April 26, 2017 :: JOHN WHITTUM


  • Acknowledging when tuning into the daily news becomes a compulsion or addiction.

  • Making the invisible force of drivenness visible.

  • How mircro-hits can be used as micro-fasts when beginning to abstain from addictive behavior.


Gulping great swigs of water, I lay my body down carefully to rest, sometimes napping, for a half-hour or so, in the shadow of a beetle-killed pine. Before entering that state of semiconsciousness merging thoughts and dreams, I ruminate on the 50 years I have tarried at this spot, having arrived by horse, or ski, or foot in every season of the year.

These words are by John Whittum, who lives on a horse ranch in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. John is a writer and retired teacher and private-school headmaster. It was a delight to discover these writings, given that John said he couldn’t give concrete examples of the effect of mindfulness in his life. “Incorporating meditation into daily life happens perhaps unconsciously,” he said. But the contemplative words above are a beautiful example of a life lived with mindful awareness and recollection.

John did agree that he’s seen the benefits of what Shinzen would describe as “an increased baseline of concentration, clarity, and equanimity” in his life as a result of his daily formal sitting practice.

I look forward to my morning meditation every day. At some point in that half-hour period, I can be dissolved from preoccupation with what I have to get done in the day. I have a few minutes to breath in that pure air of concentration…on not concentrating. It’s purifying.
That’s a very focal point of my day and I would be at a loss to live without it.

During our interview, he described a great love for teaching adolescents and young adults, ages 14-20.

Adolescence seemed to me the most significant part of one’s life. It’s a place where a child finds himself belonging to the world, or not belonging to it, as the case may be.
Students go to boarding schools for all kinds of reasons – because their families don’t want them, or because they’re unhappy, or perhaps their parents think they’ll get a better education. Whatever the reason, it’s the first time they are away from their parents and they’re sort of floating in this artificial atmosphere. I taught a lot of “disaffected” children who were reacting to one thing or another, and I found they were the most interesting people to teach. I have students from sixty years ago who are still in contact with me. I must have made an impact on them.

John taught secondary history and English. He described students learning better outdoors—even having students build a snow sculpture replica of the Parthenon, “which was quite large and quite exact…and which lasted several weeks.” He described selecting literature where students could identify with the hero’s desire to belong and to find his place.

It’s this insurmountable problem, to find out where you belong. 

He mentioned his own adolescence in regard to spirituality.

I went faithfully to church every Sunday for my first fifteen years. Then I went the way most adolescents go: I couldn’t fit into the church world, so I dropped out of it. Between then and meeting Shinzen in my sixties, I didn’t go to church. I floated, I guess, without adherence to any particular philosophy or religions.

Yet John’s internal compass seems to always be oriented to true north. In fact, Steamboat Today described him as a “resident sage.” John participates in a local writing group and published a collection of essays, poems, and short stories entitled Reflections from Northwest Colorado.

When asked about his work on the ranch, John talked about phases of life.

I used to work on the ranch. We were very active in the horse world. You don’t do much when you’re 85. I have to take naps everyday. I can still fix fences, although I have to sit in a chair to do it.  Normally fence work doesn’t allow you to sit down, but this year I took a chair with me from post, to post, to post, and mended the fence.

You can learn more about John and his writing at the Steamboat Springs Writers Group.

Emily BarrettComment