I
 
 

 

Articles 

Shambhala Sun 
September 2005: Showdown at Punk Palace.
 

Ian Prattis is a Dharmacharya in the Engaged Buddhist tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh.  He gives talks and retreats in Europe, India, North and South America and is the author of “The Essential Spiral: Ecology and Consciousness After 9/11.”  This essay is excerpted from a chapter in his forthcoming book “Living Dharma” 

My preparation for Zen Master Thich Nhat Hahn's The Heart of the Buddha retreat (1996) at Plum Village in France was not at all what I anticipated.  My eighteen year old son, Alexander, was studying at the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland, and from our transatlantic phone calls that summer I knew he was deeply in trouble with drugs.  I arranged to spend time with him in Glasgow prior to the Zen Buddhist retreat.  As we had not seen one another for a few years this was overdue, particularly as he was the child of a divorce that had spanned two continents and he had suffered deeply from this.  At Glasgow airport I scarcely recognized him, as he now sported a multi-colored punk hairstyle with all the required black accoutrements.  Yet he recognized me with a warm hug and a big smile. 

On arriving at his dwelling I knew something was dreadfully amiss.  There were no books or art materials in his room.  His large rambling apartment was occupied, as I later discovered, by a population known as "The Tribe" - a shifting population of punks, drug users and dealers.  As I sat in Alexander's squalid room wondering about him, he left for a while.  There was such an atmosphere of decay and hopelessness that for a moment I felt utter despair - I did not know what to do.  So I went into my own deep silence and meditated in order that I could be clear and calm.  I knew that I needed support from all the tools of mindfulness I had – particularly deep listening - in order to remain steady and clear and not be drawn into judgment and discrimination.  I knew this was a time to take deep refuge in my practice of mindfulness.  My hope was that this foundation would enable my actions to come from the consciousness of my heart.  The despair slowly receded and along with it my judgement of his living space. 

Alexander returned several hours later, very badly beaten up from a drug deal that had gone wrong.   He told me that he had lied to me over the phone, that his requests for financial support to complete summer art courses were untrue.  He needed the money as he had got in deep with Glasgow's world of drug dealing.  I listened to him very quietly, stayed calm, washed his re-arranged face and learned that he could easily have been killed this night.  He had not fought back when he was beaten up, surrounded by dealers and their armed thugs.  He simply took the beating.  Perhaps the first smart move he had made for a while, as it certainly contributed to his remaining alive.  I also had to be very clear about the moves I had to make, the consciousness I had to occupy in order to transform this hellstate.  We went for a walk to Kelvingrove Park that was nearby and once there I introduced him to walking meditation, to trust mother earth to absorb his pain and distress on each out-breath.  As he became calmer I told him that perhaps the beating was fortuitous, a stark wake-up call about the life he had chosen, and that the timing of it happened to coincide with my visit.  Then I offered him two alternatives.  The first was $1000.00 in cash so he could enter the drug dealing world in a bigger way and likely end up dead within six months.  The second alternative was to spend the next few weeks living mindfully with me; to see the difference as we endeavored to create a different lifeway for him.  At this time both alternatives were equal in my mind - I did not discriminate between them.  He refused the money, so I will never know how much bluff and shock tactics I had loaded into the first alternative.  But that was no longer important as a magical time of living mindfully unfolded between my son and I.

I had Thich Nhat Hanh’s book The Miracle of Mindfulness with me.  We read most of it together and did the exercises.  I invited Alexander to join me in walking and sitting meditation, to enjoy silence during meal times and to use his breath with awareness.  I focused a lot of the breathing exercises on martial arts training and on Qi-Gong exercises.  I taught him to co-ordinate body movement with in and out-breaths and how to defend himself.  His comments were frequently very funny - "Hey Dad, this breath stuff is cool," "I'm getting a buzz off breathing!"  I pointed out the obvious; that the breath "stuff" was both cheaper and safer than dealing drugs.  We discovered that we enjoyed one another's company and humor.  An important turning point for Alexander was the fact that I did not drink alcohol.  He had memories from when he was younger of my drinking too much.  During a time of great unhappiness I had used alcohol to cover up the pain and disappointment of a failing marriage, and everyone in my family suffered from the impending marital breakdown and divorce.  That I no longer consumed alcohol astonished him and I realized later how important it was for him to see this.  I also shared with him my own vulnerabilities and struggles, and how step-by-step I had come to choose a way of life distinguished by a commitment to living mindfully and teaching meditation, but that it had taken many false starts to get there.  He liked that – particularly the idea of false starts.

