Close your eyes and imagine for a moment that there is a deep, cavernous space within you. And in the blackness of that depth lies a massive fire-breathing creature (like a dragon of sorts, but not like Smaug from The Hobbit). For the moment it seems to be slumbering, its fearsome face looking almost peaceful.
Now imagine you are sitting in a dimly lit mediation hall. There are many others in this room with you, but in the darkness of that space they seem to be more like shadows; you notice their presence but you don’t feel the weight of their bodies. A teacher sits at the front of this room. Suddenly there is a…
Though it is not a sharp sound, it still cuts across the blackness to reach your ears where it vibrates in the bones and muscle fibers of your body. You get goosebumps.
You close your eyes and are attentive to the teacher’s instructions guiding you through the mediation. It’s strange, but after some time you begin to feel a heightened sense of aliveness in your body. A creeping sense of joy and happiness and positivity and excitement. As you continue to sit there noticing all these sensations in your body, you begin to feel a flood of tears bubbling up to your eyes. Is it sadness? No. Definitely a kind of joy. But a deeper joy. As though you had finally made it, after much struggle and painful effort, to some kind of refuge. And here you are now. And you almost can’t believe it.
Now go back to that deep cavernous space within you. As you continue to sit there in darkness, your eyes closed, the attention on noticing your thoughts, dissolving them in the even, steady pace of your breathing, in and out, in…and out…the slumbering beast begins to stir! It seems to be that the simple act of becoming aware of this space is somehow inducing this creature to awaken. It’s kind of scary, and exciting, and inspiring! But before this goes any further, you hear…
Last night, I went to my first ever group meditation and Dharma talk at a place called Against the Stream. This is a Buddhist meditation center founded by Noah Levine (author of a memoir called Dharma Punx). I was turned on to this place through my father after I had expressed interest in continuing some type of mindfulness practice now that I had “graduated” from 7 months of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy back in December. I was mainly interested in deepening my understanding of the mindfulness skills that DBT uses in order to curb “emotion dysregulation”, as that had provided small bits of joy and consolation in the times I had made conscious efforts to use them.
I’m really glad I went.
I know almost nothing about Buddhism, although some of my relatives could claim to be Buddhists. All I really know (off the top of my head) is that the Buddha was once a part of some aristocracy, a prince of some kind. And at the age of 29, went beyond his privileged walls and happened upon three(?) things which astonished him: sickness, old-age, and death. Needless to say, he was never the same. [Readers: Correct me if I’m wrong!]. Anyway, that’s all I really know. I mean besides him sitting under a tree and meditating of course, I have no other knowledge in my head about either the Buddha or the “religion” that was based upon his insights. I’m as green as a pickle, or whatever the phrase is. So that’s the mindset I took when I went to this Monday night meditation. The evening begins with a guided 30 minute sit they referred to as “Vipassana” aka “insight mediation”. (At first this seemed like an intimidating amount of time before I began. I was like, oh shit, am I gonna last thirty minutes?!) This was followed by an hour-long “Dharma talk”, which, I don’t even know what “Dharma” means….hold on….Google….okay….”natural universal laws/cosmic law and order“….okay. Got it. Sort of. Anyway, the talks are given by a rotating group of teachers, which includes Noah Levine. That night’s talk was given by someone named Dave Smith. I thought he was a pretty funny and gentle guy with some thought-provoking things to say. Two things I remember that stand out are:
“The mind is a terrible master, but a wonderful servant.” (which I forgot if he said he was quoting that from someone or paraphrasing it? It sounds like a cool Zen/Buddhist quote…)
“If you keep showing up for something, eventually it’ll start showing up for you.”
That latter quote hit me in an inspiring way. It was like, yeah, your efforts will have an effect as long as you keep at it. Whatever it is. Don’t give up. He was referring specifically to the meditation and how many, many hours of practice will help to build the “mindfulness muscle” necessary to be “awake” in our daily lives. That was pretty cool because I immediately thought about karate and martial arts working in the same way (or any skill-based physical activity). It’s like, spirituality doesn’t mean some wah-wah-floating-in-the-air-no-touch-KO-Doctor-Strange-CGI-magic-bullshit; it means real, applied practice. Hours and hours of it. Gōngfu. Spiritual gōngfu. When Eckhart Tolle is talking about “alert presence”, he’s not talking about some special Street Fighter powers. He’s talking about clearing away the mind-chatter and fog which we think is “normal” to our daily existence. Meditation is a skill practice which helps us to do this. Why? Well, if the Buddha was concerned with “suffering and the end of suffering”, then maybe you can tell yourself why. Is suicide ideation suffering? Is depression suffering? Is anxiety suffering? You can sure bet the fuck it is. Why do you think I was in therapy in the first place? Why is there a whole market for drugs to treat these things? But I mean, what do I know right? I’m just gettin’ started with all this. But goddammit that’s besides the point. See? Mind-chatter. I wanted to note here too that I was particularly drawn to this place because of its punk aesthetics and this explanation of the organization’s name-sake:
Buddha was a revolutionary. His practice was subversive; his message, seditious. His enlightened point of view went against the norms of his day – in his own words, “against the stream.” (from the back cover of Levine’s book, Against the Stream)
I said to myself, “I am against the stream!” My life up till now has been like that. It speaks to the kinds of people and thinking I admire. Einstein…Jung…Buckminster Fuller…Grace Lee Boggs. People who have discovered things outside their respective boxes and shared that with the world, enlightening us. And if the Buddha was really like that, then I wanna learn more! So from now on, until further notice, I’m gonna be going to these Monday night meditation things. I know it’s only been one time, but I think I’ve found my place. Of course, I’ll never say that I’m officially a part of any organization (or maybe not. Maybe it’s just that I haven’t come across many organizations I like), but you gotta follow what attracts you. You know what I mean?