This extraordinary exchange between Genpo Roshi and Jane Koerner
occurred during the Mahayana Sesshin, Salt Lake City, June, 2023
When Genpo Roshi asked me what her name was, she spoke right up. “Agnes.”
“How old is she?”
I hadn’t heard from her in a long time. And, oh boy, did she have a lot to say! She was but one of the voices who kept me company throughout childhood and into middle age in response to some very painful experiences. I kept these aspects of myself hidden even though my father had the same tendency. He would sit in his easy chair and chatter away with his imaginary companions, who seemed to comfort him a great deal.
When I was 15, my then-19 year old sister, my only sibling, was diagnosed with schizophrenia and institutionalized for the rest of her life. That was when I buried my own tendencies even deeper. No psychiatrist was going to lock me up and throw away the key. I went to college, earned a history degree, got married.
In my late thirties the voices I would later come to understand as disowned voices, such as fear and rage, took over and blew up my entire life—my marriage, my prospects for a career, for happiness. Two hospitalizations, medication, years of therapy followed. I didn’t know what was harder to swallow. The diagnosis—schizotypal personality disorder. Or the prognosis—“if you really commit to your therapy, maybe you can hold a part-time job someday.”
With therapy, despite some occasional relapses, I did get a job and a graduate degree and some much-needed relationship skills. But along the way another box was created—an identity constructed around mental illness, or Crazy Jane. When I first encountered the Big Mind Process in the early 2000s, it came naturally to me even though it was different from what I had experienced before. This time the voices I had been hearing for much of my life were asked to speak. And both Genpo Roshi and the sangha were interested in what each one of them had to say.
I kept practicing with other sanghas for a while, attended various retreats, then quit altogether for a few years. The death of my entire family and the pandemic prompted a return to practice this past year via Kanzeon and the Big Mind process, and led to this exchange with Genpo Roshi during the retreat in June of this year.
Finally, the biggest secret of all revealed itself, and it was fine.
You know what’s crazy? Burying all these beautiful aspects of yourself in the cemetery of your unconscious mind and sleep-walking through your life like a zombie.
— Jane Koerner