Why write Sitting in the Flames?
After retirement in 1993, bowling felt like a really neat activity for a new senior citizen. Three leagues per week, coupled with 40-50 games of practice per week, moved the average to 208. When the average peaked, burn-out and boredom arrived; and bowling was no longer fun. This triggered the search to discover a key to re-spark an interest in bowling and produce a higher bowling average. Competitive bowling was soon to fade from the journey; and sports literature became the menu.
Some of the literature included: Body Mind Mastery: Creating Success in Sport and Life by Dan Millman; Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior by Phil Jackson; The Warrior Within: The philosophies of Bruce Lee to better understand the world around you and achieve a rewarding life by John Little; and The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living by His holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M.D.
What did the reading uncover? My athletic experiences were absent a link between the body and the mind. It appeared that the literature was offering that connected breathing might be the bridge between the physical and mental-emotional bodies, with an added benefit of improved performance in sport and perhaps even life. In one of the many books associated with connected breathing, Naropa Institute was mentioned as an academic institution where the student could learn to meditate. Little did I realize that Naropa Institute, now Naropa University, was located in Boulder, Colorado, a 30 minute commute from home in Arvada, Colorado. Starting in 2001, I was to spend three years in the contemplative environment at Naropa University studying meditation and the five wisdom traditions. This three years re-directed and may have saved my life; and added meditation practice to my daily ritual.
Sitting in the Flames was sparked during a Spiritual Models of Social Action class at Naropa University. Under the leadership of Dr. Judith Simmer-Brown, we were studying Martin Luther King, Jr., Sulak Sivaraska, a Thai social activist, Gandhi and Tich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk. One day Dr. Simmer-Brown brought a book to class, placed it on her desk, pointed to the book, looked at me and said, “John, you need to read this book.” The title of the book was War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning by Chris Hedges, at the time a journalist for the “New York Times” and a professor at Princeton University. This book, complimented by the study and inspiration of Thich Nhat Hanh and his spiritual partner Chan Kong, gave rise to re-visiting, through study, reflection papers and sitting meditation, my two years of combat during the Vietnam War. These reflection papers became quite therapeutic and became the genesis of Sitting in the Flames when it occurred one day that perhaps sharing my experiences with finding freedom from the residual pangs of emotional chaos associated with combat, may help others who suffer from similar trauma associated with the reality of war.