Asa Horvitz grew up in Northern California and found out about Pacific Zen Institute from high school friends, almost 15 years ago.
Since then he’s been to college, gone on a Fulbright scholarship to Poland to do theatre, started a number of bands, lived in New York City a few times and also Italy, for more theater and music work. Meditation and koans are a way to stay both somewhat sane and also creative.
I don’t remember exactly why I came to PZI but I was sixteen and miserable, and learning to deal with my mind seemed like a good idea.
I was walking around the Santa Rosa Junior College neighborhood one night, ran into a friend, asked him what he was doing, and he said “going to meditation.” I was intrigued and followed him down the street into the living room of a comfortable house had been converted into a zendo. After 40 minutes of meditation with a koan (which I’d never heard of before), tea, a talk, and a lot of belly laughs, I felt unexpectedly happy and knew I’d found something like home.
Between 2006 and 2012 I lived as a student in Connecticut, France, Italy, and Poland, and later in New York, Philadelphia, Warsaw, and on the road in the States and Europe with a touring band. As a member, I was able to come to retreats on scholarship, and do individual koan work with teachers in person in California and via phone and Skype on the road. This was an incredibly important through-line for me; it held me through the transition to college and out into the early post-college years, through the death of a close friend and the economic ups and downs of being a young artist (or young person of any kind). I’m deeply grateful that the teachers have found a way to work with those of us who don’t live in California full time.
What’s most exciting to me about PZI is that it is bringing koans alive in our lives, in the 21st century. This doesn’t mean it’s new-age, it just means that we don’t draw arbitrary boundaries around where or when koans get to change our lives or inform what we do. And this is exciting to me; I don’t know of any other community like this.
After years of working with koans and noticing how they were informing my work in music and performance, and after a lot of conversations with John and the other teachers, I decided to tackle the problem directly.
So in 2012-2013 I organized and directed an international project based on using koan work with actors and musicians. We spent two months in residency at the Occidental Center for the Arts, meditating and working with koans and developing a performance based on what we discovered. PZI served as the umbrella organization for the project and John guided us in koan work. There’s more information and some video online: http://www.koansandperformance.tumblr.com/
What’s been so amazing about my time with PZI is that my perspective on myself, on the world, on my work, and on the mind, has changed and deepened many, many times. I’ve (maybe) become a little less of a jerk. I’m more comfortable with the pain of life. I’ve become more honest with myself and more likely to follow what I really love. I enjoy myself more.
PZI has been a place where this change can happen, where I can talk to people who are interested in koans and in creativity and in the world, and where ideas and the deep experience of life that meditation brings us can be shared. And I’m proud to say that I’m a member.
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You can read a letter by Asa, and listen to some of his music, over at Uncertainty Club.