David Gaia Kano brief history

Last updated September, 2017.

The following are the highlights of my life to date, as seem important to who I’ve become, which means most of this description is about my spiritual practice.

I was born in 1957 to Cyrus and Dorothy Kano in Boston, MA. My grandfather was Hiram H. Kano, an Episcopal priest and farmer that worked to help his fellow Japanese immigrants establish their American homes and communities of faith.

I started practicing Transcendental Meditation in 1972 and have been meditating twice a day ever since. In 2010 I switched to heart coherence meditation using the EMWave bio-feedback device. After a couple of years, I continued to use the techniques that keep my heart coherent, but I no longer use the device.

I was raised Episcopalian but was never confirmed, as I was agnostic until I found a definition of God I was comfortable with, sitting in silent worship in Cambridge Quaker meeting at the age of 27.  Since then I’ve been a member of a few Unitarian Universalist churches, until I started sitting at the Upper Valley Zen Center in White River Junction. When I left the UU, it was in search of a community that worshiped God / Christ, but none of the local churches I visited felt right. The emphasis I found was on a separate, transcendent God. I found myself constantly re-interpreting and translating the presented material in an attempt to make it compatible with my belief in God as unified with All. In the end, it felt better to sit in silence with the Buddhists! After a few years at the Zen center, I discovered the Heart of the Valley Mindfulness Practice Center group, now in Norwich, which  follows the tradition of Plumb Village and Tiche Nhat Han. I’ve been practicing with them ever since. For a time I also enjoyed practice with Christian contemplatives at the First Congregational Church in Thetford, VT which has a centering prayer group Thursday nights at 5:30pm. Their theology is similar to mine and the felt presence of God during our sessions is strong!

I married Cathy Munsey in 1991. We have two beautiful girls, Anna & Rose Munsey-Kano, born 1993 and 1996. We separated (my request) in 2001 and divorced in 2006. We raised them in 50/50 shared custody through their high school years. Anna has graduated from Agnes Scott College with a degree in woman’s studies with a minor in film, and Rose is at Ithaca College studying English.

In 1989 I broke and dislocated my neck in a mountain bike accident. As I was flown by helicopter to the larger regional hospital, I made a promise to God that I would spend the rest of my life giving my love to others. I noted that it would be easier to do that, if I could walk and move my arms! After my surgery, I quit my job as a computer programmer to search for ways I could give back to the world, which had made my life so abundant. I’ve continued that search since, bouncing in and out of the programming profession as needed. For myself, I’d rather work at what I love and live on the proceeds, however meager or abundant. This priority was incompatible with my married life, and with the related financial responsibilities continuing after our divorce. But now that my girls are grown and mostly off on their own, I have returned to that priority. So I have once again left full time professional computer work. This time I’m calling it “retiring” though I intend to continue to work in other areas indefinitely.

For years I’ve loved taking care of kids of all ages. I’ve learned so much about innocent bliss, curiosity and wonder from babies and toddlers! So I’ve done some work in child care and a lot more in substitute teaching. Lately I’ve been a program leader for the “One Planet” after school programs at some local schools, first teaching Cooperative Sports and games, then a class I like to call “Shameless Dance Collective,” and now I’m teaching mindfulness meditation. Winter of 2016-17 I got to teach downhill skiing to 3-7 year olds at the Queche Club, which I really loved!

In 2006, I finally admitted that I have bi-polar disorder. I’d had occasional evidence of this, large and small, but never wanted to allow the label to stick! I believe that my regular meditation practice has been largely responsible for keeping the condition manageable, without medications. I’ve only had a couple of significant manic periods: in 1998 when I broke my neck, 1996 when I created / promoted Cooperative Sports and 2006 when I left my job at Dartmouth College. I’ve had a few short (2 week) periods of depression, mostly since 2006. Though I was probably suffering from depression in 2001 when I separated from Cathy.

