UA-13043593-1

Portrait: Where Spirituality Meets Courage and Creativity
by Jon Katz

I met Bernie Glassman for the first time yesterday, I was not certain what to expect.

Glassman, who is 77,  lives in the Berkshires in Massachusetts with his wife Eve Marko, a friend, author, social activist and Zen teacher. Glassman is a world reknowned leader and teacher in the Zen movement, he is a Zen master, an author, a social activist and businessman. He is a co-founder of the Zen Peacemakers.

We came to Massachusetts to visit Eve and to meet Bernie, who suffered a severe stroke six months ago that left him partially paralyzed on his right side and unable to speak clearly or remember. His condition has clearly improved dramatically. He is walking with the help of a cane, speaking clearly and well, his mind seemed clear and perceptive to me. He is working hard every day to recover.

Maria and I spent a couple of hours talking to Bernie, we were both deeply touched by his courage, spirituality and love of creativity. Creativity, he said, is profoundly spiritual, and both creativity and spirituality, we both agreed, are aboutchange.

At first, Bernie said, he hoped to die so that he would not be a burden on others, but I see from the gleam in his eye and strength that he is working hard to fully recover. "At first," he said, "I didn't recognize myself."

He and Eve both said that Bernie was always focused and never emotional, the stroke changed that. They are both getting to know the new Bernie Glassman, he says he is in the midst of arebirth.

When he is speaking, it was quite easy to forget about the stroke. I saw he has some difficulty balancing himself while walking, some difficulty moving his right hand fluidly. Otherwise,  there was not much to suggest his trauma, or his initial inability to speak or walk at all.

He says he falls from time to time, and that will happen as he works hard at his recovery and challengeshimself.

It is difficult for me to imagine how difficult and painful this experience has been for both of them, world travelers, activists, writers and teachers.  In a sense, the transformation is just as difficult for Eve as for Bernie. In some ways, she said, the man she lived with disappeared that night six months ago and gave rebirth to himself.

His dog Stanley, who Eve calls the "Great Obstructor" is forever at his side.

Bernie says the experience has taken him to new places, some of them extraordinarily difficult, some of them powerful and mesmerizing. I strongly connected with him, I am inviting him to come stay with us at the farm. He is seen almost daily by therapists and trainers, I don't know if such a trip is possible.

But I believe the farm would be both stimulating and healing for him. I would be happy to help care for him.

In a sense, Bernie is living out the fear of so many people as they age, at first, it was unclear if he would even be able to swallow. Six months ago, it would have been impossible for him to sit for two hours and talk to two total strangers so openly and articulately.

I asked him if he would mind my taking his portrait, he smiled and said "we have no secrets." I think he ought to start his own blog as soon as he can. That is my motto.

Zen Masters are revered and unapproachable figures in many ways, they are given enormous respect in their communities.

Bernie Glassman seemed so humble and approachable to me if he had not tired, I'd be happy to still be sitting in his kitchen, talking to him and Eve.

Maria said she felt the same way.

It is humbling to be in the presence of such strength and humility, I cannot but believe it will carry him far in his healing. We made a strong connection, Ihope he can come and visit us at the farm one day, and I am grateful for his portrait and his time. He is a good man and a deeply spiritual one. He is also a brave and creative person.

And I love the humor that is never long missing from his eyes.

Robert Althouse

Zen Life & Meditation Center, Chicago, 38 Lake Street, Oak Park, IL, 60302