Our working meditations included simple things like mindful laundry and cleaning up his living space.  These actions so impressed the other residents of "Punk Palace" (as I had aptly named the place) that they cleaned a bathroom for me to use.  I was convinced that their bathrooms and kitchen contained alien life forms and types of mould unknown to science.  I would walk each morning to a nearby swimming pool for a swim and a shower and return with healthy breakfasts for "The Tribe" - fruit, juice, cereal and honey - types of food on their rarely consumed list.  One morning I returned to find two members of "The Tribe" cleaning out a bathroom and they proudly announced that I did not have to go for such early morning swims anymore.  This bathroom was for me and nobody else would be using it.  I thanked them for their consideration.

Each evening all the residents would gather in one of the five bedrooms of "Punk Palace" and sit, listen to extreme heavy metal music, do drugs and talk.  Alexander had given me a commitment not to take drugs during the time I was there - so he would smoke cigarettes and I would listen to these young people as they poured out their lives.  I had no judgment about them and for the short time I was in their midst they became my family.  No other parent had ever visited them, let alone lived with them.  I chose to be with them as my own family.  Several of the punks asked me one night if I would teach them walking meditation - they had obviously been talking with Alexander.  I said I would be happy to, as long as they remained drug free for two days.  They agreed, which was quite an undertaking for them and they did comply with it.  Two evenings later there ensued a totally hilarious adventure.  At midnight my punk friends chose one of Glasgow’s finest private parks to do their walking mediation.  They found a tree outside the park, boosted me up it and instructed me to crawl along a branch that overhung the park.  They just bounced over the fifteen-foot high railings as they were much more agile than I.  Then they caught me as I dropped from the branch in a not so elegant manner.  Once we had picked ourselves up and stopped laughing, I introduced them to the basics of walking meditation, slowing them right down with breath, guiding them to release their distress into the earth.  I still smile to myself when I remember this scene: my punk friends and I walking barefoot in the grass of one of Glasgow's finest private parks, breathing slowly and walking mindfully for over two hours. 

We sat on a park bench, fresh with morning dew, and they began to talk to me.  As I listened to my young friends pour out their hearts and stories I encountered a level of deep listening within myself never before experienced.  I entered such stillness and said very little.  At the same time I felt an all encompassing energy embrace me, my young friends, the park, lights and night sounds of the city of Glasgow.  This experience totally changed my understanding of deep listening, a mindfulness practice I was very familiar with – but never before at this level.  On later reflection I could see that I had journeyed through several distinct levels of deep listening in my practice of mindfulness.  The first (and least significant) level of deep listening was intellectual, whereby I analyzed and scrutinized Buddhist literature on deep listening, gaining a conceptual grasp of what it meant within the corpus of Buddhist teaching.  Although this was the least significant level of understanding, it was a starting place, which enabled a window to open for me.  Rather than just see it as an intellectual practice, I began to realize that deep listening was a fruit or consequence of mindfulness practice – this was the second level of deep listening.

Deep listening could not be there alone.  I experienced a distinct improvement in my capacity for deep listening, as early on I realized that walking meditation, mindful breathing, mindful meals and other practices were the necessary ground out of which deep listening could arise – as a flower growing from fertile soil.  When such a ground was not there, listening was largely to my own agendas and assumptions, and I would not be listening carefully to what was being said to me.  So the simple insight that deep listening could not be there alone was an important one for me.  This deepened as I investigated how it worked for me and directly affected my life – the times I was not heard and how I suffered from that.  Also the suffering I had caused when I was not in a place to deeply listen to the concerns of those speaking to me, especially to my children.  I think back to times with my children when they had really important things to say to me and I was too busy.  I did not stop to give them my full presence.  I did not really listen.  Many years later, now that they are all grown up, I have said to them individually; “I remember the time you said such and such to me and I did not really listen to you.  I am very sorry.”  They were astonished and very deeply touched – as was I.

