The life of Mel Ash has been a continual search for techniques and tactics of wholeness, healing and transformation, mirroring many of the changes in the larger culture. Escaping an abusive childhood in rural Connecticut at the age of 14, he has pursued a life-long interest in Zen and cultural/spiritual change ever since. The streets of the late '60s provided his first education in the ways of the world and spirit as he wandered the country, participating in the emerging counter-culture and attending Woodstock.

Ash is a Zen teacher, mental health counselor, graphic artist, writer, performer and Beat scholar. He teaches nothing less than the complete recovery of our Original Human Nature. Everything he teaches is a result of work done first on himself. Zen, it has been said, is the most radical approach to human consciousness yet devised. It is in this spirit that the work is conducted and results achieved.

Spiritual Training

Ash put down his last drink in April of 1983 and dove deeply into 12-step meetings, becoming active in step groups, commitments and sponsorship. At the same time, he joined the Providence Zen Center both as a return to earlier beliefs and as a full embrace of the 11th step ("sought conscious contact with a higher power through prayer and meditation").

Ash was formally recognized and authorized as a dharma teacher by Korean Zen master Seung Sahn in 1988 after several years of study and living at the Providence Zen Center, and given the dharma name "Jeong Mu Poep Sa," translated as "Clear Emptiness Dharma Teacher." He taught weekly beginner's classes, gave dharma talks, assisted with retreats and helped produce "Primary Point", the official newspaper for the world-wide Kwan Um School of Zen.

The Zen of Recovery recently entered the digital age with its release as a Kindle electronic book and Audible audiobook. Purchase a copy now from

In 1993, Ash's first book, detailing his journey to 12-step recovery and Zen, The Zen of Recovery, was published by Jeremy Tarcher/Putnam. Still in print some twenty years and 50,000+ copies later, The Zen of Recovery was the first book to offer a viable Eastern wisdom based recovery alternative to the patriarchal and God-based methods of many 12-step programs. Many thousands have found its methods and message to be successful in their own steps to recovery. The Zen of Recovery is used by many 12-step study groups as a weekly guide and manual and has become a classic in its field. The Zen of Recovery recently entered the digital age with its release as a Kindle electronic book.

Ash left the Kwan Um School of Zen in 1994, affiliating with the First Unitarian Univeralist Church of Providence, in a search for a more Western-based model of Zen practice and family oriented spirituality. Ash studied under the mentorship and guidance of the late Reverend Tom Ahlburn (a student of Tibetan Buddhism and U.U. theology), whom Ash regards as his second Teacher (or gU.rU.)

Ash served on church boards, taught religious education, gave occasional sermons, performed weddings and ran a weekly Spiritual Concerns group for church members, as well as exploring his New England Transcendentalist roots. The work of Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman and Fuller, influential Unitarians, helped pave the way for the acceptance of Eastern philosophy in the West, referred to as "Zenitarian Zeniversalism" by Rev. Ahlburn.

Ash also studied Vedanta philosophy at the Providence Vedanta Center under the tutelage of Swami Sarvagatananda, as well as being a founding member of a Krishnamurti study group for local ministers run by Rev. Neil Bakker, theosophist/Unitarian.

An ongoing study of American Indian spirituality and lifestyles also informs Ash's worldview as a result of his partial Sicangu Lakota (Brule Sioux) heritage on his grandmother's side. This interest and practice remains solely private, for the most part, although Ash has built and lived in his own tipi. He makes no claims to native wisdom, and encourages people to seek out authentic and qualified native teachers on their own. Ash has studied extensively in the past with native teachers and belongs to a Two-Spirit retreat group.


Shaving the Inside of Your Skull, Ash's second book, also published by Jeremy Tarcher/Putnam in 1996, was a result of these Zen/U.U./recovery explorations and is a compendium of exercises drawn from various religions, psychologies and therapies, all chosen with the aim of demonstrable change and healing. The main thesis of the book is that our addictions extend to our belief systems and to

Shaving the Inside of Your Skull. Purchase it now from
be free of belief is to be free indeed. The title refers to Zen monks shaving their heads and insists that we shave the insides as well, ridding ourselves of old habits of thought that create limitations and suffering. The exercises in the book are called "razors" and aim at providing an immediate Zen experience to the reader.

For Ash, recovery of our true human nature doesn't end with putting down a chemical or substance. It is only the beginning of a journey of awakening and spiritual de-toxification that can lead to enlightenment and wholeness.

Los Angeles-based publisher Jeremy Tarcher was personally crucial in guiding and mentoring both Ash and the books. Tarcher has published books on human potential and counter-culture by authors such as Timothy Leary, Jean Houston, Julia Cameron and John Lily as well as the popular Drawing on the Right Side of Your Brain and The Aquarian Conspiracy.

Beat Spirit: the Way of the Beat Writers as a Living Experience. Purchase a copy now from

Beat Spirit: the Way of the Beat Writers as a Living Experience, is the third book by Ash to be published by Tarcher/Putnam (1997). The book is a workbook and introduction to the Beat Generation writers who first help popularize Zen and alternative culture. Much of Ash's philosophy can be traced through his writing to the influence of these brave men and women, such as Alan Watts, Jack Kerouac, Lew Welch, Gary Snyder and Diane DiPrima, who helped change Western perceptions, encouraging experimentation and fearlessness. Much of Ash's philosophy can be described as Beat Zen in both approach and style. All three books also examine the role of creativity as a component of awakening and recovery, drawing from Ash's own experiences as an artist and writer. Beat Spirit is used in college literature courses as a textbook and has introduced many to the roots and history of American counter-culture.

