Choose Love

Another mass shooting. We know there will be more. How do we feel? Anger? Fear? Apathy? How do we respond? Do we fight back? Do we hide? None of these thoughts and feelings seem to make me feel any better. I grew up in an America full of hope and promise; Now we seem to be waiting for our turn to experience tragedy. We escape to artificial virtual realities and live at the surface of our emotions to avoid the depth of our pain, but deep down, we know we must face these feelings and circumstances head on.

Our current reality isn’t the one I hoped for. If I had a choice, I wouldn’t have picked this situation, but this is my life, and my life gains meaning by my response to challenges that present themselves, not the privilege that was handed to me. I’m not on this planet to simply take in oxygen and consume nutrients. I’ve been given this opportunity to make the world a better place, and the more difficult the path, the stronger my conviction must become.

Our world is so full of anger that individuals are choosing to fire repeated rounds into crowds of innocent people and often take their own lives shortly afterwards. I can’t simply chalk this up to mental health or gun access; It’s happening too frequently. Instead, I believe people are in so much pain that this outburst of aggression provides an emotional release. Individuals are choosing these types of action because they believe the results are the best their life has to offer. I feel bad for anyone who feels so tortured that this seems like their best path forward.

I wish I had a solution that could solve these problems quickly. I don’t, but I do have a solution. We need to rebuild a world full of hope and inspiration. As distant as this dream seems, all it requires is for people to purposefully stand together and walk in the direction of love. We must put into context all of the minor difficulties of our lives, we must create space to take care of our own mental and social well being, and we must invest in the people in our communities so they have better opportunities and choices. Instead of burying our emotions or letting them overpower us, we must use them to fuel us to act in positive ways. Things are only going to get better when we start to invest in one another and start believing in a peaceful and compassionate future for all people. Let us walk together with love knowing that the challenges ahead won’t be easy, but knowing that the future is worth the investment. When tragedy hits, let’s focus our energy on becoming a stronger community that supports all of our members. Let us have faith that with good intentions and right actions we will produce positive outcomes. Let us stand together to build the future of our collective dreams.

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Facing Violence and Hatred

11 Jews killed inside a Pittsburg synagogue by a man yelling anti-Semitic slurs. This is less than a 5 hour drive from my house. The growing anger, fear, and divisiveness in our communities is palpable. I’m struggling to find an appropriate response. I feel anger and disbelief which makes me want to fight back, but my efforts seem to only strengthen the divisions as my opinions get clumped with one side against another. I then feel helpless and passive as I hope that the these conflicts will simply subside. I know there’s a midpoint from which I can act with strength and love, but I’m currently struggling to find it.

There is an increasing number of people that are choosing to shoot and kill groups of innocent people. Do they believe these deaths will lead to a better future? If their side “wins” the fight, will their community look more like they want it to? Or should the reality that many of these shooters are taking their own lives lead me to believe that these people simply acting upon an abundance of pain and misery inside of them? Am I alone in believing that the only way to restore healthy communities is by working together to build it together? Meditation seems like a useful tool to mitigate my own emotion reactions, but how do I help others who are suffering?

I appreciate the idea that to turn a forest green each tree must be watered, but how do we connect with people who are isolated and support people who are facing severe mental anguish? A huge amount of anger and hatred is required to open fire into a crowd of innocent people at a school or place of worship, and this takes time to accumulate, so how do we intervene? How do we shift the paradigms in our communities to promote love and cohesion? While crimes of hate continue to occur, how do we respond in a way that spreads compassion rather than exacerbate fear, hatred, and divisiveness? Meditation can help, but I believe our communities need more. I need help understanding how to contribute to a positive outcome. We need to work together to restore love and humanity. Time to meditate.

Feeling My Way Forward

Vipassana helps me connect with my personal path. In addition to clarity between right and wrong, when I’m connected to my practice and the sensations in my body it feels like I can feel God’s plan for me. Logic is an attractive tool because it provides rules and guidelines to follow. I can determine a destination, construct a plan according to the appropriate rules, then set course for the life of my dreams. I can plan out the next 40 years, but life has a way to twisting and turning in unpredictable ways. When I hold on to my logical rules too tightly, these twists and turns seem unfair, and if I surrender to them without hope I can feel depressed and defeated, but if I can surrender with faith and hope, life can become a wonderful unpredictable adventure.

When I connect with the sensations in my body and feel God’s plan for me, I can surrender with faith and hope, but feeling alone can be uncomfortable and unpredictable. Intuition only allows me to see about 10 steps in front of me, and the clarity of my intuition is inconsistent. I may feel that I need an answer now, but it may take weeks or months to gain clarity on a specific issue through meditation. Early in my practice, if I didn’t have clarity I would simply passively wait. This lead me to inaction at times and an inability to connect with other people in my life navigating the same challenges. While promoting my Vipassana intuition, I had made the mistake of undervaluing my brain.

Thinking and feeling are two powerful tools at my disposal. Thinking can provide quick answers to immediate problems and articulating my thoughts allows me to work with other people to find solutions to complex community level problems. Meditation can help me maintain a clear mind and provide long term intuition to determine if I’m heading in the right direction, but my brain helps me put all the pieces together and keep things moving in the right direction. To support the world growing in the right direction, I need to continue learning how to integrate my thoughts and my intuition. I need to continue learning both on the cushion and in the world to discover the best ways I can serve society and help create a loving world. Time to meditate.