On this evening in one of Glasgow’s finest private parks I encountered a much deeper level of deep listening.  I left both the levels of intellectual understanding and suffering behind and entered what was a totally new territory for me.  On that evening the carefully constructed sense of self just dissolved and the “I” of me disappeared in the moment I was deeply present with my young friends.  “I” became like particles of energy, touching and engaging with the particles of energy in everything there – my young friends, the grass, trees, park bench, city lights and sounds, and beyond to a vastness that I cannot find the words to express.  In that stillness, the vastness of energy touched deep seeds of consciousness in my young friends as they trusted me with their confidences and secrets.  We stayed there for hours, frequently silent and we walked back to Punk Palace just before dawn.  From the smiles and embraces that were exchanged I knew that something had changed in all of us.  I had discovered within myself a level of deep listening I had never thought possible.  My young friends and son had nurtured long forgotten seeds of hope within themselves. 

We talked about all of this at the next evening "sit".  Drugs were still being used, but less so.  My new friends had shown great consideration for me.  When they knew I was in "Punk Palace" they would turn their heavy metal music down, as they knew I had not learned to appreciate it.  Also, no drug deals went down while I was there and the kitchen even got a cursory clean.  At this evening “sit,” following the adventure in the park, they all said they were very aware of my presence in the "Palace".  I thanked them for their consideration and quietly said that I was very much aware of them.  I was aware of every acid hit, of every cocaine use, of every moment of their despair, anger and self-destruction, as I felt the energy of it all in my body and that it hurt like hell.  A thundering silence ensued that dragged on for ages.  One of the girls started to cry and one of the boys too.  Yet it was a good silence, for it had healing and heart in it.  I ended the silence by very gently thanking them for their kindness and consideration towards me and told them that I was there for all of them.  I then left them to talk amongst themselves.  They had listened to my stories of wilderness adventures in Canada, of my pet wolf and how it felt to swim with dolphins.  They instinctively knew for themselves how everything interconnected.  They were simply lost.  I did many walking meditation exercises with each one of them in the nearby park.  I spent time listening deeply to them and learned a great deal from my punk family about the angst of alienation amongst young people.  I was there to provide counsel when asked and always steered conversations around to the topic of taking responsibility in their lives.

They felt abandoned and marginalized, yet were so creative and intelligent. They talked openly, for they sensed that I had no judgement of them.  They felt no sense of discrimination from me.  I fed them with healthy food and counselled them in simple terms that related to their situation.  The basic frustration for my punk family was the powerlessness they felt over their own lives, a deep hopelessness they escaped from through drugs, pimping, prostitution and drug dealing when necessary.  Each time this would arise in our many talks and walks - mostly one on one – I referred to a fundamental equation. This was that power over one’s life came with taking responsibility.  And so we talked of practical alternatives, their creative dreams and neglected dynamism.  I also talked about my own struggles in life dealing with childhood sexual abuse that was buried in my unconscious mind for many years, as the events were too horrific for my conscious mind to handle.  That was very much a point of connection, for each one of them had a history of abuse and neglect of one kind or another.

My work and focus with Alexander continued.  Our working sessions involved practical measures that we prepared for with meditation.  With Alexander, I met with his college tutors who had not seen him for six months.  Alexander told them the truth of his drug activities and was surprised to discover that his tutors were fully supportive in providing guidance and tutorials for him to redo his first year courses.  With his college counsellor he voluntarily entered into drug and alcohol counselling and his bank manager was vastly amused at our joint meeting - no pun intended.  Alexander had been very creative with his bankcard and overdraft to finance his drug activities.  I cleared his financial deficit then asked Alexander to give me his bankcard.  With a pair of scissors supplied by the bank manager I cut Alexander’s card up and instructed the manager to withdraw all overdraft privileges until she was satisfied that he could be responsible.  Alexander's response was utter astonishment - "I don't believe you did that Dad!"  Yet he told me later that he admired the firmness and clarity.  I also enrolled him in a martial arts academy, as he needed a safe place to leave his frustrations and anger.  It was run by a rugged world kick boxing champion, who furthermore had a wonderful heart.  I had fought him many years ago, as I was at that time one of his major Canadian opponents.  I was impressed by the quality of his instruction, by the way he treated his students as an extended family, and also by the fact that his training sessions began and ended with meditation exercises.

