I was born and raised in the southern United States. My father’s family was from the Appalachian Hills of Kentucky. His father was a 32nd-degree Scottish Rite Freemason; his mother was devoted adherent to the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints—aka, the Mormons who didn’t go to Utah. My mother’s family hailed from Brookhaven, MS and New Orleans, LA. Her father was an Irish Catholic, played the violin, and owned the largest department store between Memphis and New Orleans. Her mother was a Christian Scientist, and was pedigreed aristocracy, tracing her lineage to the Percy, Ker and Collins families. My parents decided that the happy meeting ground of all of these backgrounds was Presbyterianism.
My father (a Virgo) was a kind of mathematical savant who could multiply 6 figures by 6 figures in his head. In his twenties, he became the youngest vice president ever (at that time) of Union Planters National Bank. He quickly broke off from there and started his own investment banking firm, and around the time I was born, he made a lot of money in a large transaction only a year after his first business partner together with his family were gunned down by the mafia in their front yard. About ten years later, he lost all his money, and my mother left him, bringing my brother and me to her hometown in Mississippi, where my great grandfather’s statue was in the downtown park. It had been put there because he was a kind person, who helped many people through the Great Depression. Years later, we found out that the primary contributors to the statue were members of the African Episcopal Methodist Church. We migrated from Presbyterianism to Episcopalianism, to Catholicism. In high school, someone convinced me to take Silva Mind Control, and I wrote my two high school papers on black magic and Orwell’s 1984.
While attendingRhodes College (then, Southwestern at Memphis, which we called SAM), I had my first glimpse that there was something much more to life than the hum-drum, fear-based view that pervaded the culture around me. It was as if the real truth of what the world is, how it works, and what is really going on was unseen and unacknowledged by almost everyone I encountered—especially within the religious traditions. I found myself on an urgent, life-or-death quest to find teachings, a teacher and a path. I tried
One day, I found The Myth of Freedom by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche in the SAM library stacks. It spoke so deeply to my inner senses that in a flash, I knew I had to go there—wherever there was. This was later followed by a dream that foresaw, in an encoded-dream way, the next several years of my life. I dropped everything and, much to my parents’ dismay, transferred to Naropa University, which seemed the best way to engage with Trungpa Rinpoche. There, I shifted my focus from piano performance, and obtained a degree in Buddhist Studies.
At that time, Naropa was located in an office building with a storefront on the Boulder mall. It was a wild and exciting place, where beat poets and their friends—Allen Ginsburg, William Burroughs and even Timothy Leary—would appear, while contemplative christians, buddhists and jews* found common points of esoteric agreement in the Christian Buddhist Conference, which grew out of the meetings between Thomas Merton and Trungpa Rinpoche. While at Naropa, I had my first astrological consultation and began studying with the late astrologer, Larry Loughlin. It was then that I first envisioned developing an astrological practice that could help people work through their life issues. But that was not to come for many years, as the level at which I wished to work would take a lot more study, practice, personal development, and lived experience to manifest. Youth is filled with brilliance and insights, but this is very different than the experienced wisdom that develops with age.
The ivory tower life of the buddhist scholar did not seem right to me, and I felt that for spiritual practices and meditative realization to be meaningful to what life actually is, they should become a part of the day-to-day life that surrounds us. I chose not to pursue a masters and collegiate teaching / translating career in buddhism, and instead to throw myself into living and working with our culture. If we have any hope of changing and enlightening the world in which we live, which needs our help so much, it comes from directly engaging it.
I was inspired by the push from Trungpa Rinpoche that a true sign of bravery, wisdom and a desire to benefit our world was to put ourselves directly into the dragon’s mouth, so to speak—finding work and making friends with those whom we perceive as being the furthest from enlightenment. In doing so, one exposes one’s own projections—the shadow side of ourselves that we are externalizing onto others—and we discover the real jewel—all beings have an innate basic goodness, a seat of wisdom and compassion. It is an inextricable part of who we are.
Oscillating between working in the world, visiting and living in practice centers, and receiving and practicing the many teachings of the vajrayana buddhist path in group and solitary retreat, I determined to live the life of an aspiring bodhisattva in the world. I attended Trungpa Rinpoche’s Vajradhatu Seminary, completed the preliminary practices, and was initiated into the inner practices of the Kagyü, Nyingma, and Shambhala traditions. In the 1990’s I had the great and rare fortune to receive teachings and transmissions on the corpus of inner vajrayana teachings of the Kagyü and Nyingma lineages from Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso Rinpoche. In today’s world, this is rare indeed, and has been a great blessing.
