H: I wanted to turn now to your Patreon project, because this is one of the pristine ways you radiate Zen life in the modern day. I have to say this is one of the most unique things I’ve ever seen a poet do. Not only is it a platform through which you are publishing some incredible nature-inspired, heart-mind cultivated, silence-infused Zen poetry, it’s also a way for fans of your writing to serve as patrons of your solitary life. Share a bit about the inspiration for The Unsui on Patreon, and where you feel this unique project is going.
A: I find it quite striking that you say my Patreon is one of the most striking things you’ve seen a poet do. In actuality, I didn’t do it. It was gifted to me by my first patron, you could say. Someone who had come to me for help with some aspects of life, and whom it seems I was able to help. So, bearing in mind that I didn’t come up with the idea, let’s talk about it.
I have lived solely by donation for many years now. Sometimes I have gone without food, water even, and, of course, money and housing. I have lived in shelters, huts and tents, tiny cottages and luxury mansions in this time. All the shades of a life, lived.
The Patreon came at a time when funds were at their lowest, February 2017. I say “lowest.” There was none. Somehow, word got out. Sangha began sending donations, others pushing €20 notes into my pockets. Monks sent PayPal across the oceans, and a friend showed up pressing this Patreon on me, saying I should try it, and that she would build it. I said no. She persisted. I said no. She persisted. I said no. She said “Make this easy. Say yes.” I said yes.
It felt awkward and alien at first, and not a match for me at all. But now, it feeds me. Now, it is growing. It has continued to grow since day one. I discovered there were people out there who supported what I am doing, whatever that is. We can call it poetry, for the sake of naming it. So, it’s been the most incredible, path affirming patronage, both the initial gift of the Patreon, and the showing up of other patrons there.
So Patreon is a place where a community has formed around my work, you could call it a sangha (of Zen poetry), a gathering of those who share the same spirit, seek it, or who simply wish to help feed and shelter me.
I walk this path with great joy. If I am to trust the ultimate truth, the universe, the one, the absolute, life, then I must trust wholeheartedly. I could have surrendered to it, but that wasn’t necessary, because rather, this path came along, and swallowed me whole. I don’t need to stick my head in the tiger’s mouth, when I’m in its belly already. That would be a step too much.
There are a set of clear and simple goals for the Patreon fund now. It began as a digital begging bowl, along with the donation page of my website, which has been around for a few years now, serving me food and water now and then.
The first goal was to raise enough to put food, water and medicines on the table. I have long-term chronic health issues (ME/CFS: myalgic encephalomyelitis and chronic fatigue syndrome), so need to maintain a good diet, and supplementation, with herbs, minerals and other therapies when needed. This goal has been attained, although I may have set the bar a little low, in actual fact, it probably needed to be a little higher to cover health needs.
The second goal is that once I have $500+ coming in, I will be able to begin to set aside a little each month towards buying a vehicle.
The third goal is that once I have $1000+ coming in, I will be able to begin to consider renting a home somewhere. For the first time since 2007. I still aim to wander, travel and make pilgrimage in the wild and holy places of the earth, but this body needs a place to rest when it is weary. Aged 56, with ME/CFS, that is not a luxury but a basic essential. It is also the reason a vehicle is needed.
Later in the goals, I will move into bigger place, where I have not only space to live and work, but also land where I can offer a few small hermitage huts to visiting poets and seekers. I will offer solitary retreat time there, with guidance available from me. I may also offer something similar online, supported solitary retreat.
Another goal is to upgrade a vehicle to create a mobile hermitage / zendo / tea house / poet hut. One that allows me to show up anywhere. Not too big, just a converted van of some kind, made with repurposed natural materials.
Eventually, a tea house at the home/studio/hermitage too. That will complete the circle.
Along the way, what I offer is exclusive access to more than 95% of my poetry, early release of ebooks and printed published books, your name in them on a list of patrons, notes from my notebook, journal entries from my journals, chapters from The Forest, which I hope to really dig into as soon as I’m able to live in a more forested environment again.
I also offer poetry readings and commentaries on Zen and Zen poetry by the masters, and the ancient art of Zen divination, using a couple of my most loved Zen texts, ‘Zen Sand’ and ‘Wind in the Pines’.
Zen, tea, and poetry are my passions. Their principles are at the heart of all my work and activities. So there will be plenty of references to tea too.
In a nutshell, the Patreon project is to enable a community of lovers of the contemplative way of Zen, tea, and poetry, those with a passion for silence, stillness, and the slow life, to gather around my work. This community supports me so I can continue to share my words, and publish them more widely. It supports me to allow my trust in the ability of life to provide for me, to support the expansion and development of my work.
Whether that leads to a life like Basho - roaming, writing, sharing, teaching and resting, then doing it all over again, or, like Dogen, hosting a tiny haiku zendō somewhere in the forested hills, or like Baisao ("the old tea seller"), selling tea by the river, sharing conversation, or that old crazy cloud, Ikkyu, time will tell.
Ultimately, it is what leads to this present life as Andō, and that’s good with me. When I walk or sit with nature, I meet my own heart. Find me on a mountain top, under a tree, on a rock at the foot of a gorge, in the wind in the pines. Meet me there.