The final step was to talk to the drug dealers.  I met with some of them in Alexander's room at "Punk Palace".  I had expected to meet Mafia type figures – I had seen the Godfather movies after all - but was introduced to the most hardened young people I had ever encountered.  Alexander's outstanding debts with them were cleared, and the message from me was quietly and firmly that Alexander was out of drug dealing.  The tension could be cut with a knife, as nobody is released from the world of drug dealing through such an announcement.   I made myself breathe slowly in and out and extend love and compassion to them from my heart.  That was all I had.  They had guns and knives.  I only had breathing in, breathing out and deep listening.  After a time they too relaxed and had many questions about my martial arts background, which Alexander had no doubt exaggerated.  I am not in Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Terminator" class at all, but they had the misguided impression I was.  A false perception, I should add, that I did nothing to correct.  This was fine at the time, as it was the only common ground, apart from Alexander, that these hardened young people could connect to me with.  I wove a web of stories and when asked, showed them several quite deadly moves, and eventually talked to them about the many martial arts experts such as Bruce Lee and Qi-Gong masters who had a base in healing and meditative practices.  Not a seed that may get watered in their world, but at the time it was the best I could come up with.  The more I talked quietly and directly to them, the more did violence leave the room.  In the end I was silent and Alexander did the talking.  When they left I knew they would leave Alexander alone, as there was that unspoken "honor" that sometimes arises in these situations, but their energy disturbed me greatly.

It would be ideal to say that all of this did not really get to me but that would be untrue - it did.  After one all night party at "Punk Palace" with acid hits flying and heavy metal ruling the airwaves I got angry - really angry.  Several sleepless nights did not help and although I knew Alexander was not using drugs, I was angry at his pattern of wasted opportunities and irresponsibility.  I looked deeply into this anger and saw shades of the same patterns in my own past.  I did walking meditation to try and calm myself down, so I could respond rather than react.  But this time it did not work.  I was still angry.  I got dressed and packed my bags at 5:00 a.m., found Alexander and asked him to walk me to the bus stop as I was leaving.  The shock and panic on his face was palpable, as the fear that I was walking out of his life showed up on his face.  We walked in silence to the bus stop.  Alexander insisted on carrying both my bags, which were much too heavy for him.  But I let him do it anyway.  Then I stopped, asked him to put the bags down and hugged him.  I told him I loved him - we were both crying.  Then I explained my anger.  And do you know what he said?  He told me the party was for me, but they all thought I was sleeping!  I had to laugh at that one and it did not matter if it was true or not.   I made it clear to Alexander that I was there for him, but that I had limitations and invited him to join me at the airport hotel for the next few days to continue our mindfulness training together.  Relief flooded into his face and being.  He apologized for not thinking of me.  I apologized for getting so angry with him, when I had suddenly and clearly seen into his life this past nine months and was upset by the wasted opportunities that irresponsibility brings.  We both cried again.

That evening after his kick boxing class, Alexander joined me at the airport hotel and our mindfulness training continued with an emphasis on life skills - how to budget finances, handle peer pressure, complete college assignments, how to investigate and do research and so on.  We meditated a lot together and continued the breath work with further martial arts training - that really appealed to him - and once again we drew closer.  Then I left for the Buddhist retreat with Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh in France.  Alexander saw me off at the airport and the real test, both for him and for me, began.  He had to choose how he wanted to walk through life, and I had to allow him the freedom to choose.

The adventure with my teenage son in Glasgow’s drug world brought home to me that when all else fails there is still mindfulness.  And it can work miracles.  In the midst of squalor, alienation and despair I found humor, goodness and wonderful surprises.  It was the practice of mindfulness that allowed me to remain steady – for the most part anyway.
In particular, my depth of practice at this time of crisis allowed unanticipated levels of deep listening to emerge.  I offer a deep bow to my son and his friends, as they were the catalysts for this particular revelation.  My gratitude for the gifts received was enormous.  My journey and practice of deep listening had traveled from an intellectual and personal appreciation to deep listening as an instrument of transformation.  In addition, Interbeing was no longer a concept, a good idea – it was a direct experience of reality.  If the Divinity we quest for cannot be found in places such as Punk Palace, then it is doubtful if it will be found at all.  It is difficult to come home to our true nature without discovering from first hand experience how interconnected we are with everything – even with situations we do not readily understand.  But if we can stop discriminating against others, we can know wholeness.  This is a life experience, not an intellectual construct. 

