Born on October 16, 1942, in Great Britain, Ian grew up in Corby, a tough steel town populated by Scots in the heartland of England's countryside. Cultural interface was an early and continuing influence. Ian was an outstanding athlete and scholar at school, graduating with distinctions in all subjects. He did not stay to collect graduating honors, as at seventeen years old he traveled to Sarawak, Borneo, with Voluntary Service Overseas (1960 – 62) – Britain's Peace Corps. He loved the immersion in the myriad cultures of Sarawak and was greatly amused by the British colonial mentality, which he did not share. He worked in a variety of youth programs as a community development officer, and also explored the headwaters of Sarawak's major rivers, with expeditions into Indonesian Borneo. He was acutely embarrassed to be written up in the home press as "Boy Explorer Discovers Central Borneo!" He knew he had not discovered anything; that Kayan tribesmen had kept him safe. He had an acute sensitivity and respect for other cultures and traditions, and knew he was privileged to be with skilled guides.
He was later adopted as a tribesman by Kayans in Northern Sarawak. Part of the initiation was the right to have an extensive tattoo on his left forearm, commemorating his journeys. Ian politely declined this honor, stating it was not his custom. As a teen, he had a clear idea of who he was, though that clarity was frequently challenged, and occasionally lost, later in life.
Returning to Great Britain after Sarawak was an uneasy transition. He did, however, manage to get through an undergraduate degree in anthropology at University College, London (1962 – 65), before continuing with graduate studies at Balliol College, Oxford (1965 – 67). At Oxford, academics took a back seat to the judo dojo, rugby field, bridge table, and the founding of irreverent societies at Balliol. Yet by the time he pursued doctoral studies at the University of British Columbia (1967 – 70), his brain had switched on. He renewed his passion for other cultures, placing his research on North West Coast fishing communities within a mathematical, experimental domain that the discipline of anthropology was not quite ready for. Being at the edge of new endeavors was natural to him, and continues to be so.
His career trajectory has curved through mathematical models, development studies, hermeneutics, poetics and symbolic anthropology, to new science and consciousness studies. The intent was always to expand, then cross, existing boundaries, to renew the freshness of the anthropological endeavor, and make the discipline relevant to the individuals and cultures it touches. His highly acclaimed television course on "Culture and Symbols" draws on his novel perspectives, and Ian is exploring the possibilities of delivering the twelve videotapes of the course through an Internet homepage, which will be a prototype for the Electronic University of the Future – no boundaries.
His millennium project for 2000 created another twelve-part television course on "Ecology and Culture." This educational enterprise produces a cadre of environmental activists each year. In their final assignment, students are asked to write a thousand word letter to a head of government, or CEO of a polluting industry, or Director of an environmental NGO. After careful research on the organization and ecological issue, students state specifically what they want the recipient of the letter to do. Students, by and large, send these letters and begin to translate their awareness about ecosystems and globalization into action – as does their teacher.
He studied Tibetan Buddhism with Lama Tarchin in the early 1980's, Christian meditation with the Benedictines, and was trained by Native American medicine people and shamans in their healing practices. He also studied the Vedic tradition of Siddha Samadhi Yoga, and taught this tradition of meditation in India. He was ordained as a teacher and initiator – the first westerner to receive this privilege – and is acknowledged in India as a Dharma teacher. Since meeting Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Master – he found a way to take his experiences to much deeper levels within himself. He is an ordained member of Master Hanh's Tiep Hien Order. He has taught children's meditation courses, as well as adult and advanced meditation courses across Canada. In addition he gives regular Dharma talks to the meditation community in Ottawa. He travels widely on this beautiful planet and has taught meditation in Canada, India, the United States and South America. The basic commitment he holds is to encourage people to embrace their true nature. His teaching focuses on the spiritual issues of the day, and honors all traditions. He is a Dharmacharya in Thich Nhat Hanh's tradition of engaged Buddhism. His present work for peace includes the active promotion of UNESCO's Manifesto 2000, which reflects the UN's designation of the first decade of the new century as one of Peace and Non-Violence.
Ian has six children and fourteen grandchildren from his first marriage. Later in life, as a respite, he lived in a hermitage in Kingsmere, Quebec, in the middle of Gatineau Park forest when his pet wolf was alive. He hopes to someday open a meditation retreat and practice center in the Gatineau Hills. The lakes and hills of this incredibly beautiful area are the locale for his graduate tutorials and meditation retreats. He now facilitates a meditation community in Ottawa called the Pine Gate Mindfulness Community which began in 1997.
Ian now lives with his wife Carolyn in the west end of Ottawa where the Pine Gate Meditation Hall is located in the lower level of their home. They were married in the Dharma Nectar Temple in Villages Des Pruniers, France, on July 21st, 2001. The poem "July 21" takes you there.
His interests include cross-country skiing, hiking, white-water canoeing, and caring for the world of nature. He also enjoys Qi-Gong, gardening, dancing, playing baseball and swimming with dolphins. He writes poetry and had an edited collection published in 1985 – "Reflections: The Anthropological Muse". The meditation teacher is not separate from the professor or the global citizen.
At the outbreak of the Iraq war he founded Friends for Peace Canada – a coalition of meditation, peace, activist and environmental groups to work for peace, planetary care and social justice. He is also the editor of an online Buddhist Journal and the resident Zen teacher of Pine Gate Mindfulness Community.
An up and coming hard rock/blues band named SLYDE has a keyboardist who was a student in his university class on Ecology. They released a CD in 2011 titled Feed The Machine. It was inspired by the class text, The Essential Spiral: Ecology and Consciousness After 9/11. Who knows what they will do with his later books!
Since retiring from Carleton University in 2007 he has authored four books on dharma, two on the environment, a novel and a legend/autobiographical combo and enjoys the freedom to create at his own pace. He received the 2011 Ottawa Earth Day Environment Award on behalf of the Pine Gate Mindfulness Community. He has yet to discern the ordinary meaning of retirement!