They say that when the student is ready, the master appears. I don´t know about that. Really. I was never into the guru-thing. But when I walked into a Café in Copenhagen on a rainy day in 2013 it did feel like the old man sitting in the back of the room was expecting me.
It was not the first time I had seen that face. For about two months, I had repeatedly mistaken people on the street for a guy that looked the same. I knew that face. I had seen it in the cover of a book my yoga teacher Godfrey used to have lying around at his retreats. It was written by a Zen master named Genpo Roshi.
As far as I was concerned back when i first heard of him, Genpo was a bit of a spiritual “rock star”. I saw him as this world famous zen master (infamous for breaking basically every rule in the book of how to teach zen). Spiritual hype around superstar teachers had always put me off, so despite lots of warm recommendations and curiosity I never went to any of his retreats in Europe. But that summer, I was seeing Genpo´s face in every face that had the slightest resemblance. For no particular reason. Sitting on the bus, walking in the streets, I would catch a glimpse of a person and think: “That guy really looks like Genpo Roshi”. I wondered what this sudden interest of mine was about. I started to check out his stuff on You Tube.
On that particular day i was on my way home when it started to rain like crazy. I left my bike where it was and decided to wait in the nearest café. This old man in the back wearing a baseball cap looked up as I walked in, we made eye contact and he smiled as if he recognized me and had been waiting for me to arrive. I stared and stared. What went through my head was that now I had officially gone completely insane. That guy over there really, really looked like Genpo Roshi! It was a bit awkward to just stand there and stare at a complete stranger, so I turned my back and sat down with the firm intent to ignore this crazy projection of mine. I knew he lived in the States, there was no way he could be drinking Coffee in Vesterbro. I heard the man pick up his phone. The voice was unmistakable that same one I had heard on You Tube. This was the weirdest coincidence.
“Excuse me, aren´t you Genpo Roshi?” I said after he had finished his call. He laughed and confirmed. It seemed that just as i had walked in, he had confused me with a Danish friend he was expecting. Hence the greeting smile and the mutual stare. We found out I knew his friend, she lives next door to the cafe, we have the same coat.
We only talked for about 10 minutes. I was struck by how different he was, compared to the Zen rock star type I had seen on YouTube. Like all the spiritual “glam” had evaporated and all that was left was this extremely relaxed, sweet elderly man drinking his coffee in jeans and t-shirt. He seemed to me so completely ordinary that I wondered how I even managed to recognize him.
I walked most of the way home smiling like a complete idiot. A few blocks down from the café I began to giggle. Everything just seemed ridiculously funny for no particular reason. People were staring. I found that even more comical. I had to control myself to not laugh out loud all the way home.
That night I dreamt that I was with a group of people out in bars. We were all at different ages and all students of Genpo. We had known each other for many years. Our teacher was around somewhere in the background, but the dream was more about the group of friends. We didn´t need to talk much, we joked around a little, danced, shared food and drinks and moved between bars, some left, others joined in along the way.
The dream seemed to last all night and ended at an empty beach at dawn. I was alone as the sun came up over the horizon, I stared and stared into its light and had the thought: “the sun is pure and unconditional love, how to I become one with it?” The question “How to you become one with it?” kept repeating in my head. How? How? How? This loud, uncontrollable laughter came over me. How funny! I laughed and laughed, it sounded like I had gone insane! That just made me laugh even more. I looked down and realized the laughter had made a crack in my breast bone. Bright rays of sunlight was beaming out through my chest. I found it so absurdly funny that i had been wanting to become one with the sun. What an insane idea! If was so ridiculously funny that I had imagined the sun to be out there, separate from what I am. It just seemed so silly that I could not stop laughing at the stupidity of my delusion. The breastbone opened and the sun came out from everywhere in my body. Everything became bright, warm morning sun. I woke up laughing hysterically as if someone had told me a joke.
When we met a few days later, there was really not much to say. I remember asking him about his teaching method. He showed me a bit of a dialogue process called Big Mind. It took place as kind of an interview conversation. He asked me some questions and I would answer them, simple. I remember a series of questions ending with me going very quiet, staring at my café latte forever. After a vacuum of undistinguishable time, I looked up and out the window. I saw everything as if it was the first time. As if I never had seen cars, roads, clouds, birds and pedestrians before in my life. Up until that day, I only remember experiencing the world like that after many days of disciplined seated meditation on silent retreat far away from civilization. But here I was having that same klind of experience in the middle of a busy cafe. Everything felt so distinctly alive and real. The sensation of sitting on a chair, the noise of a cappuccino in the making, the faint sound of a guitar solo on the radio, the taste of my coffee, still warm, a car going by, a flock of birds taking off. I knew the names of all these things, I knew what a café was, I knew what a car was for, I knew the name of the man sitting on the opposite side of the table. Yet it felt like I had never seen any of this before. Like I had no idea how the world works or what name to give all these things. It was great! I was smiling. The man on the other side of the table was smiling too. We ordered another cup of coffee. Like it was no big deal. Because it wasn´t.
The rest was a no brainer. That man at the table was my teacher. Since 2013 I have been an active student with Genpo, both in Europe and in the states. I feel very privileged to have him as my mentor and to have the opportunity to study with him. The practice and training still makes me laugh out loud on a regular basis. Sometimes it makes me cry too. Sometimes at the same time. But most days, it makes me feel a deep, quiet appreciation for life. Appreciation for my family, for all my relations, for all the new friends I have made around the world, for all the teaching I received in the past, for my job, my house, my everyday routine, for the feeling, living body, for every breath, every moment. I wouldn’t want to miss a heartbeat.
In 2015 I finished the three basic training modules in Big Mind facilitation. I´ll be continuing to deepen my studies with an advanced training in 2016. I´ve been practicing Big Mind facilitation skills with private student’s one on one, in small groups and on a few retreats for the past two years. At this point I feel ready to offer the Big Mind process as on a regular basis in my work as a yoga teacher.
Yoga is Yoga, Big Mind is something else. We sit in chairs and talk. It can be done one on one or in groups. Sometimes we go into spontaneous meditation, sometimes its mostly conversation. It´s mainly about intimacy and appreciation for all aspects of ourselves. Looking within and finding the hidden resources in our shadows, our light and that which includes and transcends both. It is stuctured as a free-flowing interview with the aspects of ourselves that we have disowned (because we have learned to think they are “bad” or because we think they are too “good” to be us). Some will recognize elements of the structure from psychotherapy (Mainly Voice Dialogue). But Big Mind is in its nature not a method of self-developement or therapy. Rather its a method for just looking at our own nature and our relations to other beings, not looking for anything in particular. Big Mind does not have any agendas for how you should turn out as a person. It self-enquiry, not self-developement. In this sense it does have something in common with the yoga tradition. Both are about deepening our intimacy with what is. The role of the facilitator is to acces whatever wisdom we all carry within, not to add anything new to what we are. The process is sensitive, honest and spontaneous. It is about honoring whatever comes up in the moment. A respectful step by step enquiry into our own nature.
If this has spurred your interest, you have the opportunity to hear it directly from the horse’s mouth in a few weeks. Genpo Roshi is in Denmark a little while longer. He is teaching a very affordable weekend workshop on April 16-17th and a small evening event on April 20th in Copenhagen. You can check out all his events and trainings at bigmind.org.