My preparation for Zen Master Thich Nhat Hahn's The Heart of the Buddha retreat (1996) at Plum Village in France was not at all what I anticipated.  My eighteen year old son, Alexander, was studying at the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland, and from our transatlantic phone calls that summer I knew he was deeply in trouble with drugs.  I arranged to spend time with him in Glasgow prior to the Zen Buddhist retreat.  As we had not seen one another for a few years this was overdue, particularly as he was the child of a divorce that had spanned two continents and he had suffered deeply from this.  At Glasgow airport I scarcely recognized him, as he now sported a multi-colored punk hairstyle with all the required black accoutrements.  Yet he recognized me with a warm hug and a big smile. 

On arriving at his dwelling I knew something was dreadfully amiss.  There were no books or art materials in his room.  His large rambling apartment was occupied, as I later discovered, by a population known as "The Tribe" - a shifting population of punks, drug users and dealers.  As I sat in Alexander's squalid room wondering about him, he left for a while.  There was such an atmosphere of decay and hopelessness that for a moment I felt utter despair - I did not know what to do.  So I went into my own deep silence and meditated in order that I could be clear and calm.  I knew that I needed support from all the tools of mindfulness I had – particularly deep listening - in order to remain steady and clear and not be drawn into judgment and discrimination.  I knew this was a time to take deep refuge in my practice of mindfulness.  My hope was that this foundation would enable my actions to come from the consciousness of my heart.  The despair slowly receded and along with it my judgement of his living space. 

Alexander returned several hours later, very badly beaten up from a drug deal that had gone wrong.   He told me that he had lied to me over the phone, that his requests for financial support to complete summer art courses were untrue.  He needed the money as he had got in deep with Glasgow's world of drug dealing.  I listened to him very quietly, stayed calm, washed his re-arranged face and learned that he could easily have been killed this night.  He had not fought back when he was beaten up, surrounded by dealers and their armed thugs.  He simply took the beating.  Perhaps the first smart move he had made for a while, as it certainly contributed to his remaining alive.  I also had to be very clear about the moves I had to make, the consciousness I had to occupy in order to transform this hellstate.  We went for a walk to Kelvingrove Park that was nearby and once there I introduced him to walking meditation, to trust mother earth to absorb his pain and distress on each out-breath.  As he became calmer I told him that perhaps the beating was fortuitous, a stark wake-up call about the life he had chosen, and that the timing of it happened to coincide with my visit.  Then I offered him two alternatives.  The first was $1000.00 in cash so he could enter the drug dealing world in a bigger way and likely end up dead within six months.  The second alternative was to spend the next few weeks living mindfully with me; to see the difference as we endeavored to create a different lifeway for him.  At this time both alternatives were equal in my mind - I did not discriminate between them.  He refused the money, so I will never know how much bluff and shock tactics I had loaded into the first alternative.  But that was no longer important as a magical time of living mindfully unfolded between my son and I.

I had Thich Nhat Hanh’s book The Miracle of Mindfulness with me.  We read most of it together and did the exercises.  I invited Alexander to join me in walking and sitting meditation, to enjoy silence during meal times and to use his breath with awareness.  I focused a lot of the breathing exercises on martial arts training and on Qi-Gong exercises.  I taught him to co-ordinate body movement with in and out-breaths and how to defend himself.  His comments were frequently very funny - "Hey Dad, this breath stuff is cool," "I'm getting a buzz off breathing!"  I pointed out the obvious; that the breath "stuff" was both cheaper and safer than dealing drugs.  We discovered that we enjoyed one another's company and humor.  An important turning point for Alexander was the fact that I did not drink alcohol.  He had memories from when he was younger of my drinking too much.  During a time of great unhappiness I had used alcohol to cover up the pain and disappointment of a failing marriage, and everyone in my family suffered from the impending marital breakdown and divorce.  That I no longer consumed alcohol astonished him and I realized later how important it was for him to see this.  I also shared with him my own vulnerabilities and struggles, and how step-by-step I had come to choose a way of life distinguished by a commitment to living mindfully and teaching meditation, but that it had taken many false starts to get there.  He liked that – particularly the idea of false starts.

