude AnShin Thomas in the mid-1990's. Claude and I became friends, and in 1999 he ordained me in the White Plum Zen Lineage. Claude is the author of "At Hell's Gate", an amazing and powerful little book tracing his journey from VietNam-era soldier, rock musician, drunk and destitute to his current life as a Zen monk. Claude's life and presence offers great hope that we can transform our suffering and turn our lives around.

Then in 2002, my wife insisted that I take a workshop with her clairvoyant teacher Sharon Turner. I rapidly became Sharon's student as well. Sharon is a remarkable, unique teacher, combining aspects of psychic/clairvoyant work with Native American initiations and Christian Mystery School initiations. Like my Buddhist teachers, like Gurumayi and the siddhas, she has changed my life.

One part of the change has been this move to Raleigh. Avril and I had talked about moving south for a couple of years, we set the intention, and here we are. Avril got a job at Montessori School of Raleigh; we trusted the Divine and moved. It has not been easy readjusting at this stage of life, but we've done it and we're learning all the time. This is the subject of a whole other set of blog entries.

I have my own website for my book and spiritual work, it's This blog is mostly for personal information. If you want to know more about what I do and what I offer, the website is the place to go.

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to post your comments. I'll come back to this blog periodically to update on our slow and steady process of settling into this beautiful land in North Carolina.