I have written a book, titled “Faith to Practice,” and as of this update the Kindle e-book edition is available. The paperback edition will be available soon. One of the core ideas in the book first came to me in the context of a short presentation I made at the Thursday noon prayer service at Dartmouth College. The book is illustrated with 9 original poems that I’ve not published before.

In 2012, I published a collection of 40 or so poems I’d written over the years, available from this site. I hope they will be inspirational for (future) spiritual seekers like me! I continue to enjoy writing poetry inspired by spiritual insight.

In 2014 I started to look for an intentional community in which to live. I went to the Twin Oaks Communities Conference and met a woman from Koinonia Farm that gave an impressive presentation. I to make a long story short, I ended up interning there for a year in 2015. I’m very glad for my experience there, which also led to an understanding that it was not where I wanted to live long term. Too hot in the summer, for one thing!

Since May 2016 I’ve been living on 13 acres of land in South Royalton, VT, owned by my friend Karl.  We are starting a new intentional community here, called “Small Foot.” I lived in my tent for the first 7 months or so.  I set up camp life by building a tent platform, outdoor kitchen, fire pit and humanuer composting toilet. I worked at the Heartwood Fable Farm in Barnard for a while. In August, I started building my tiny house, in which I’m now living. It’s not done yet as of this writing, but it keeps me warm and dry! We will be living and growing our food using permaculture principals.

I don’t usually like to “blow my own horn,” especially when it comes to my spiritual practices and signs of “progress.” I’m just a humble college drop-out, who understands that the danger of “spiritual pride” is that it can be a seeker’s downfall. Pride can quite literally come before the fall, as the expression goes.

Despite this concern, I’m opening myself to share deeply about my practices and experiences, with the hope that they will inspire you to seek (to strengthen) your own faith-based beliefs to better support your own (more regular) life-supporting practices. I’d like to be part of that support system, through my book Faith to Practice and, for some of you, through face-to-face teaching opportunities. For that, you will need to have some faith in me!

In addition to twice daily silent meditation, my other spiritual practices as of this update are:

  • 1996 I started practice of “non-judgment” as inspired by the book “7 Spiritual Laws of Success” by Depak Chopra, which I  now call “radical acceptance” of everything.
  • 2006 I quit drinking in experiment in total sobriety for spiritual growth and mindfulness. Now I’m quite sure this is for life.
  • 2012 I started an experiment in celibacy, mainly because I knew I’d be moving soon, but also to see how it effected my practice.
  • 2015 I was given the book I Am That, talks with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj by my sister Susan for my birthday. Soon thereafter I started to practice holding the sense, “I am” as he recommends, throughout the day, in addition to my previous intention (which started gradually) of continuous mindfulness practice.
  • 2016 I cut back on watching movies or TV shows (commercial free on Netflix) to every other night, at the most. This has been a favorite way to relax when I’m tired, but so much of it serves to strengthen the ego!
  • 2017 I took a vow of celibacy, confirmed in a ceremony at The Center for Transformational Practice. The experiment proved spiritually fruitful (as described below), so it just made sense. Contemplative life is just easier without the temptation to form attached relationships, and sexual relationships tend towards strong attachment! This is also consistent my practice of releasing all fears and desires, as recommended by Nisargardatta. I can’t say exactly when I started that practice, but it was sometime in 2015 or 2016.
  • 2017 I started going to “Ecstatic Dance” practice at the Strong House Spa in Quechee, VT most every Sunday night.

Shortly after I started my experiment in celibacy in 2015, I experienced a mini awakening. I started to experience the radiant beauty of all of creation, which later inspired me to write this poem:

Illuminating Now

A thing is beautiful
when it inspires
attention
to hold you fully,
and profoundly,
in this moment.

Conversely…

When you dare
to live purely
in the naked now,
diligently,
gently,
patiently releasing the veils
of judgment,
interpretation,
comparison
and memory,

you will experience
a radiant beauty
with all of creation!

