Bookmark: Johnathan Thomas

There’s no getting around it. Johnathan Thomas, a local psychologist and the founder of a fast-growing local meditation group, is a bibliophile.

He devours 3 books a week, furthering his spiritual development with books on Buddhism and occasionally indulging in the guilty pleasure of a supernatural romance. 

As a student of Zen Buddhism, which teaches adherents to focus on small moments of beauty, he sometimes take a moment to savor a book as a physical object, flipping through its pages and breathing in the scent of ink on paper.

Mr. Thomas’ love affair with books began early. As a skinny, slightly offbeat kid, he didn’t have many friends in school. He took refuge from loneliness and bullying in the school library.

During the summer, his local library sponsored a book-reading contest. Young Jonathan ran with it, once reading 27 books to take the prize.

“I started reading everything: Beverly Clearly, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew. My absolute favorite book was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler,” he said, referencing the story of 2 siblings who run away from home, living for a time at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

He soon moved onto more advanced fare, reading everything from fantasy novels to Shakespeare and discovering J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Like countless young people before him, he identified with Salinger’s bright, angst-ridden protagonist Holden Caulfield.

Comic books were also hugely important to Mr. Thomas, now 32, with his favorite being the Ghost Rider series. It centers on a man who is possessed by an evil spirit, yet fights evil. Though he no longer collects them, Mr. Thomas, a self-described “big dork,” still flips through his old comics from time to time and is an avid patron of the San Diego comic convention Comicon.

Fantasy also appealed to Mr. Thomas when he was a kid, and he still finds the genre fascinating. “Oh my God, I loved the Lord of the Rings series,” he said. “If you analyze it, it all has meaning. Look at The Hobbit. It’s not about the destination. It’s the journey.”

Five years ago, Mr. Thomas began a great journey himself, studying Buddhism. He wanted insight into a higher consciousness as well as help taming his “over-thinking mind.” He also thought it might help him in his work.

“I wanted to not only offer a psychological approach but also a spiritual approach for dealing with people’s problems and situations,” Mr. Thomas said. “I think of Buddha as the first great psychologist.”

Mr. Thomas no longer reads to escape from school bullies. He does, however, look for insight on how to escape the patterns of thought that make people miserable.

The book Shambala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior by Gogyam Trungpa Rinpochet—a Tibetan Buddhist meditation master—who is one of Mr. Thomas’ personal heroes, proved hugely influential.

“This book changed my life,” Mr. Thomas said. “It’s about getting through spiritual materialism—it’s really about cutting through all the bullshit.

“You can appear to be spiritual, but it’s about your experience,” he continued. “You can’t fake Buddhism. You live it.”

Mr. Thomas has a favorite axiom from Shambala: “Live life as an experiment.” In fact, he is planning for these words to be etched on his body as his next tattoo.

The statement may be profound, but it’s pithy compared to the quote from Shantideva’s Way of the Bodhisattva, which is inked on the inside of his upper arm and which he calls his life’s mantra: “As long as space endures, as long as there are beings to be found, may I likewise remain to drive away the sorrows of the world.”

Mr. Thomas strives toward that lofty aim when counseling troubled clients and when guiding his meditation group, which has grown to more than 50 people in less than 3 months, to release their attachment to impermanent things.

He is not, however, ensconced in an ivory tower—far from it. Mr. Thomas is more than happy to engage in a bit of pop culture diversion. He has a favorite TV show, Supernatural,  in which 2 brothers hunt down an array of evil creatures. The show first aired when Mr. Thomas was in college and he was immediately hooked. In between seasons, the creators of Supernatural release books furthering an intricate storyline that pits angels against demons in a world teetering on the edge of apocalypse. Mr. Thomas also enjoys the vampire-centric True Blood TV show and book series.

“When I get home after a 13-hour day, I don’t need something stimulating that’s going to make me think,” he said. “It’s something where I can go home and empty my mind.”

Mr. Thomas gets his books from Amazon or Barnes & Noble and he prefers them in print form. He tried to read books on his iPad for a while, but it didn’t give him the same satisfaction.

Last week, in between clients, he could be found in his Claremont office, which is dominated by a light in the form of a large yin-yang sign, plus lots of books.

“I go ‘ah,’” he said, inhaling deeply. “From the smell to the feel of the pages, there’s just so much beauty in books.”

Mr. Thomas’ meditation group meets on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. in the Permadirty Project Space of the Claremont Packing House, 532 W. First St., in Village West. 

—Sarah Torribio


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