Distracted By Meditation

Somewhere along the journey of supporting the spread of Vipassana I started thinking like a worker instead of a dhamma worker. Presented with too much work for to little time, I returned to problem solving in my head instead leaving the heavy lifting to dhamma. I like mental challenges so the various obstacles were little games for me to solve, but dhamma isn’t a puzzle to be solved. It’s the natural law which is beyond my comprehension. It’s something I should surrender to, but that’s a bit hard on my ego. On the surface my life is great, so why should I keep walking down the dark tunnel full of difficulties?

I continued my daily sittings but I was far from sensations in my daily activities. I’m trusting my intellect to support the spread of dhamma through the Center, but life is getting a little bumpy. I’m encouraging others to practice this valuable meditation, but I’m so focused on the meditation that I’ve lost my connection t dhamma in my life. Vipassana isn’t just about learning to meditate. Vipassana is a tool that helps one discover a better way of life. By surrendering to dhamma, I’m surrendering my ego that’s developed through my life’s successes. I’m learning how to love, and act through this love. Society challenges me to strive for titles and accomplishments and I’m reluctant to simply give them back, but love is connected to this surrender, and I believe love is what will help heal the world.

While pushing the spread of meditation, I’ve pushed some people away. As I’ve reintegrated my life into the mainstream, I’m susceptible to many distractions. I must be diligent to continue striving for love. Love inspires people to dream, believe, and grow. It might not lead an individual to meditate, but if a person is following the light within they are walking in the right direction. Who am I to tell them what their heart is telling them. I support their journey just as I trust my own, and believe my journey is meant to be supported by vipassana and dhamma. Time to meditate.

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Nate Kretzschmar

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Introduction by Ryan Shelton: I met Nate in 2008 on a random Saturday afternoon at a restaurant in Carrboro, North Carolina.  We hit it off immediately spending the next 14 hours on a wild adventure that included kick ball, dancing, amateur boxing, and failing to balance on aluminum cans. Little did I know that Nate would change the direction of my life by introducing me to Vipassana and inviting me to sit my first course in 2010 at Dhamma Patapa. Dhamma has been an important part of both of our lives and our relationship ever since.

Dhamma Story: I first heard about Vipassana in 2005 while house-sitting for a friend of mine. I didn’t have TV at my house, so I stayed up late one night channel surfing, and stumbled across the documentary ‘Doing Time, Doing Vipassana’ about courses being offered in a huge maximum security prison in India. I was really inspired by the film and almost immediately signed up for my first course, which I sat a couple of months later at Marywood Retreat Center (a rented facility) in Jacksonville, FL. As with many people, that first course changed my life, and soon I was sitting regularly and doing long-term service, which culminated a with a 5 year stint as center manager at the Southeast Vipassana Center in Jesup, GA as it was just getting off the ground. While I was there I was honored to be able to serve at Donaldson Correctional Facility as part of the North American Prison Trust, and give back in a way to inmates, who had been my initial inspiration to sit. I served children’s and teen courses in addition to the many 10-day courses, and was fortunate to develop my practice as part of a seamless whole integrated into my daily work routine as on-site manager. I met my wife, a Vipassana meditator as well, while at the center, and now am the happy father of a lovely 13-year old step-daughter and 1-year old son. Vipassana has dramatically changed our family’s lives and continues to be a bedrock influence in maintaining our efforts at harmoniously interacting with each other and the world.

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New Life Goals

Three years ago I had a mission: create a life near an urban meditation center and help dhamma spread. This mission drove my wife and I to move to a new city, support the birth of a new Center, buy a house, and establish ourselves in new careers. I’m amazed how successful we were with this massive transition and now it’s time to create new goals. The struggle is that some of my assumptions with this new life have not been accurate.

I assumed that having an accessible meditation center would allow dhamma to leach into the surrounding community. I assumed serious meditators would flock to Delaware for the opportunity to integrate a serious dhamma life with work and family. I assumed that students at my school would be inspired to meditate if I simply shared some of my experiences. All of these assumptions are either incorrect or developing at a much slower rate than I anticipated. We took a big risk and I expected dhamma to figure everything else out for us. While we created the foundation for a healthy dhammic life here, I’m still trying to discover what exactly that looks like.

Five years ago I started this blog to help me navigate the confusing integration of Vipassana into my daily life. Today I’m hoping that writing will again help me to find clarity in my life. I’m not sure how my life will evolve from this moment, but I hope that sharing my journey will provide support for others struggling with similar challenges. Time to meditate.

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Ryan Shelton

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Introduction: This is the first post of the Friendship Chain.