In terms of my work in the world, through aptitude and coincidences, I developed a career in publishing, which morphed into online communications, web development, technology, branding and business consulting. I cofounded companies, ecommerce projects, and ran my own consulting businesses. I served in administrative capacities for several projects, including as cofounder and president for Jump Media, cofounder and CIO for BuyGroup.com, International Program Manager for Shambhala, and Director of Outreach and Executive Director for Sacred Fire. Over the course of my life, I have held a variety jobs—guitar and piano teacher, grocery store worker, assistant manager at a Burger King, taxi-driver, administrative assistant, program manager, entrepreneur, business owner, computer programmer, graphic layout artist, web developer, database engineer, tech manager, social organizer, and team trainer. I have met and pitched projects to billionaire angel investors in Silicon Valley, attended football games with members of the Halliburton board of directors, served tea to Joni Mitchell and cocktails to Timothy Leary, lived with indigent people in open-air shelters, driven adult dancers to work, and managed the hosting of high-level Tibetan dignitaries. Being involved in this way, allowed me first-hand experience of the realities faced by many types of people, and provided lived experience in how the world actually works—at many different levels.
In 2001 I had another revelatory dream of receiving initiations from a shaman in a cave in Mexico. This caught me by surprise, since it genuinely came out of the blue. I had no desire to do such a thing at all. Yet, several years later, things lined up that I was sent to Mexico to oversee the setup of some advanced meditation programs, and I knew I had to go there. I gave notice on my job at Shambhala, and moved to Mexico a year later.
While there, I did indeed encounter a shaman who initiated me into a new and ancient way of viewing the world, and I returned to the United States almost a year later with an adjusted outlook on life. More dreams occurred, and I soon found myself following the path of apprenticeship to become a Huichol mara’akame, or shaman. As such my primary teacher was the God of Fire, who is the trainer of all mara’akate. I followed this path for many years, making innumerable trips to Mexico and engaging in sacred pilgrimages. But over time I came to a profound realization that I could not bridge the gap between the outlook of this Huichol-based lineage and the deeply engrained views from the vajrayana tradition. I made the difficult decision to leave the Huichol path and recommit to my buddhist roots.
This transition was an immensely difficult experience, but important for deepening my understanding of the types of situations and outlooks people go through—and how to support them through difficult periods.
My curious mind has led me to study with many traditions and teachers, which have been immense blessings for my life. Over the years, I have had the good fortune of being introduced and tutored by excellent teachers in the Yang-style and Chen-style t’ai chi chu’an traditions, the teachings of Gurdjieff, Alexander Technique, and Guitar Craft (through study with Robert Fripp),Japanese archery (kyudo) with the Kanjuro Shibata XX (probably the last living samurai), and the Western occult and magical traditions (of which astrology is a key component) through direct or indirect study with Larry Loughlin, Carol Ferris, Joseph Crane, Robert Hand, and many others. And direct connection with the last of the great teachers from a Tibet that no longer exists—the Sixteenth Karmapa, Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Ato Rinpoche, Trungpa Rinpoche, and Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche. I am an avid news reader, and take great interest in the larger trends of what is going on in our world, to better understand the realities impacting our lives.
This broad orientation gives me something that I bring to my clients, enabling me to relate with the varied experiences and orientations they bring to the table. The commitment to benefiting others is a foundational component of the buddhist tradition, and I do my best to keep this motivation foremost in relating with people as a counselor and guide.
The main point of all these practices and traditions is to awaken a direct, experiential relationship with the living, sacred energies of life and the seat of awareness-wisdom at the base of all experience, both in oneself and in others. Practicing them enables one to see our world more clearly, and they have all greatly influenced my approach to astrology—making it more experiential and practical.
I hold a nondual view on this work. Instead of seeing the planets as external gods or as planetary energies that somehow affect us through gravitational or magnetic pull, my approach is more that life is one large living organism, and that the planets are like mirrors, which can be seen as living symbols, of the sacred energies that run through us and around us, and which ultimately aren’t separate from us, as we are not ultimately separate from the world around us.
William F. Sutton
* Inspired by Trungpa Rinpoche’s feeling that one’s spirituality and belief system should be an ordinary part of day-to-day living, I have followed his inspiration in not capitalizing their names as if they were something special or extraordinary.