This perception lasted steadily for three months or so. After it faded, it could be restored again through extended meditation practice, such as a 1-2 day solo retreat. I didn’t mind so much when this perception was not with me, because I knew that perfection of creation is still the reality in which we live; I was just not able to see it all the time yet. The experience strengthened my devotion to spiritual practice.

For years I’d wanted to live in an intentional community of some kind, and began a search for same. I looked into becoming a monk, but all of the monasteries I found had age requirements: I was too old to be considered.

When I was 57 I went to a Buddhist retreat where I received the five mindfulness trainings and was given the dharma name “Virtuous Friend of the Source” by Michael Ciborsky, a former monk at Plum Village. The five mindfulness trainings are a modern form of Buddhist rules to live by, to support practice and live a wholesome, loving life.

I the year that I spent as an intern at Koinonia Farm was very big one for my practice. As I mentioned above, in March I started a full time practice of staying with the sense “I am.” In October of that year I experienced another awakening.

I started to experience ubiquitous love of everything and everyone, a.k.a. bliss, throughout every day. This was first realized during a morning meditation when I experienced the heartfelt thought, “Every moment is a precious opportunity to explore who and what I am.” I had fallen in love with the “I am” practice of releasing most thoughts as they arose throughout the day. The energy of my earnest devotion had increased and with it came the experience of Divine love, a.k.a. presence of God. As I moved throughout my day, I had the warm feeling of “being in love” but without the attachment that had always come with my previous experiences of romantic love. Wherever I cast my gaze, there was the object of my love, in all of its perfect beauty. My experience of other people was even more sublime. Everyone was perfectly lovable and radiantly beautiful. I found myself entranced by this realization, as I feasted on the presence of God in everyone with whom I worked and met at the farm. Through this experience I realized for myself the teaching of Nisargardatta, that bliss is actually our natural state, we just cover it up with our habits of mind including judgments, preferences, fears and desires. I’d come home to myself, though I knew that I’d not yet reached the full fruition of Enlightenment.

By the end of December the state of bliss had subsided, as I made plans to leave Koinonia and travel back to the Upper Valley. My life had, however, been changed for good. It was clearer than ever to me that continuous spiritual practice would always be the most important thing, and that I needed to find a living situation that would support that priority.

When I decided to settle down and help start Small Foot, an important factor in that decision was my desire to settle back into devoted practice without all the distractions of discernment and travel that would have been required to continue searching for other pre-existing community options. I’d experienced the reality that the details of my situation were unimportant, other than being settled enough to practice “I am” with minimal distractions. In April, even before I could start to get set up to live on that land, from time to time I regained the experience of ubiquitous radiant beauty and bliss, as I had at Koinonia. Continuing the “I am” practice, while simply knowing the direction that my residential life was going, was quite fruitful. I spent the year setting up camp and then building an off-grid tiny house in which I now live, all the while making spiritual practice my foundational, primary goal.

In 2017, the experience of unconditional Love for everything (bliss) returned more steadily, in conjunction with seitai(1) massage treatments from Eliza Meeker.

For the next 2-3 months, I experienced dozens of episodes where the blissful feeling of Love was so overpowering that the ego broke down into tears of ecstasy and gratitude. At times it seemed unbelievable that I could “deserve” the state that I had reached, because it was so sweetly Divine. This was particularly true during one of the seitai treatments with Eliza, which inspired this poem:

Deal of a Lifetime

Meditating twice a day,
for 45 years.
Practicing radical acceptance,
for 21 years.
11 years of sobriety.
5 years of nearly
full time mindfulness
and chastity.
Practicing the sense,
“I am” nearly
full time for 2 years.
All of it done for its own sake,
the process
is the goal.
With no attachment to possible outcomes
of shifting consciousness
to higher planes.
It’s the process
that is shifting,
fed by the fruits of devotion,
which come to inspire
earnest
practice,
in a positive feedback loop,
that’s​ a true blessing.

