Year To Live Project: The Thing About Capital Letters

April 21, 2016 – Upaya Zen Center – Santa Fe

The question was posed to the large group of us seated for Wednesday night Dharma Talk in the meditation hall at Upaya Zen Center. Vice Abbot Joshin asked, “What is the difference between truth and Truth?” It sent the room of centered, contemplative people into a relative tizzy and got me pondering the power and difference a capital letter makes.

Tonight we’re discussing the difference between truth and Truth, fear and Fear, equality and Equality, justice and Justice, love and Love. Most importantly for me at the moment is “home” versus “Home.”


In four days, I leave Santa Fe and get back on the Road. It’s weighing on me in ways I’m not happy about. The “road” is a great place to be, but “the Road” is not. I’ve stopped eating again. Not on purpose, it just ends up happening. The week before I left my home in Santa Barbara to officially begin the Year To Live Project, I was averaging one meal per day, some days none at all. That’s at a bodyweight of 175 pounds and four to five workouts a week.

The road with a small “r” is travel, excitement, and new experiences. The road is a distancing from my comfort zone. That’s all well and good. The Road feels like Homelessness, though, with a capital H.

Both professionals and other opinion sharers keep telling me I have to learn to create a “home” within myself. How the hell do you do that? And have any of you who’ve given me this advice done that yourselves? Have you really? Are you living on the road? Do you spend the majority of your time alone? Do you come home night after night to your now empty house and think, “This is bliss. I’ve created a home within my heart.” Thanks for the advice, now please go home and fuck yourselves.

Home is where your friends are. Home is where your dog is. Home is where you have family around you. Home is where you know you can fall apart because there are people to catch you. Sure, I can create a peace within myself. Sure I can have self-knowledge and look myself in the mirror and say, “I got you.”

But I don’t kid myself. That’s not the same as how I felt every night walking in the door at my old house and being greeted by a face full of explosive dog kisses and a hug from my wife. That was Home. So far nothing I’ve said in the mirror touches that memory.

Every week in hospice, I’ve sat with men who are facing the end of their journeys. None live at home. None speak of Home as something that resides within. All wish they were in their own beds, eating meals with their long lost spouses, or spending time with now absent children. Home for them is not a feeling, it’s a place. A space, a surrounding, something they weep for, want for, and ask death to deliver them back to.

Home is not where the heart is. Home is where the other hearts in your life that touch yours exist within reach.


The discussion around truth versus Truth bound around the room tonight uncontrolled. People far more articulate and intelligent than I took stabs at differentiating between the two ideas. Truth with a capital T is something none of us could manage to put our finger on. We know it when we feel it, but we can’t articulate it. Truth in its absolute form is too abstract. Something we feel may be true to us or true to our experience, but aren’t we all after the expression of our own Truth?

If the seventy-five us packed into the Upaya Zen Center looked at the illuminated light bulb hanging from the ceiling, we could agree to the truth of the light being on. We could agree that both our subjective and objective experience were relatively equal – there was light emanating from the bulb. We could swear that was truth.

But I would bet dollars to donuts that if we were all given the homework assignment to journal our experience of the talk tonight that tomorrow morning there would be seventy-five separate descriptions. Seventy-five truths about the evening. Was it good, was it bad, was it a waste of time or an enlightening experience? Unlike the lightbulb, we wouldn’t be able to agree on the same truth regarding the rest of the evening.

And even then, what is the Truth of that light? What’s beneath the shining coming from the bulb? Could any of us agree on what that Truth is? Not for a second.


Yesterday I told my hospice patient Emelio that I wouldn’t be seeing him after next week as I was heading south to Guatemala. His face contorted like I was touching him with a glowing hot coal and I died a little bit inside.

He took a moment before starting to cry and told me in his signature whisper, “I’m going to miss you when you’re gone. I love you.” I died a little bit more.

Emelio loves me. He loves that I visit with him every other day and give him back rubs at the beginning of each meeting. He loves that I get his attention when I catch his dog shitting on the neighbor’s lawn and we both get to knee-slap laugh over the indiscretion. He loves that I don’t mind going to refill his vaporizer with liquid nicotine, and that I still refuse to buy him weed.

Emelio loves me and I love him, too. I feel at home with Emelio. I can tell him whatever I’m feeling without judgement. We talk about our respective divorces and what it’s like to quit drinking. We watch episodes of Dr. Phil and The First 48 together. If I were in my early seventies, Emelio and I would be roommates, if not good friends.

Love with a capital L is yet again a separate experience, though. I love Emelio because he lets me vent without complaint and has so bravely opened up his world to me. He loves me because I rub his back, ripped his door off the hinges, and together we fill in Winnie the Pooh coloring books without judgement. Pooh kicks ass and we can describe this feeling. We can put words to it. It’s rational and understandable, yet may only be the result of our respective needs being met coupled with a shared intimacy born out of the intersection of our unique life situations.

Love with a capital L, though? That’s not this. That’s not high-fives and hugs. That’s not missing each other eight days from now. That’s the biggie. People kill and die for the capital letter. Wars are fought over it. That’s the underlying current that brought me to hospice in the first place. It’s what made his nurse recognize that Emelio was on a rapid downward spiral six weeks ago and was in desperate need of company. It’s what’s taken him from the broken shell of a man I met that first day and turned him back into the vibrant human being I am solemnly walking away from on Wednesday.

It’s the indescribable energy that we all know we recognize in our quietest of moments – but can’t speak of in complete sentences. It’s what poets, songwriters, and artists have been trying to describe and encapsulate since the beginning of time with their respective crafts – but fallen short. It’s just Love.

Truth, Love, Home, and Exhalation

Some things cannot be articulated. Some things can only be felt in that sacred space created at the end of a deep exhalation. In that space, Truth exists. In that space, Love is understood. In that space, the idea of Home settles over us like a warm blanket.

A blanket that gets ripped away leaving us cold and unsure the moment we try to use our words to describe the comfort and peace it provided. Love should never have to face the blunt force trauma that comes from the sledgehammer of words put forth to try to capture it. Some things are best left out of the vernacular in the world of feeling.

Home. Truth. Love.

Capital letters are a big deal to me this week. They’re making a mess of the smaller letters and overriding my basic functioning. Please excuse me, I’m going to lie down and then try to Eat something.

Cheers from Upaya,


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