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COVER STORY: A Path to Peace

Mental-health therapist Dr. Wade Maggert discusses his journey to becoming a Zen Buddhist.

Dr. Wade Maggert (photos by Alex Rosa for OutSmart magazine)

As 2020 fades in the rearview mirror, we can start to appreciate the lessons it taught us about the need to safeguard our mental health. We can also appreciate people like Dr. Wade Maggert, a practicing Zen Buddhist, who is here to offer Houston’s LGBTQ community some advice for a more mindful 2021.

Maggert brings years of experience in Zen Buddhism to the table, as well as a unique perspective gained from his days as a DJ who played the hottest clubs in the United States and abroad.

“Zen Buddhism is about ‘Za Zen,’ which is just meditation—the important thing is being in the moment completely.”

—Dr. Wade Maggert

“In the ’90s and early 2000s, I was a circuit DJ for 11 years. I went to eight countries and I worked a lot in the U.S. at parties and clubs under the name DJ Ra. It was an amazing experience. I loved it, but it came with a lot of nightlife and drug use,” he recalls. “When you’re the DJ, you’re the star, and people supply drugs to you. I was not one to deny gifts at the time, so I just did a lot of them. That’s really what got me into therapy.”

While he didn’t recognize it at the time, the party lifestyle was leading him on a path of discovery that would eventually inspire him to help others face and overcome similar challenges.

“Through therapy, I learned that I got immersed in drugs because I didn’t love myself. I also learned that I couldn’t stay clean as a DJ. For my sobriety, I had to make the choice to find another career. The process of therapy made sense to me, and I thought I could help others [as a therapist]. So, I quit DJing in 2005 and enrolled in school.”

He earned a master’s degree from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, and a PhD from Pacifica Graduate Institute in California, where he studied and wrote about toxic masculinity—a subject inspired by his own experiences.

“I had a difficult relationship with my father, and that’s why I did the research I did. In my DJ career, I played to thousands of gay men who adored me. That’s what I’d been searching for from my father all my life. My career was [a substitute for] my father’s acceptance. I loved DJing, and I like to think I was good at it, but the “shadow” or unconscious side of it was that I was trying to heal something from my past that couldn’t be healed.”

Maggert eventually relocated to Houston to be closer to his husband’s family, and to work at Houston’s VA Hospital. Throughout this period of self-discovery, Zen Buddhism became an increasingly important practice that he used both in his own life and with his clients.

“Zen Buddhism is about ‘Za Zen,’ which is just meditation—whether that’s taking place while sitting on a cushion or in everyday activity. You can do walking meditation, working meditation, eating meditation—[the important thing is] being in the moment completely,” he explains.

That became an enlightenment point for Maggert, who then connected the dots between psychology and Buddhism.

“Buddhism and psychology go hand in hand. What’s been really big in mainstream culture is the idea of ‘mindfulness,’ which is actually just meditation. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to do many wonderful things. It can reduce anxiety, help with addiction, improve immune function, and improve attention,” he says. “When I first started this, I was working at a VA addiction clinic, and we wanted to add mindfulness into the curriculum for the veterans. It just took off. The veterans loved it, and it evolved into a Buddhist form of the 12 Step recovery process.”

Maggert says the thing he appreciates most about Buddhism is that it taught him to exist in the moment.

“Buddhism showed me just how much my mind has to say about things—why are we doing what we do, or why are things this way? I saw how much judgment my mind had, and it allowed me to soften it,” he says. “Meditation teaches you to be kind to yourself. As humans, we beat ourselves up. We think, ‘I can’t do this,’ or ‘This is too hard.’ But all your mind does is think. It’s designed to do that, but sometimes it doesn’t do that very well. Meditation helps you understand that these are all just thoughts. They only have the meaning you provide them with. That doesn’t mean you’re doing things incorrectly, and that you’re a bad person. You’re just human, and you just need practice. Then you can start to love yourself, because you’re not judging yourself as much.”

Dr. Maggert can be reached online at psychologytoday.com or via email at [email protected] To explore Zen Buddhism, Dr. Maggert suggests houstonzen.org.


Sam Byrd

Sam Byrd is a freelance contributor to Outsmart who loves to take in all of Houston’s sights, sounds, food and fun. He also loves helping others to discover Houston’s rich culture. Speaking of Houston, he's never heard a Whitney Houston song he didn't like.
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