Ubiquitous radiant beauty,
holds me in each moment,
automatic mindfulness.
While blissfully Loving everything,
old habits of the fearful mind
are whispers,
easy to release.
Moments of ecstasy,
with overwhelming gratitude
for the presence of God.
Each moment
is a precious
opportunity,
to explore
”I am.”

45 minutes into another sweetly painful,
seitai,
deep tissue massage.
Energy throbbing
down both arms,
became smooth
and strong enough,
to cradle God,
for a full ten minutes of Ecstasy.
Divine tears of welcome,
poured
from my eyes.
With sobs of gratitude,
and whimpers of humility.
Indescribable.

Crying too hard
to speak at first,
I managed to whimper “joy,”
and then a croak of “grateful.”
Hopefully my healer
would kind of understand.
Overwhelmed
through it All
I humbly tried to convey,
“I have no
idea
how I
deserve
to be having
this experience!”
I thought, “How is this happening,
to tiny little me?
What did I ever do
to deserve
this?”
My lifetime
of practice,
couldn’t
measure up.

As the tears subsided
she asked, “Are you okay,
do you need anything?”
The feeling of perfect completeness
brought a long
hearty laugh.
“Please don’t be offended by my laughter.”
“I’m not offended, but what are you laughing about?”
Still laughing, I replied, “It’s impossible.”
“What’s impossible?”
“To need anything!”

These ecstatic episodes lasted anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes, and seemed often to be triggered by seeing something that I would have appreciated as beautiful before I had realized the radiant beauty of everything. It was as if the combination of the higher awareness of ubiquitous love and beauty along with the ego’s estimation of beauty was too much to take in without a very energetic emotional response. These ecstatic moments were something like a spiritual orgasm, at least ten times more intense than any sexual experience. Naturally I started to look for when the next one would come, yet I knew from studying the writings of David Hawkins in his book Transcending the Levels of Consciousness: The Stairway to Enlightenment that even this would have to be surrendered to God in order to continue my journey.

In April, I had the insight that I was ready to start that process of release. The ecstatic reactions to my state of bliss were just another ego-based experience, which stood in the path of spiritual “progress.” Whenever the feeling of ecstasy started to rise, I breathed through it as I surrendered it to God. During one of these moments, while riding my motorcycle to White River Junction one foggy morning, I was inspired to write this Haiku:

When ecstasy comes
I let it pass over me
Like sun above fog

After a month or two of this process, I rarely broke down into ecstatic tears anymore, and I’d found a new level of peace in the blissful process.

In June, during another seitai massage treatment, I found the “I am the witness” state that Nisargardatta often mentions in his teachings. As the witness only, I shifted to an awareness of the deep tissue work as a mere pressure, even on muscles which were so tight that I’d been experiencing the pressure as excruciatingly painful only moments before. This was a state of deep peace, where my heart and breath actually slowed to the steady states of a sitting meditation session, even as the deep tissue massage continued. In a subsequent session a couple of weeks later, I was able to reach that state of witnessing by meditating on it for 5-10 minutes before the treatment started, so that even the initial deep muscle work was not experienced as painful.

My life to date has been such a blessing in so many ways. Even before I started to see these previews of the ultimate awakening, I was very grateful for the abundance of wonderful opportunities, loving relationships, experiences and material blessings I had. Ever since I broke and dislocated my neck in 1988, I’ve wanted to give the love that I’d found back to the world. I’ve done my best to make good on the promise that I prayed that day. Now that I’ve experienced the peaceful presence of God through my practices, I felt called to finally finish my book Faith to Practice and get out into the world to find others who are ready to make wholesome practices such as mindfulness meditation a part of their daily lives. Because the best gift I can think of is the inspiration to explore one’s own consciousness and, with the grace of God, return to one’s naturally blissful state.

1: Seitai is a deep tissue massage and energy healing modality that Eliza learned when she lived in Japan for 10 years.

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