Dhamma Story: One of my biggest dhamma adventures was helping Dhamma Delaware become a Center. I was finishing graduate school at University of North Carolina, and I had a strong desire to create a householder’s life near a Vipassana Center. Since most Vipassana Centers are long distances from urban centers with job opportunities, my fiancee (now my wife) and I were struggling to find a plan that worked for us. When a property was purchased in Delaware for a new Center only 30 minutes from Philadelphia, we were drawn to give it a try.

The property that was purchased in late 2013 had 5 structurally sound buildings that had been abandoned for many years. All of interior utilities had been stripped, the walls and ceilings were crumbling, and the ground was covered with trash and drug paraphernalia. I moved onsite in July living in a travel trailer, buying drinking water, showering at the YMCA, and going to various local chain restaurants for their wifi. Two others quickly followed me, and we slowly added electricity, internet, phones, water, and plumbing. With the help of many hands supporting from the outside, we transformed the first dilapidated building into a residence that could support 15 student single gender courses, holding our first course in November of 2014. My fiancee moved up in January of 2015.

In July of 2015 my wife and I got married, bought a beautiful house, and both found great jobs in Wilmington, Delaware. Our entire lives were within 15 minutes of this brand new Meditation Center. We are still amazed that after jumping into a project we knew very little about, meeting the local meditators for the first time after we arrived, and leaning heavily on Dhamma to guide us in the right direction, that everything worked out as wonderfully as it did. The Center expanded to 60 students in January of 2016, and there is already work being done on a 3rd building. It’s hard to say where this adventure will lead us next, but it has been a fun ride.

Dhamma Friends: Nate Kretzschmar, Aaron Cashman, Mark Hoefer, Jonathan Penn

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Friendship Chain

One of the most important assets on the dhamma path is friendship. In a world unfamiliar with the benefits of meditating 2 hours a day, it can be hard to find people to walk with on this life altering journey. In the early stages, and sometimes even later on, this practice can feel isolating and lonely. Since the number of people on the path is small, the relationships forged along the journey are deep and strong. If you continue on the path long enough, serving at your local Center when you can, you start seeing similar faces. These similar faces will develop into dhamma friendships, and these friendships will be the foundation of your dhamma community.

To help inspire you to continue along the path of dhamma, I’m going to start a Friendship Chain, sharing the friendships and stories that myself and others have accumulated along the way. After sharing one of my dhamma stories, I’ll invite a few of my friends to share one of their dhamma stories. I will then ask my friends to introduce a few of their dhamma friends to do the same. I hope this will start a long chain of stories passed from one friend to the next as we travel across the country and beyond through the diverse dhamma community.

The Dhamma Chain will start next week here.

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Start Again

by Kendra Mulgrew

she’s starting again
with another chance of a new beginning after the end was found.

& as always, the present chapter of the book she holds unfolding
reads, “as it is.”
for it this way for a reason they say.
so she erases all those memories
and starts again.

ahh, freshness at last,
but the moment has past
so she lets it go.

even if it’s a story told with harmony
she thought no lines were needed,
but she had to learn the hard way that boundaries sure do come in handy
when defining the rules
that are hers for the making
instead of taking those she was told.

so she prepares to hold on tight
as she starts again.

for the journey’s never ending
until she says, “the end,”
with a strong determination to bow out of everything she could’ve done
the decision to sit
cause she knows it’s all been done
& there’s nothing left to do.

simply put – there’s no more fruit.

even if she can find
sweetness inside
she knows the mind plays tricks
and if she thinks it isn’t it probably is.

“this must be the end,” she says,
but it starts again anyways.

detoxicated from the medicine
the seeds of Dhamma have reeled her in.
there’s a sense of freedom at last with what she already knew…
the truth.

for somewhere along the way she forgot
the gift of creation is an art,
but now she feel the shift from inside
the starting breath so wide
open and expansive
from beginningless time.

as she breathes she sees
that Dhamma plays no tricks nor deceives.
there are no secrets, nor lies.
only, “pure love…compassionate love…”

having gratitude for her teacher,
& compassionate love for all beings
she bows down saying, “sadhu”,
but even if she agrees that was very well spoken
& understands the universe is just joking
she knows she must work very seriously…
patiently and persistently
again, and again, and again.

she doesn’t have to listen,
as her job is just to observe,
while she lets the Dhamma do it’s job…
sound absurd?

but she’s tried to make her own rules
all the while knowing there are boundaries within Nature’s truths.
now there’s wisdom that it has her back if she has it’s.
this right type of awareness brings a more profound bliss.

like two wings of a bird equanimous sama sati
brings her suffering to an end.
yet another breath comes
so she starts again.