Our working meditations included simple things like mindful laundry and cleaning up his living space.  These actions so impressed the other residents of "Punk Palace" (as I had aptly named the place) that they cleaned a bathroom for me to use.  I was convinced that their bathrooms and kitchen contained alien life forms and types of mould unknown to science.  I would walk each morning to a nearby swimming pool for a swim and a shower and return with healthy breakfasts for "The Tribe" - fruit, juice, cereal and honey - types of food on their rarely consumed list.  One morning I returned to find two members of "The Tribe" cleaning out a bathroom and they proudly announced that I did not have to go for such early morning swims anymore.  This bathroom was for me and nobody else would be using it.  I thanked them for their consideration.

Each evening all the residents would gather in one of the five bedrooms of "Punk Palace" and sit, listen to extreme heavy metal music, do drugs and talk.  Alexander had given me a commitment not to take drugs during the time I was there - so he would smoke cigarettes and I would listen to these young people as they poured out their lives.  I had no judgment about them and for the short time I was in their midst they became my family.  No other parent had ever visited them, let alone lived with them.  I chose to be with them as my own family.  Several of the punks asked me one night if I would teach them walking meditation - they had obviously been talking with Alexander.  I said I would be happy to, as long as they remained drug free for two days.  They agreed, which was quite an undertaking for them and they did comply with it.  Two evenings later there ensued a totally hilarious adventure.  At midnight my punk friends chose one of Glasgow’s finest private parks to do their walking mediation.  They found a tree outside the park, boosted me up it and instructed me to crawl along a branch that overhung the park.  They just bounced over the fifteen-foot high railings as they were much more agile than I.  Then they caught me as I dropped from the branch in a not so elegant manner.  Once we had picked ourselves up and stopped laughing, I introduced them to the basics of walking meditation, slowing them right down with breath, guiding them to release their distress into the earth.  I still smile to myself when I remember this scene: my punk friends and I walking barefoot in the grass of one of Glasgow's finest private parks, breathing slowly and walking mindfully for over two hours. 

We sat on a park bench, fresh with morning dew, and they began to talk to me.  As I listened to my young friends pour out their hearts and stories I encountered a level of deep listening within myself never before experienced.  I entered such stillness and said very little.  At the same time I felt an all encompassing energy embrace me, my young friends, the park, lights and night sounds of the city of Glasgow.  This experience totally changed my understanding of deep listening, a mindfulness practice I was very familiar with – but never before at this level.  On later reflection I could see that I had journeyed through several distinct levels of deep listening in my practice of mindfulness.  The first (and least significant) level of deep listening was intellectual, whereby I analyzed and scrutinized Buddhist literature on deep listening, gaining a conceptual grasp of what it meant within the corpus of Buddhist teaching.  Although this was the least significant level of understanding, it was a starting place, which enabled a window to open for me.  Rather than just see it as an intellectual practice, I began to realize that deep listening was a fruit or consequence of mindfulness practice – this was the second level of deep listening.

Deep listening could not be there alone.  I experienced a distinct improvement in my capacity for deep listening, as early on I realized that walking meditation, mindful breathing, mindful meals and other practices were the necessary ground out of which deep listening could arise – as a flower growing from fertile soil.  When such a ground was not there, listening was largely to my own agendas and assumptions, and I would not be listening carefully to what was being said to me.  So the simple insight that deep listening could not be there alone was an important one for me.  This deepened as I investigated how it worked for me and directly affected my life – the times I was not heard and how I suffered from that.  Also the suffering I had caused when I was not in a place to deeply listen to the concerns of those speaking to me, especially to my children.  I think back to times with my children when they had really important things to say to me and I was too busy.  I did not stop to give them my full presence.  I did not really listen.  Many years later, now that they are all grown up, I have said to them individually; “I remember the time you said such and such to me and I did not really listen to you.  I am very sorry.”  They were astonished and very deeply touched – as was I.

