Although an enclosed Christian contemplative monk for 21 years, my journey began with meditation, more specifically in the Buddhist tradition. Although seriously considering becoming a Buddhist monk, the signs pointed to a Trappist monastery, Mount St. Bernard Abbey in England.
I passed the screening process and entered the culture of silence in this strict monastery with its community of 38 monks. This monastery belonged to a contemplative order and as such, was familiar with apophatic prayer, i.e., silent prayer much like shikantaza, or 'just sitting' in the Buddhist tradition.
As a novice, I underwent a deeply challenging time, and only made it with the support of someone who was to become my 'Honorary Grandfather'. The Rev. Basil Hobbs (RIP) was a retired British army chaplain and eclectic pyschotherapist. There was much work to do at a fundamental level. After all, I was an ex-punk rocker with a history of breaking social behavioural norms and exploring fear, both in myself and others.
After this intensive period as a junior monk, I was barred from progressing further and obliged to transfer monasteries (unusual but permitted for juniors). I went to an abbey in N.Ireland, where a visiting Dutch abbess invited me to stay at her convent in the Netherlands to look for a more suitable place there. Meditation was openly encouraged and practiced in one abbey there, so I chose to transfer to a third Trappist community (photo left). This is when my training changed gear, from private to public.
In the years that followed, I was to meet 16 Zen teachers, gained private interview (sanzen) with 8 of them, and studied koan with 4. Of these four, I was personal assistant to two. One for 8 years and the second for 3 years. The first teacher, abbot Jeroen Witkam, was authorized to give koan training by AMA Samy, an Indian Zen teacher of the Sanbo Kyodan school and Jesuit priest. I was able to work through both the Gateless Gate (Mumonkan) and Blue Cliff Record (Hegikanroku) koan collections. In addition to the introductory koans, this amounted to about 230 koans altogether. Later I was fortunate to lead my own weekend sesshins for guests specifically coming to this monastery for instruction and experience in meditation. I gained valuable experience receiving participants in sanzen during the weekend, while my assistant took over the group in my absences from the zendo.
Around this time, as chair of the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue for the Dutch-speaking region, I was privileged to take part in the 2005 Spiritual Exchange with Zen monks in Japan. Our party had a challenging and rewarding experience in three different temples, including a week in the Gifu mountains in an ‘oni’-temple (‘devil’-temple) where the training was particularly strict.
The second teacher I assisted was the Dharma heir to Teh Cheng, an Indonesian-born Chinese who revived Buddhism in Indonesia. This teaching style included mutual enquiry and written, rather than verbal, answers to koans, a method also used for more advanced monks in Japan, in temples such as Daitokuji.
This second teacher, Prof. Ton Lathouwers, similarly asked for written answers to koans. I sent mine to him in letters. As assistant, my duties included receiving sesshin participants in sanzen during the quarterly meditation retreats, when numbers could run up to over 100 participants. I also gave basic instruction to beginners. This was invaluable experience fro which I remain very grateful.
Leaving the monastery
After leaving the Trappist Order in 2011, I made my way to America to train in another branch of Buddhism, specifically the Vajrayana practice of deity yoga in Tibetan Buddhism. This consisted of reciting 100,000 mantras over a period of three months while visualizing the deity. I was subsequently ordained on the anniversary of my monastic profession and later gained authorization to teach formless meditation in this crazy wisdom lineage.
Returning to Ireland from America, I learnt the basics of inner journeying from shamanic practitioner Liam Glenane and later Daan van Kampenhout in the Netherlands. I followed an individually guided inner journey under the guidance of Emy Fernhout and built a drum. Since then, my own spirit-allies have instructed me directly until I attained 100% trust. In 2018, another string to my bow came by gaining an IEMT practitioner certificate.
However, something was still missing. All the experience described above was essential to my journey, but something else was needed to complete and unify it. Finally I founded my own lineage, freed from the constraints and hierarchy of Buddhism, Christianity and even Druidry. It is called the Order of the Longing Look