~This life... what a trip.
If anyone is about to read this and doesn’t know who this guy is, stop here and check out the body of work he's covered in his career thus far. Oh sure, you'll get a flood of juicy propaganda around the recent allegation, you can come back to that, but first practice a little restraint and see how Noah had and carried out a vision to bring the Dharma and Buddhist meditation practice to an entire population that would have been otherwise overlooked and continued to be snubbed by the upper-middle-way of the status quo in western Buddhism back we he got into it (not that's it's a whole lot different now). That is; the misfits. The addicted, incarcerated, mislead, forgotten, beaten down and kicked out youth of all ages. (Yours truly).
Pick up a copy of "Dharma Punx" and read it. Follow it up with the next two: "Against the Stream" and "Heart of the Revolution". You'll get a feel of just how down-to-the-ground and real-world-vibe he brings it. Am I a fan? Sure I am. I am alive today because of what he created and I was lucky enough to be in the wake of his creation back around 2006 when the Dharma Punx group (later known as the Back of the Bus) crew was meeting over on Fulton Street on Friday nights. Either Vinny Ferraro or Gene Lushtak was usually at the helm back then. It was raw and real - no frills - kinda like what we're starting up again over here at SoMa Dharma. Which brings us to the current end to this tale. The return of the founder!
I didn't get it right away. I wasn't sure why I was going, or kept going, but I was hooked into something back then. Like the idea that I don't have to obey every thought I have and that I hold the key to my own self-made prison door. I took me a while of spiraling downward toward rock bottom and right about the time I did - Noah had just finished writing Refuge Recovery. A Buddhist oriented recovery program. Devine intervention perhaps - if there was such a thing in Buddhism. Gory details aside, this was how I came to be back in the game of life and full on for the Dharma. And how I now too could offer words of wisdom to ALL those who came looking - no matter what they had done or where they have been. I knew I could share from my wounds, from what they were worth.
I also knew I was green and way out of the club of these spiritual revolutionaries (Like Noah and those who had trained with or under him). But I was hot, so I took on Refuge Recovery meeting facilitation, and took classes in secular mindfulness like MBSR and Mindful Schools.
Then my big day came. I was on retreat with Noah teaching back in 2014 when I had a chance to have a conversation with him. I was all ambitious (not a good thing to these types) and was like "Hey man, I've been attending for a long time, I got clean and sober and been doing some training. How do I get in with this crew and start learning how to teach Dharma, man? I wanna do that!" He looked me over and was like "Yeah... aren't you in construction or something? A contractor right? - Why don't you just do that?" I visibly shrunk. Somewhere between 'I never should have asked' and 'this guy is a total dick' Then he says; "Listen I'm gonna need some help over there at the new (San Francisco) center, getting it opened up, why don't you build a stage and some shoe shelves or something - see what they need over there".
Aw man! Same old shit. I chugged along with it though. I was happy to be a part of helping out and be appreciated for it. I stayed the course for couple years before I got the invitation to apply for the Against the Stream Facilitator training with Vinny and Joanna (then guiding teachers). It wasn't until almost the end of that year that I told Vinny about this story. How Noah dissed me and that it wasn't until now that anyone had given me a chance - (I was still feeling like the stinky kid and others were getting stuff I deserved) - he gave me the usual 'slow down, dude, you'll get there' speech. Then he gave me a little more. See, back then, when Noah said to go build shoe shelves... that was actually the only skillful way he had to put me in the game at the time - and the right way. Like; 'Let's see what you can do with a little, and then you can have a little more'. The vetting had begun.
(click "read more" for the rest.)
So that's the story up to then. What happens next - no one could ever dream up - or have a nightmare about as the case may be. The information is out there - if your careful enough you might even be able to see the real story behind the smear campaign, the motivation of those who betrayed him to save their own careers and reputations. The facts that after allegations were made and the ATS board threw him out and made a public lynching of his character, that in fact there was no crime committed, no guilt found, no assault. Hurt feelings for sure, people offended, yep, maybe even freaked out. All of which Noah became publicly accountable for, held his end of responsibility and apologized appropriately. And all with little to no mention of his own personal deeply troubling struggles around this time.
But the damage has been done. The centers are closed, the mob is still under siege and Noah continues to upset those who needed a whipping boy to take the fall for all he had created by displaying his resiliency.
I ain’t down with that mob!
In recovery, we don't shoot our wounded. We practice what we preach here. Compassion, forgiveness, unconditional love, equanimity, wisdom and mindfulness.
Things I learned from Noah and his students, teachers and colleagues.
So fast forward to current status, seems all this shit has brought us closer together - hard to find friends that stay with you in hard times. During the Malibu retreat this past October, Noah asked about what I was doing here with this SoMa Dharma he heard about. ATS was about to hold their last class and close the SF doors, I had enough training and credential to legitimately hold space so I went for it. I told him I wanted to host as many facilitators and teachers here as I could and keep a rotating / recurring schedule going. I asked if he had any advice for me. A little afraid to since the way the last meeting like this went for me. Again with that long look. Then he said the unexpected. "Yeah, I don't think you need to have all those other people come in to lead. You're trained for this - I think you should do it yourself." <Humbling.> "I mean have a guest teacher come in sometimes to mix it up but, if you want to create something like this, you take it on and keep it consistent for people." The details went on and we talked for a while about it. Eventually I got around to; "Would you ever consider coming up to teach at my space?" - "Sure." he said "If you ever want to cut your attendance in half let me know." - I love the levity and humility of the situation he knew he was in - especially up here in Vinny Land.
And so it was on - and what came with it was a little overdue for me I guess. If you want to stand up for what you believe in against what the majority is taking comfort in - it's going to rip up some relationships and create reactions in others. So I got my share of comments, dirty looks, and I also found out who's who. There were some surprises in the mix. Folks who knew this division was all wrong no matter what but were just not willing to endure the karma of being vulnerably exposed with it. And that the way it goes.
The night of:
Em and I met Noah and the crew - about 8 or 10 of us I think at La Taqueria in the mission early, we ate delicious tacos and talked shit for an hour - it was a blast! We caravanned over to the place and as we waited out front for the other group to end, Noah greeted people, introduced himself and was generally just easy going and fun to be around. We took over and unfolded 40 shitty plastic chairs, & set it all up for our guest of honor. - It was beautiful to see. Just like in the beginning. Noah had mentioned in one of his social media promos for this thing, that we would be hanging with the "Old School Dharma Punx" (a high honor in my perception) and that’s just how it was. A full house.
At one point in the night he looked out those thin glass, metal framed windows to the bus cables and noisy street below and said "I fucking love this shit" (another high honor).
It wasn't just the room, or the tight community that came to support their friend and teacher, but the Dharma that he has such a deep love affair with. It truly is scene of a person with a calling - who can't envision ever doing anything else with his energy. Nor should he.
The meditation instructions were clear and classic, the Dharma talk was spontaneous, core teaching as usual and addressed a number of questions head on, assertive, funny and wise as hell.
People were kind and generous - we got to send him home with a nice gift from the Sangha. As he reached the bottom of the stairs to head off after the sit, I called down to him "Hey! We’re thinking about having you back sometime! Don't call us, pal, we'll call you!" Knowing this is my own special way of saying 'I can't ever thank you enough, we love you, come back soon', he had a good laugh and said, "Yeah - see you next week!" (I was headed to Washington to sit retreat with him - maybe I should of thought of that before the sarcastic comment - haha!)
SO. If you were there, thank you. If not, stay tuned and thank you for reading this either way.
In the words of NL, "I love you keep going".
See you at the sit! -= JC