On this evening in one of Glasgow’s finest private parks I encountered a much deeper level of deep listening.  I left both the levels of intellectual understanding and suffering behind and entered what was a totally new territory for me.  On that evening the carefully constructed sense of self just dissolved and the “I” of me disappeared in the moment I was deeply present with my young friends.  “I” became like particles of energy, touching and engaging with the particles of energy in everything there – my young friends, the grass, trees, park bench, city lights and sounds, and beyond to a vastness that I cannot find the words to express.  In that stillness, the vastness of energy touched deep seeds of consciousness in my young friends as they trusted me with their confidences and secrets.  We stayed there for hours, frequently silent and we walked back to Punk Palace just before dawn.  From the smiles and embraces that were exchanged I knew that something had changed in all of us.  I had discovered within myself a level of deep listening I had never thought possible.  My young friends and son had nurtured long forgotten seeds of hope within themselves. 

We talked about all of this at the next evening "sit".  Drugs were still being used, but less so.  My new friends had shown great consideration for me.  When they knew I was in "Punk Palace" they would turn their heavy metal music down, as they knew I had not learned to appreciate it.  Also, no drug deals went down while I was there and the kitchen even got a cursory clean.  At this evening “sit,” following the adventure in the park, they all said they were very aware of my presence in the "Palace".  I thanked them for their consideration and quietly said that I was very much aware of them.  I was aware of every acid hit, of every cocaine use, of every moment of their despair, anger and self-destruction, as I felt the energy of it all in my body and that it hurt like hell.  A thundering silence ensued that dragged on for ages.  One of the girls started to cry and one of the boys too.  Yet it was a good silence, for it had healing and heart in it.  I ended the silence by very gently thanking them for their kindness and consideration towards me and told them that I was there for all of them.  I then left them to talk amongst themselves.  They had listened to my stories of wilderness adventures in Canada, of my pet wolf and how it felt to swim with dolphins.  They instinctively knew for themselves how everything interconnected.  They were simply lost.  I did many walking meditation exercises with each one of them in the nearby park.  I spent time listening deeply to them and learned a great deal from my punk family about the angst of alienation amongst young people.  I was there to provide counsel when asked and always steered conversations around to the topic of taking responsibility in their lives.

They felt abandoned and marginalized, yet were so creative and intelligent. They talked openly, for they sensed that I had no judgement of them.  They felt no sense of discrimination from me.  I fed them with healthy food and counselled them in simple terms that related to their situation.  The basic frustration for my punk family was the powerlessness they felt over their own lives, a deep hopelessness they escaped from through drugs, pimping, prostitution and drug dealing when necessary.  Each time this would arise in our many talks and walks - mostly one on one – I referred to a fundamental equation. This was that power over one’s life came with taking responsibility.  And so we talked of practical alternatives, their creative dreams and neglected dynamism.  I also talked about my own struggles in life dealing with childhood sexual abuse that was buried in my unconscious mind for many years, as the events were too horrific for my conscious mind to handle.  That was very much a point of connection, for each one of them had a history of abuse and neglect of one kind or another.

My work and focus with Alexander continued.  Our working sessions involved practical measures that we prepared for with meditation.  With Alexander, I met with his college tutors who had not seen him for six months.  Alexander told them the truth of his drug activities and was surprised to discover that his tutors were fully supportive in providing guidance and tutorials for him to redo his first year courses.  With his college counsellor he voluntarily entered into drug and alcohol counselling and his bank manager was vastly amused at our joint meeting - no pun intended.  Alexander had been very creative with his bankcard and overdraft to finance his drug activities.  I cleared his financial deficit then asked Alexander to give me his bankcard.  With a pair of scissors supplied by the bank manager I cut Alexander’s card up and instructed the manager to withdraw all overdraft privileges until she was satisfied that he could be responsible.  Alexander's response was utter astonishment - "I don't believe you did that Dad!"  Yet he told me later that he admired the firmness and clarity.  I also enrolled him in a martial arts academy, as he needed a safe place to leave his frustrations and anger.  It was run by a rugged world kick boxing champion, who furthermore had a wonderful heart.  I had fought him many years ago, as I was at that time one of his major Canadian opponents.  I was impressed by the quality of his instruction, by the way he treated his students as an extended family, and also by the fact that his training sessions began and ended with meditation exercises.

