get to know the veterans in our sangha - travis szewczyk

What year/how old were you when you joined the military?
I joined the U.S. Navy Delayed Entry Program (DEP) in 1995 while still in high school. I graduated high school on May 23, 1996, and left to attend basic training three days later, when I was eighteen.

Why did you enlist in your branch of service?
To learn a technical trade, explore our world, and gain maturity.

How many years did you serve and what unit/units?
I served in the Navy for nearly 22 years. First as an Aviation Electronics Technician, then as an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Pilot, Camera Operator, and Mission Commander. My duty stations included Hawaii, Italy, Iraq, Africa, Maryland, Louisiana, and California.

Which meditation practice forms (sitting, walking, working, eating, or Deep Listening and Mindful speech) have been important and supportive in your daily life?
Sitting, walking, working, and eating are the supportive and essential daily practice forms, especially when I first started practice. Now, I would answer this question: how can these practices be something other than everyday life?

What drew you to Zen practice?
I’m sure exactly what initially drew me to Zen practice. It seemed there was something more to it than what the mind tells you there is. And so, having a curious nature, I set off to find whatever was beyond the words about it.

How does Zen practice influence your daily life?
Zen practice influences daily life tremendously because it’s not different from everyday life. If anything, its influence makes even the dullest days of life intimate. Practice really allows one to recognize the stillness between thought and action, and in that stillness, lies freedom.

What does it mean to you to be a part of this practice community?
Being part of this practice community is important because it’s a constant reminder to return to life, directly—no matter the thoughts that arise about it.

Who is/was the most inspirational person in your life and why?
My father was the most inspirational person to me. He came from a wealthy farming family, yet he saw through all the material wealth and all the problems we can create for ourselves with it. He also taught me kindness through his actions because he was kind to anyone who engaged with him. He didn’t care if you had 2 cents or 2 million dollars in your bank account. It didn’t matter to him if your clothes were old or new, clean or dirty. It seemed he saw everyone the same and lived out his life that way.

What did you want to be when you were a child?
A wildlife photographer. Even still, being outdoors and immersed in nature seems to bring about a joy that’s hard to describe. I often wonder if that joy is because nature doesn’t talk to itself. It’s never being anything other than what it is.

What one word would you use to describe your Zen practice?