“Follow your inner moonlight. Don’t hide the madness…”Allen Ginsberg
In a few short weeks, I will turn fifty. Half a century. Wow.
As I reflect on my journey thus far, I’ve had quite a ride. I’ve met amazing characters. Enjoyed unforgettable travels. My path has led from glittering aeries thumping with a disco beat to swampy depths where darkness and sweat were so thick you couldn’t breathe. I’ve made art. I’ve made love. I’ve been dumbfounded by beauty. And by ugliness. My heart has been broken and my mind blown.
In all that time, a zen koan has been lodged in my brain, “who are you? who are you? who are you?”
I’ve chased a gaggle of wild geese trying to find the answer. But ultimately it’s a mystery. It’s as fluid and shifting as my existence.
Mind you, after decades of this, I have some insights, some clues. I carry a committee of inner critics who love to offer their opinions any time of the day and night. And sadly, there are bits of broken boy who still sing a sad song of being ugly, evil, and wrong. Thankfully there are other voices, compassionate voices who’ve also taken up residence. They rock the boy and shout down the critics and most days leave me feeling pretty good about myself.
Those who have followed me online for the past decade or so know one of my favorite past times is wrangling with my online identity. Mad Mister Mark has been my alter-ego for a while now. When I start to doubt myself, or get off-center, or feel like maybe I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, I try out other identities. Less personal. Vaguer. Usually, it means I’m hiding something from myself in the shadows.
Since the Great Quarantine of 2020 began, I’ve had an opportunity (ironically made possible by COVID-19) to participate in the very spiritual groups and sanghas that have always interested me, but that were previously inaccessible due to geographical distance. My personal spiritual practice has strengthened, and I’ve met incredible individuals who have provided much-needed validation that my path is a worthy one. They have also provided solidarity on a journey that for me has largely been solitary.
Beginning this week, I will start a two-and-a-half-year program to become a meditation/dharma teacher. It’s a program personally crafted by Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach–renowned Insight Meditation teachers and practitioners. The program is built on radical acceptance and radical compassion–two things that are desperately needed in our world today.
As I begin this path, I’m reclaiming my online presence as Mad Mister Mark, because that container holds space for all the aspects of my life. Aspects to which I need to bring acceptance and compassion. From the quirky to the artistic to the sacred to the profane, everything that arises can have a place there.
In some ways it’s a reboot. Always returning to ‘beginner’s mind.’ And in some ways, it’s coming home again. Taking refuge in the dharma of one’s own life.
Past iterations of Mad Mister Mark have been performative. I’ve always been conscious of being ‘on’ and trying to deliver something worthwhile to read or think about. What that means is I’ve edited and deleted a whole lot of writing along the way.
Going forward I relieve myself of any expectations of profundity, importance, or perfection. As the old adage goes, ‘the best way to learn is by teaching.’ And so as I commit myself to the dharma road, I’m going to bring you along for the journey. I’ll do my best to show up as honestly and as messy as I may be at any given moment.
As the Buddhists love to do, I offer any merit, any benefit, any strength, any peace, any joy that comes from this journey to you, and to the liberation of us all. And as folks in recovery are reminded, “the opinions expressed here are mine alone, take what you need, and leave the rest.”