Hosted by Susan

Some people know my guest as Allan Tibbetts, who works for the health of young people attending Marist College, both as a registered nurse and a mindfulness teacher. Others know him as Sensei Jo An, a dedicated Zen spiritual leader. His open sharing about turning point experiences in his life reveal how his two paths are closely intertwined. As a young person, he studied dance and became a dancer. Until the development of effective treatments, the AIDS crisis hit the dancing community hard, including Allan. To ground him in the midst of losing his career and facing his mortality, he turned toward the practice of Zen. Holding onto dance as and when he could, he was part of an AIDS benefit performance when he was one of several people assaulted on the basis of their identity. Because of his Zen practice, he experienced this in an encompassing way: anger at the brutality of the attack; a glimpse of the suffering of his assailant; and admiration for how the nurses that cared for him showed up to respond to whatever form of suffering crossed their paths. He decided to pursue Zen ordination, and to become a nurse.

The moving song Plowshare Prayer by Spencer LaJoye reflects Zen teaching that our own suffering is not separate from the suffering around us. Rather than making forms of suffering that are different from our own into “others,” we can seek to see how we are interconnected and to see the suffering we encounter as our responsibility. And what might this mean for amplifying the kind of caring and sacred worldview we need for a regenerative economy? It means being willing to bear witness to suffering. When we don’t turn away, compassionate action arises. A Zen perspective on Good Work, Jo An reflects, is like a bird with two wings - one is wisdom and the other compassion - flying. 

Jo An received dharma transmission in July 2022. He began Zen practice in 1997 with Fire Lotus Zendo; in 2000 he became a student of Enkyo Roshi and began practice with the Village Zendo sangha. He took lay precepts in 2001, ordained in 2004, and was practice leader in 2008. He is the founder and leader of the New Paltz Zen Center, and a registered nurse with experience serving in a variety of contexts, including hospice, an elementary school where he supported special needs children, and at Marist College in Poughkeepsie where he currently works.