Teacher, Mentor, Person
Teacher, Mentor, Person
Ryan Oelke is a co-founder of Buddhist Geeks and founder of Awakening in Life. He has an MSEd in counseling psychology and is contemplative teacher of awakening, healing, and embodiment. He has 18 years experience in meditation, particularly in the Tibetan Buddhist and Dzogchen lineages, and is a certified teacher in Judith Blackstone’s Realization Process. Ryan teaches meditation and a way of living dedicated to revealing natural presence and awakening in each moment of our lives, regardless of how it appears to us.
He lives in the beautiful mountains of Asheville, NC with his partner Alyssa and stepdaughter Fiona.
My path of awakening has been a kaleidoscope of twists, turns, and forms, having reached a point of surrendering and no-return:
Everywhere I am, there am I awakening.
My Story of Awakening
Begging for Enlightenment:
From Motel 6 Dzogchen to a Solitary Retreat in the Woods
I began my path of awakening looking for a way out of life.
I was ripe for an escape out of the great deal of pain I had carried with me for so long. And I was inspired by the promise of a place free of suffering, free of the complexity and overwhelm of daily life. A promise of peace, happiness, and freedom.
Being human is hard. Don’t we all deserve as much?
16 years ago I began practicing in the Buddhist tradition. I meditated, read, and studied my spiritual ass off. I did whatever I thought I could, being a mid-westerner… in the middle of nowhere…surrounded by very few people interested in awakening.
I once had my mom drop me off at a dirty Motel 6 so I could spend the weekend “in retreat” by myself, doing Dzogchen meditation and study. I suppose this was an early, unconscious example of me trying to awaken in life. Or maybe I was just a spiritual weirdo.
I also did the traditional pulling-the-eject-cord-from-life option, spending a month in a solitary retreat deep in a forest. I meditated 8+ hours a day, studying the rest of the time, and doing nothing else. Except dying to everything I took myself to be in life.
Awakening isn’t always peaches and cream.
I even took up graduate study at Naropa in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism for three years, including teaching Tibetan translation for a year.
All of this is to say – I really threw myself off the deep end into awakening, with all the hope and fervor you’d imagine. I was very spiritual.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still very much a spiritual, awakening nerd at the core of my being, but during this phase of life, it overly characterized my life. But I also learned a great deal and had a lot of opportunities to focus intently on traditional awakening.
Embracing Pain, Embracing Life
At a certain point in my path, after finishing a graduate degree in counseling psychology, and especially after the intense month-long solitary retreat, I started to genuinely feel the tenderness of suffering itself, and particularly my suffering. And this in many ways is where the real work of awakening begins.
Awaken all you want, but if awakening doesn’t include embracing yourself as you are completely – your pain, your relationships, your work – you will feel it. Life will remind you that you have more to awaken to.
I went through a divorce, I struggled to run my own fledgling businesses, and I began dating for the first time in 10 years, having no idea what the hell I was doing. Basically: I started to see so many habitual patterns of suffering in myself that had been running for years, even since childhood. In real time, right in front of my face, and I couldn’t avoid these things any longer.
Awakening does that – you awaken to how things are, which includes experiencing radical openness and unconditional freedom, but it also includes all of your emotional shit. Reality: it’s a package deal.
I spent a good deal of time and many years heavily focused on healing emotionally and in my body. The self I knew was pulled apart and put back together again. We’re talking lot of good therapy, energy work, and body work.
Healing might not always look like awakening, but it’s sure as hell where the rubber meets the road in awakening.
Intimacy with All Things
Awakening in Life
Over the course of my path so far, I’ve been able to practice and study in a tradition of awakening, start successful businesses, do a lot of healing, publish a book of poetry, and produce a national television show. But at the center of all this for me is awakening. And because of this, I no longer see any of these as separate from who and what I am, we are.
At a certain point, without noticing it, the lines of what we consider awakening to be blur and dissolve.
Is awakening what happens on the meditation cushion? Is it healing? Is it the work you do in the world? Is it your relationships? It’s all of these things and more. It’s literally everything you experience and can experience, arising and passing.
As Zen master Dogen put it: “Enlightenment is intimacy with all things.”
And given that reality is vast, open, changing, and creatively manifesting without end, including ourselves, our work of awakening is never finished. But if we approach it as Dogen so aptly expresses in this teaching, awakening can always be a process of deepening into intimacy with everything and everyone.
I share my story with you for a few reasons. One, for solidarity. You might see yourself in my story, because I sure see myself in so many of my peer’s and teacher’s stories. We’re all in this together.
Two, rather than learning the hard(er) way, you can approach your path from this point in the story – by taking everything as your opportunity as awakening, seeing no separation between your life and awakening.
Don’t make your home in the practice. Let the practice make a home out of your life.
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