© 2016 JOHN K MCILWAIN.

My Path

Photo Credit: Antonia Small

"I am a pilgrim, but my pilgrimage has been wandering and unmarked. Often what has looked like a straight line to me has been a circle or a doubling back. I have been in the Dark Wood of Error any number of times. I have known something of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, but not always in that order. The names of many snares and dangers have been made known to me, but I have seen them only in looking back.

 

"Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there. I have had my share of desires and goals, but my life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises. Often I have received better than I have deserved. Often my fairest hopes have rested on bad mistakes. I am an ignorant pilgrim crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led- make of that what you will.”

From Wendell Berry's book Jaber Crow, thanks to Collie Agle

I was raised as an Episcopalian, though it wasn't until my late 30's that the church came to resonate with me.  When I was 12, I had my first spiritual awakening, a moment's grace that gave me an all-too fleeting look at the meaning and nature of existence.  This set me on a lifetime search for inner awakening.  

 

During high school and college, my love of sailing and yacht racing was more significant to me than church.  At college, I majored in existential philosophy.  From there I went to law school where I got caught up in the world of the late1960's - psychedelics and organizing marches against the Vietnam War.  I also helped manage the national "Clean for Gene" anti-war student movement, campaigning for Eugene McCarthy for president

After graduating law school, I had a powerful LSD trip that altered the direction of my life.  It led me to move into a 1960's counter-culture community, where I lived for three years.  While there I lived in two worlds, as my day job was an associate in a large, conservative, "White Shoe" Wall Street law firm. 

 

After leaving the community and the law firm, my wife and our new son moved to a 200 year-old farmhouse in Maine, where we lived for five years.  I worked for the state government during the day; the rest of the time I helped in our organic garden, cut wood to heat the house, and did a very unprofessional job of renovations.  I also studied various spiritual paths, including Gurdjieff, Western arcana, Taoism, and astrology.

 

We moved to Washington, DC in 1977, my first job was with the federal government. Following that, I went back into private law practice, did a stint in business, and finally was a Senior Fellow at a non-profit institute.  During these years, I took the EST training in 1979, and a decade later took the full Landmark Education curriculum and several of the advanced training courses they offered.  I found a spiritual home at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Washington DC, where faith was more of an inquiry than a belief.  There I served on the Vestry (the church's Board of Directors), and taught the Adult Confirmation Class, an experiential exploration of faith.

 

I left St. Mark's with the departure of its Rector, Jim Adams, who had been a strong spiritual influence for me.  In 2000, I found my way to Buddhism and meditation.  My first Buddhist teacher was Tara Brach, and I became an active member of the community she founded, the Insight Meditation Community of Washington (IMCW).  I served as the President of the Board, and sat on the Teachers Council.  During this period I co-founded the St. Mark's Episcopal Church's Meditation Center, where I taught for many years. 

 

My next Buddhist teacher was Rudy Bauer, co-founder of the Washington Center for Consciousness Studies.  I successfully completed the Center's Advanced Course in Meditation and Awareness Practice.  This was an intense immersion into the Tibetan Buddhist Dzogchen teachings and practices, and I had the special opportunity to participate in several deep and rare teachings with Tibetan Rinpoches of the old school.  I have also studied with a number of other Buddhist teachers including Rigdzin Dorje Rinpoche, Lama Wangdor, Lama Lena, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Mingyur Rinpoche, Sogyal Rinpoche, Sharon Salzberg, and Larry Rosenberg, among others.

In the past few years I have explored the powerful teachings of various sacred plants, which has led me to explore the practices and wisdom of indigenous and Core or Western shamanism.

 

My wife and I moved to New York in 2010, and in 2017 we moved to Port Clyde, Maine, the town in which we have summered for 25 years.  I continue to explore Buddhist and other paths of awakening with others, as we each walk our individual paths on our way home.