Alum of the Month

April 2020

April 2020
Koshin Paley Ellison

(BA, Social Sciences, ’92)

Q & A:

  • What was your favorite class, who was your favorite professor, or what is your fondest memory of Hofstra?
    My favorite class was American Odyssey, a semester-length class, with Professor Douglas Brinkley. Brinkley taught American Arts and Politics for Hofstra aboard the Magic Bus, a roving transcontinental classroom, from which emerged the book about our adventures: The Majic Bus: An American Odyssey. Through this extraordinary experience, we spent time learning about American history in the places it happened and enjoyed lots of times with writers Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey, Tom Robbins, and many others.
  • What was your first job after graduating from Hofstra, and what was the most valuable thing learned in that position?
    My first job was picking wax flowers on a farm in Israel. One of the first things I learned was that picking flowers is an incredibly beautiful experience, but that after eight hours a day in the fields, you get really tired. It was amazing to see bunches of yellow flowers in the buckets. I learned that beauty takes the total willingness to do hard work. This lesson continues to inform me.
  • What is your field of specialty, and how did you come to work in the industry?
    Currently, I am an author, Jungian psychotherapist, Zen monk, and Zen teacher. Together with my husband, we co-founded an educational nonprofit, the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care. The Zen Center offers educational programs; direct care for those facing the vulnerabilities of aging, sickness, and death; and Zen training. Through the work of the center, all the aspects I love about life come together – transformation, compassionate action, artistic expression, and meditation. I feel so privileged to live a life of service.

    The best way to tell you about how I came to this field is to tell you a story that I describe in my new book, Wholehearted: Slow Down, Help Out, Wake Up. One of the most beloved figures in my life was my grandma, Mimi, who on her deathbed taught me how to love in the way I hope this book teaches you. I was one of her primary caregivers in the last five years of her life.

    I was staying with her in the hospice when she was actively dying, and one night she woke me up in the middle of the night shouting, “Wake up. Wake up.” I was immediately upright. She was crying when she said, “I’m so sorry.” “For what?” I asked. “I didn’t know until this moment what it meant to truly love you,” she responded. This was quite startling to me, because I had never felt so loved in my whole life. I felt adored by her – and adoring of her – but she had never quite gotten the Buddhist monk situation, and she told me that a part of her had contracted away from me because of it. “Only now as I’m dying,” she said, “do I understand what loving really means. It means to love all the things about someone, even the things that frighten you or that you don’t understand.”

    She then suggested that Chodo and I create a nonprofit organization that would train people how to take care of others and teach people about “the Zen.” So, the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care – an integration of my whole life’s work (poetry, caregiving, Zen practice, teaching, and love) – was founded by Mimi Schwartz, this 4-foot-9-inch, Jewish immigrant woman from Brooklyn. It was her idea, which came out of her experience of being loved and loving in return.

    This is the work we have ahead of us. The reward is life itself.
  • What advice would you give Hofstra students?
    Live your life fully. Don’t hold back.
  • In one word, how would you describe Hofstra?
  • What was the driving force behind your recent publication Wholehearted: Slow Down, Help Out, Wake Up?
    I wrote Wholehearted because I had to. We live in a time of rising rates of social isolation, suicide, and drug addiction, but there is a way out of this suffering. We have the opportunity to turn toward what we fear and use it as a way to practice fearlessness. The poet Hafiz wrote, “Fear is the cheapest room in the house. O, how I wish for you to have better living conditions.” Inspired by a life of courage, and falling down and getting back up, I wrote this book to be a companion for a path of living wholeheartedly.
  • What is the single most rewarding/exciting experience in your career thus far?
    The single most amazing experience is being able to co-create with my beloved husband, Chodo Campbell, a life of service. Who knew life could be this gorgeous?
  • Who was the person who most influenced you, and how?
    My Grandma Mimi, the daughter of immigrants fleeing the Holocaust and pogroms in Eastern Europe, is my greatest inspiration. She was the most loving and curious person I have ever met. Every day, I look at her picture and thank her for shining her light forward into a life of possibilities.
  • How has your degree from Hofstra University helped you in your career?
    My degree continues to inform me; the world is a classroom. I have spent many years working and studying in different cultures – living in Israel, Spain, England; Zen training in Japan; and traveling extensively through Mexico and Western Europe. My career path as a Zen teacher, author, and psychotherapist has been inspired by my time at Hofstra University and fellow students who remain close friends today. I am currently living in Manhattan, and I’m ready for the next adventure.
Koshin Paley Ellison

Sensei Koshin Paley Ellison, MFA, LMSW, DM, is a bestselling author/editor and nationally recognized spiritual teacher and psychotherapist. Widely acclaimed for his guidance in helping people understand and apply time-tested Buddhist teachings as simple strategies for living in today’s chaotic world, Sensei Koshin is a dynamic, original, and visionary leader, teacher, and speaker. He is a co-founder (with his husband, Sensei Robert Chodo Campbell) of the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care, the first Zen-based organization to offer fully accredited ACPE (Association for Clinical Pastoral Education) clinical chaplaincy training in America. Through the Zen Center, they have educated over 800 physicians, and their students have cared for over 100,000 people facing the vulnerabilities of aging, illness, and dying.

Sensei Koshin trained as a clinician with the Jungian Psychoanalytic Association, the Mount Sinai Beth Israel Medical Center, and the New York Presbyterian Medical Center, and is certified as an ACPE educator, chaplain, and Jungian psychotherapist. He began his formal Zen training in 1987 and is recognized as a Soto Zen teacher by the American Zen Teachers Association, White Plum Asanga, and Soto Zen Buddhist Association. He serves on the board of directors at the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care and Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. He also serves on the faculty of the University of Arizona Medical School’s Center for Integrative Medicine’s Integrative Medicine Fellowship and is a visiting professor at the McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics, of the University of Texas Health Science Center of Houston McGovern Medical School.

He is the author of Wholehearted: Slow Down, Help Out, Wake Up and an editor of the bestselling book Awake at the Bedside: Contemplative Teachings on Palliative and End of Life Care.

Sensei Koshin Paley Ellison has been featured in The New York Times, on PBS, in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, and other esteemed media outlets, and is a frequent speaker on subjects related to living a wholehearted life in contemporary times.