 

“A Hidden Gem” – Delaware Welcomes Vipassana

IMG_0167My wife and I moved to Delaware four years ago to support the opening of Dhamma Pubbananda, a new center less than 3 hours away from New York, Washington DC, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. The unique property is nested in a suburban neighborhood surrounded by 30 townhomes and 30 single family homes. When you step outside the Dhamma Hall, just beyond the 6 foot fence is a community of people living simply living their lives. This was an exciting experiment because because the center is easily accessible by so many people, but there was always uncertainty regarding how the Center would be received by the local community. Up until now, the Center has mostly kept to itself with minimal interactions with the community, but an opportunity presented itself to engage the community.

In August, Maria, myself, and several other meditators were asked by a reporter if we would be willing support an article on the Center. While I had concerns about whether I could skillfully represent the mission of the Center in a way that would be received correctly and positively, I decided to give it a try with the support of our Center Teacher. Several weeks later I was shocked and excited to see my face in the featured picture on the cover of the Sunday Life section of The News Journal with the caption, “A Hidden Gem.”  The article (found online here) skillfully reflects the positive mission of the Center and includes a wonderful video about Vipassana online. As mindfulness and meditation spread throughout Delaware, I’m excited that the local community now knows it has a meditation gem in its backyard. I’m excited to continue riding the wave as dhamma spreads in our world. Time to meditate.

Rediscovering Dhamma Every Day

Goenka emphasized the idea of protecting and preserving the pure teachings of Dhamma for generations to come. For years I received this as direction to protect and preserve the 10-day course format and insulate this experience from the chaos of the world, but this is not at the heart of dhamma as I currently understand it. Every day we sit to discover the truth within our own body. Each of us holds the secrets of universal truth within us, and Vipassana is the tool that helps us find it. If we simply enforce the rules that were passed down to us we will lose the essence of truth. Instead, we must be passionate learners who question, analyze, and evaluate every aspect of our experience so we can deeply understand the nuances of dhamma and truth. With experience these rules become supportive guides, but simply accepting and enforcing them will lead to blind faith.

After sitting a few 10-day courses, I accepted this responsibility of protecting the pure dhamma as if I was a wise carrier of the truth. Goenka was a protector. Senior Teachers should be protectors. But I’m simply a student trying to learn and grow every day. To achieve the deep understanding of dhamma that our teachers have, I need to tap into my authentic truth and grow from my personal platform. As a naive protector, I tended to push the non-meditators in my life away, but as an explorer of truth and love, I share a common bond with many different types of people. I am grateful that many advanced teachers have protected and preserved the teachings of dhamma since the days of Buddha, and I understand the importance of obeying the guidelines of my teachers, but I am not a protector. I am an explorer of truth and love, and meditation is showing me the path forward. Instead of driving people away, I’ve found this perspective to be inspiring and inviting to all the people in my life. Maybe it will help you too. Time to meditate.

Stuck Between Two Worlds

Meditating in Goenka’s tradition is isolating. You attend a silent 10 day retreat full of profound internal discovery, and you return home to a life that supports a different purpose. You look for support from group sittings, but usually there isn’t one close by or the local sitting is poorly attended. You might find some support from a meditation app, but you still feel like you’re living two lives: your life on the cushion and your life in the world. Most resolve this disparity by either stopping meditation or isolating themselves; Neither option is ideal.

By moving to Delaware and supporting a new Center, I thought I finally figured out a way to do both, but to date, it hasn’t been easy. Now in its 4th year, Dhamma Pubbananda continues to grow, but the constant need for servers makes it feel more like a personal drain than a support. I repeatedly cycle between being over-consumed by the Center and avoiding all Center responsibilities. It feels like the Center is always in survival mode, and this prevents the healthy environment that would be conducive to building supportive relationships.

The idealist in me believes that the Center just needs a few more years to establish itself; The pessimist struggles to justify the turmoil this startup phase creates in certain individual’s lives. Life is full of complicated challenges, and I still believe that Vipassana offers more hope than difficulty, but it’s clear that with the current setup, only the most dedicated meditators can successfully navigate the arduous path set forth by Goenka. If Vipassana is going to establish itself with the general public, we’re going to need to find better ways to provide uplifting relationships to newcomers. I think there’s more to it than simply continuing to meditate and trusting dhamma to fix it. We need to work together to formulate new strategies for success knowing that some strategies will fail. We need to be flexible to adapt to the new challenges of today’s world. Together, I believe we can find a positive path forward for our tradition. Time to meditate.

Helping the World

Taking 10 days to sit a Vipassana course is hard. Sitting 2 hours a day is even harder. But there is a hunger in our society to learn more about meditation. Our society is deteriorating because of the abundance of anger, fear, greed, stress, and anxiety, and meditation can directly reduce all of these negative qualities. It’s time for Vipassana meditators to join the conversation of how to help our society. There is an abundance of research showing that small amounts of breath observation can have a profound impact on a person’s quality of life. Mindfulness is spreading, but many of the people teaching it have far less training regarding students of Goenka. We have wisdom to contribute, and we should take it into our communities rather than wait for people to come to a course.

We also have a lot to learn about how to teach Anapana. Goenka focussed on perfecting the 10 day course, and only late in his life did he create the Anapana for all video. Other groups have been experimenting with how to transmit breath awareness training to diverse populations, and some have perfected their techniques. We shouldn’t let our egos prevent us from learning from them. A math professor can learn teaching techniques from a high school teacher even though the teacher has a limited understanding of higher level math. The world needs dhamma, and people are searching for answers. Let’s find new ways to help people see the benefits of meditation. This may help them to develop the strength and confidence to sit a 10 day course and grown their daily practice. Time to meditate.