The final step was to talk to the drug dealers.  I met with some of them in Alexander's room at "Punk Palace".  I had expected to meet Mafia type figures – I had seen the Godfather movies after all - but was introduced to the most hardened young people I had ever encountered.  Alexander's outstanding debts with them were cleared, and the message from me was quietly and firmly that Alexander was out of drug dealing.  The tension could be cut with a knife, as nobody is released from the world of drug dealing through such an announcement.   I made myself breathe slowly in and out and extend love and compassion to them from my heart.  That was all I had.  They had guns and knives.  I only had breathing in, breathing out and deep listening.  After a time they too relaxed and had many questions about my martial arts background, which Alexander had no doubt exaggerated.  I am not in Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Terminator" class at all, but they had the misguided impression I was.  A false perception, I should add, that I did nothing to correct.  This was fine at the time, as it was the only common ground, apart from Alexander, that these hardened young people could connect to me with.  I wove a web of stories and when asked, showed them several quite deadly moves, and eventually talked to them about the many martial arts experts such as Bruce Lee and Qi-Gong masters who had a base in healing and meditative practices.  Not a seed that may get watered in their world, but at the time it was the best I could come up with.  The more I talked quietly and directly to them, the more did violence leave the room.  In the end I was silent and Alexander did the talking.  When they left I knew they would leave Alexander alone, as there was that unspoken "honor" that sometimes arises in these situations, but their energy disturbed me greatly.

It would be ideal to say that all of this did not really get to me but that would be untrue - it did.  After one all night party at "Punk Palace" with acid hits flying and heavy metal ruling the airwaves I got angry - really angry.  Several sleepless nights did not help and although I knew Alexander was not using drugs, I was angry at his pattern of wasted opportunities and irresponsibility.  I looked deeply into this anger and saw shades of the same patterns in my own past.  I did walking meditation to try and calm myself down, so I could respond rather than react.  But this time it did not work.  I was still angry.  I got dressed and packed my bags at 5:00 a.m., found Alexander and asked him to walk me to the bus stop as I was leaving.  The shock and panic on his face was palpable, as the fear that I was walking out of his life showed up on his face.  We walked in silence to the bus stop.  Alexander insisted on carrying both my bags, which were much too heavy for him.  But I let him do it anyway.  Then I stopped, asked him to put the bags down and hugged him.  I told him I loved him - we were both crying.  Then I explained my anger.  And do you know what he said?  He told me the party was for me, but they all thought I was sleeping!  I had to laugh at that one and it did not matter if it was true or not.   I made it clear to Alexander that I was there for him, but that I had limitations and invited him to join me at the airport hotel for the next few days to continue our mindfulness training together.  Relief flooded into his face and being.  He apologized for not thinking of me.  I apologized for getting so angry with him, when I had suddenly and clearly seen into his life this past nine months and was upset by the wasted opportunities that irresponsibility brings.  We both cried again.

That evening after his kick boxing class, Alexander joined me at the airport hotel and our mindfulness training continued with an emphasis on life skills - how to budget finances, handle peer pressure, complete college assignments, how to investigate and do research and so on.  We meditated a lot together and continued the breath work with further martial arts training - that really appealed to him - and once again we drew closer.  Then I left for the Buddhist retreat with Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh in France.  Alexander saw me off at the airport and the real test, both for him and for me, began.  He had to choose how he wanted to walk through life, and I had to allow him the freedom to choose.

The adventure with my teenage son in Glasgow’s drug world brought home to me that when all else fails there is still mindfulness.  And it can work miracles.  In the midst of squalor, alienation and despair I found humor, goodness and wonderful surprises.  It was the practice of mindfulness that allowed me to remain steady – for the most part anyway.
In particular, my depth of practice at this time of crisis allowed unanticipated levels of deep listening to emerge.  I offer a deep bow to my son and his friends, as they were the catalysts for this particular revelation.  My gratitude for the gifts received was enormous.  My journey and practice of deep listening had traveled from an intellectual and personal appreciation to deep listening as an instrument of transformation.  In addition, Interbeing was no longer a concept, a good idea – it was a direct experience of reality.  If the Divinity we quest for cannot be found in places such as Punk Palace, then it is doubtful if it will be found at all.  It is difficult to come home to our true nature without discovering from first hand experience how interconnected we are with everything – even with situations we do not readily understand.  But if we can stop discriminating against others, we can know wholeness.  This is a life experience, not an intellectual construct.