Teachers, Part I

Dr. Michael Atkinson
Dr. Michael Atkinson.  (Doesn’t he look like an archaeologist?!)

There is nothing—I literally mean nothing&mfash;like a good teacher.  A teacher is a master of lightning bolts and silk, rage with a smile, trackless deserts of sameness, and an unerring guide to the oases of surprise and joy.

For me, one such teacher the University of Cincinnati’s Professor Michael Atkinson.  I met him while an undergrad majoring in anthropology, a dreamer who envisioned a future of archaeology.  Little did I know that Michael, a professor English, would become

 

 

. . . the Dr. Leakey to my psychological and academic Olduvai. Michael was a brilliant teacher who not only galvanized my interest in literature but graciously read my juvenile poetry and encouraged me to continue writing. I took all of his courses, including Eastern Thought and American Literature, a course that taught me about the mental and artistic spaces which Asian spiritual traditions and American poetry had been sharing for two centuries.  I learned about the fascinating parallels between the cosmic “I” of Whitman’s “Song of Myself ” and the touchstone of Vedantic Hinduism, Bhagavad-Gita; about the surprisingly large number of American poets who had taken an interest in Buddhism, sometimes becoming converts; and I learned how the poetry of writers as diverse as Henry David Thoreau and W. S. Merwin, or Jack Kerouac and T.S. Eliot could be so brilliantly illuminated by Buddhist notions of impermanence, emptiness, attachment, and nirvana. These experiences made up the watershed that changed the course of my life.

–from The Driftwood Shrine

I looked deeply into myself, questioning what it was I was doing with my life. And Michael supported this search as much as he had encouraged me to keep on writing. A Buddhist himself, trained primarily in the Vipassana tradition, he was in a perfect position to guide me and some of his other interested students in our beginning meditation practice.  Sitting with him, I eventually started to realize that my future was not going to be about archaeology in the literal sense, but in the sense that I would be unearthing the self, using the tools of poetry and Zen.

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