The Zen of Recovery has been translated into German and remains in print in Europe. Shaving the Inside of Your Skull is available in Mandarin translation in China.

Human Services Background

A long and varied history of human service positions has also contributed to Ash’s healing techniques and expertise in relation to matters of the mind and spirit.

Starting in high school as a residential worker for developmentally challenged clients at a school in Connecticut, he moved to western Iowa (where he has family roots) to become Residential and Recreational Co-Ordinator and workshop teacher at a private facility for 80 clients of all ages and disability types. A move back to Connecticut found him working again at a private program for the same client base, teaching workshop and living skills.

While attending school in South Carolina, Ash worked as a Youth Counselor for juvenile recidivists in the maximum security division of the Department of Corrections.

Ash has also worked long stints in the metal health field, both as a counselor in a residential setting, as a certified case manager and advocate for schizophrenic clients living in a group home and as a counselor for dually-diagnosed clients under legal mandate.

Ash was also a Red Cross volunteer in New Orleans immediately after Hurricane Katrina where he worked with the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Team and the National Guard in providing meals, counseling and assistance to residents.


Editor and art director of his high school and college papers, Ash has a life-long passion for engaged journalism and effective design that is reflected in his books.

Ash served as art director for The NewPaper in Providence, Rhode Island for most of the '80s. The NewPaper, a weekly alternative, covered the emerging punk scene as well as featuring progressive politics.

As a reporter for The Middletown Press in Connecticut, Ash covered religion, education and LGBT issues on a daily basis. The same beat was covered when he later worked at The Hartford Advocate, another weekly.

He has also worked extensively in the book trade, most notably at The Book Barn in Niantic, Ct. where he helped manage a stock of over 300,000 used books and tended to a herd of 15 cats and three goats.

Education, Art & other

Despite being known as a writer, Ash insists on viewing himself first and foremost as an artist. A student of surrealism and Dada in high school, Ash later studied commercial art at New Haven's Paier School of Art. After taking an A.A. at South Carolina's Tri-County Technical College, he majored in fine arts at the University of South Carolina.

Ash illustrated all three of his published books as well as helping to design their covers and interiors. He views the arts as an effective method of realization and illumination, akin to Zen practice. The management and refinement of the creative impulse is one of the cornerstones of his teaching. His Sumi-e art (Zen ink painting) has been described as "virtuoso" in reviews and is featured in Zen of Recovery workshops as well as throughout this website.

Ash recently completed eighty full color paintings for a Zen Tarot deck, samples of which can be viewed on this website.

Family Life

Ash has been married twice and is the father of two sons, Aren and Ethan. Aren, a talented chef, studies law and public policy in the Bay area, while Ethan, a musician, is studying Chinese in Beijing. Melanie Denslow, his niece and close family member, is an art student in San Francisco. Currently single, he refuses to claim any sexual orientation other than human.


mini book by mel ash
DIY Mini-Books are a part of Mel's workshops. Download and creat a DIY mini-book.

Thousands across the country have attended in-person teaching events with Mel Ash. The workshops have proven extremely popular and been featured and invited back at well-known growth centers, adult learning centers and organizations such as: The Open Center (NYC), First Class (D.C.), Learning Annex (San Francisco, San Diego, L.A.), Interface (Boston), Zen Mountain Monastery (Woodstock, NY), Rowe Unitarian Universalist Camp and Conference Center (Mass.), FunEd (Dallas), Discover U (Seattle), Learning Connection (Providence), Whole Life Expo (Pasadena), Massachusetts Medical Association Annual Meeting, The Beat Museum (San Francisco), Insight Meditation Society and Barre Center for Buddhist Studies (Barre, Mass.) as well as various U.U. churches, rehabs and retreat centers.

Other publications

Articles by Mel Ash have been featured in Yoga Journal, Magical Blend magazine, Sober Times, Common Ground of Seattle and many regional publications.

His work has been favorably reviewed in Publisher's Weekly, New Age Journal, Utne Reader, and Playboy magazine.

Ash also self-publishes tracts of performance pieces, poems, revelations and odd artwork under the aegis of his tongue-in-cheek but dead serious cult-like Church of the Mysterioso, some of which are reproduced on this website. Motto of the Church: "We're not for everyone!" The Church of the Mysterioso is in no way affiliated with the Church of the Sub-Genius, although the denial rings hollow!

Here & Now

Presently living in the Bay area with his family (a lifelong dream come true), Ash currently works out of Berkeley and teaches workshops locally as well as seeing private students.

Current plans include a renewed workshop and teaching schedule as well as a roster of new works to be published. Some of these include Wake Up! The Recovery of Zen (sequel to Zen of Recovery), Kitchen 15, a journalistic account of volunteer life after Katrina, Soul Survival: A Manual for the New Dark Age, The Books of Rock & Water (with Paul Barrett, Zen teachings and photos), Zaddik, an end of the world novel based on Jewish mysticism and Zen, Not Until Then: Berkeley Zen Poems (with Mandarin translation by Ethan Ash), 8o words, a tarot deck and accompanying book, and Masters of Zen trading cards.

Future Plans

In addition to new publications and public teaching, Ash is working toward the establishment of a foundation that would train students to become Zen teachers in this new tradition. Part of this plan includes the acquisition of a facility in the Bay area where students could take classes, train and even live. If you are interested in helping make this dream come true, please get in touch. Meanwhile, breathe in, breathe out. Everything is as it is, with us or without us. Why not be with it? Start here:

Photo: Udo Oftung

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