The Zen Cowboy, a new spiritual center at 498 S. Church St. in Bayfield, transforms into The Church of Dunisha for Sunday gatherings.
Attendees take their shoes off at the front door and fold-out chairs are provided for those less inclined to sit cross-legged on the green and tan floor cushions.
The Rev. Alaric Hutchenson wears a black robe and sits at the front of the room between a large white meditation bowl next to his husband, Andrew, who wears a brown robe. During the service, Alaric drops “delicious hot damn nuggets” from his book, “Living Peace.” Alaric, 29, said Dunisha is his own pedagogy, an earth-based spirituality, but it’s close to a mix of Zen Buddhism and Taoism, with some Paganism.
The church program includes time for attendees to share their joys or worries marked with collective “Oms” and candle-lightings. Andrew, 27, a former seventh-grade history teacher and current-events buff, shares an example of global peace at each service. Instead of churchy classics like “How Great Thou Art,” Alaric takes a moment to play Kacey Musgraves’ “Biscuits.” Lyrics are provided on the program for those who want to sing along to: “Smoke you’re own smoke and grow your own babies/ Mind your own biscuits and life will be gravy.”
In case the robes aren’t a dead give away, the Hutchensons are new to town. For eight years, Alaric owned a metaphysical bookstore and spiritual center in Phoenix called the Earth Spirit Center for Healing. He was ordained in 2010, was a pastor at the Earth Spirit Church for two years and then later worked as a Zen teacher. He sold his business before moving to Bayfield.
Alaric, who used to perform in a line-dancing group and dress up as a cowboy, adopted the Zen Cowboy name for speaking arrangements in Arizona. The Zen Cowboy business grew from his personal experiences witnessing the positive effects of the tranquil teachings.
“Cowboys are very zen. They are connected to the earth. There is a deep focus whenever you are working with animals – it’s a meditative focus actually – and it’s simple living,” Alaric said. “Meeting people here who are country folks, they are already experts in meditation but they don’t know it. They are down to earth, grounded in the moment.”
The Zen Cowboy and the Church of Dunisha are two separate entities. The Zen Cowboy is the physical business, which offers Zen training, one-on-one life coaching and online coaching. The church temporarily uses the space on Sundays for community gatherings. They are currently applying for 501c3 status for the Church of Dunisha, and they have big plans for it.
“I love this location in downtown, but this is just a stepping stone,” Alaric said. “This is us getting to know the community, host community events, but when we can afford it, we are going to (expand toward) the monastery life.”
The goal is to set up a center where people can be ordained as monks through Dunisha training and practice the lifestyle for months at a time. Alaric adds that they will keep the current Zen Cowboy location as a hub for community involvement.
So how did The Zen Cowboy end up in the conservative blue-collar town of Bayfield?
“For the past 10 years, I have been coming to Vallecito Lake Blue Spruce RV Park, so I knew the area. We would drive by Wits End, my mom would joke, ‘One day that will be yours,’” Alaric said.
Andrew would also ride the train and whitewater raft when he came to visit his aunt who lived between Bayfield and Durango. They knew they wanted to move to a climate with four seasons and to a small town where they can have an impact. The changing foliage on a fall trip to Vallecito convinced them to move and it happened pretty quickly. Alaric and Andrew were married on March 17, 2018. They put a bid on the building on the 19th, and moved to Bayfield on June 1.
They held their first service in January. Alaric said they are not here to convert anyone and that Dunisha accepts all religions and backgrounds. The main idea is to “emphasize peace over love,” because with peace, love comes naturally.
Pamela Orr, 67, a hair stylist at Haircrafters, goes to the services because she is “hungry for inner peace.” Orr said she is the type of person to hold things inside and services have been an inspiration.
“It feels odd, but it is a nice alternative to traditional religion,” said Lisa Carnahan. She has gone to a couple services and said they are welcoming and fun.
“We have fallen in love with Bayfield and are committed to growing the town, especially helping revitalize downtown,” Andrew said. He said they want to be a community center that hosts events for the whole town. Some ideas include a bonfire for May Day, their first annual retreat during Summer Solstice, a Samhain haunted house fundraiser during Halloween, and a tree-lighting during Yule.
They are currently offering Dunisha “Zen” training on Wednesdays. People cannot yet become ordained, but it will be an option for students once the Church of Dunisha receives its 501c3 status.
Alaric said the goal is to create an environment for people to come and see first-hand that inner peace is possible. He and Andrew have committed to living as “modern monks” full time and want to develop a community based upon Dunisha teachings to foster mindfulness, kindness and peace in every aspect of daily life.