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Virtual Group Sittings

While Goenka’s Organization has done an amazing job introducing Vipassana around the world through 10-day courses, I always hoped they would find new ways to support old students with their daily practice. Today, I’m excited to see their new Virtual Group Sitting program. Students from around the world can download an app to their smartphone, and after a simple setup, call into virtual group sittings from their home. While the experience is not the same as sharing a meditation hall with other students, I do feel connected to the larger Vipassana community when using the app, and hearing everyone say “goodbye” and “thank you” after the sitting confirms it. There are currently 10 group sittings every day in English, and I suspect it will grow into more time slots and different languages with time. If you would like more information, check out this article: http://www.ny.us.dhamma.org/virtual-daily-group-sittings/

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The Struggle to Stay Universal

One component of Vipassana that I’ve been attracted to is the universal nature of the practice. I thougth, “Everyone can observe breath and sensations to learn about themselves so there’s no reason to worry about forming a sect.” Recently, I’ve thought about how the introduction of vocabulary like “dhamma” and the idea that this is the only path to liberation introduces some sectarian tension. By introducing unique vocabulary and a specific technique while qualifying the path as the only complete path to liberation, I feel a natural separation between this path and other faiths or belief systems. When thinking in terms of “growing in dhamma,” it doesn’t feel particularly universal.

I’ve also struggled with relying on dhamma to provide all the solution in my life. Instead of actively grappling with and finding solutions to challenges, I passively wait for dhamma to present a particular path. While this has kept me out of trouble, helped me to develop patience, and has often resulted in positive life choices, I’m starting to feel a little disengaged from the rest of the world around me. While meditation is important, continuing to invest in my family, career, and community feel equally important. In order to connect with the challenges and struggles of the people in my life, I need to connect with their process. This personal connection is so important, and by hiding behind meditation, I’m missing this opportunity to connect on a human level.

Instead of viewing dhamma as the universal truth that everyone should be striving towards, it feels more universal to strive for unconditional love. Most religions, self help books, and individual adventurers are all striving in their own way for the experience of unconditional love. Each person is discovering their own path to draw closer to unconditional love, and this makes it feel universal. I can talk to Christians, Muslims, Atheists, Buddhists, and Jews about unconditional love, and everyone has a story of how it connects to their lives. I can talk about how meditation draws me closer to unconditional love and my belief that it can help others in the same way regardless of their path. Vipassana becomes a supplement instead of the belief of the Goenka sect. Life takes everyone on an exotic adventure to discover unconditional love. Some journeys may include Vipassana and some may not. The universal connection is the growth towards universal unconditional love. At least that’s my current feeling. Time to meditate.

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The Role of the Rich White Guy

     On a fundamental level, I think everyone wants to feel loved. The paradox is that in order to get others to love you, you must love them first. To be able to love someone else, you need to love yourself. To love yourself, you need to learn how to accept yourself and your current reality. Love grounded in truth and reality transforms into the all powerful Unconditional Love. Once your perspective is grounded in unconditional love for yourself, your expectations and goals naturally become practical and attainable, and you’re suddenly on an enjoyable path of growth and connection. If a group or community can all ground their reality in truth and unconditional love, I believe awesome things will happen naturally.
     The power of deep meditation is the opportunity to analyze oneself on a deeper and deeper level. Naturally, one is forced to face inner truths that are normally avoided by running through the rat race of life. If you keep meditating and sitting with these painful inner truths, you learn how to relax and accept yourself and others, because it’s the only way to alleviate the pain. Slowly but surely, your ability to love unconditionally grows.
     As a rich white guy, the most powerful thing I can do for my community is support a space where anyone can take on this enormous challenge of self discovery and self acceptance. This support can be financial, through service, or simply by trying to live in the right way. While this process is very personal, going through it together is incredibly bonding. I dream that these loving bonds will leak into the larger community.
     I’m not sure if this makes any sense to you, or resonates at all with your life experience, but it’s the foundation of how this rich white guy tries to live his life. Do with it what you will. Time to meditate.
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The future I live in now

When I was a young adult the ‘future’ held the promise of transformation of a better life to the one I was living. Everything was in the future: work would only happen if I could get the funding; the places I would visit when I had someone to travel with; the people I would reconnect with when I was feeling better about myself; the skills I would make the time to learn when I felt more motivated. The only problem was nothing much changed. I believed that somehow in the future I would become a better version of me,  but a version of me that had no real connection to who I was in the present or reality.

Discovering Vipassana meditation and making it part of my day to day life helped me to see the reality as it is, it also helped me realise how much my fixation with the future stopped me being in the present and making the most of it.

Applying this learning to my current life – my wife, daughter and I recently moved into a new home. It is full with boxes that need to be unpacked and walls that need to be knocked down. It is down to me and my wife to make this space our home. Simply believing the future will magically make this happen, is a reality I know now through experience does not exist. It is down to me, not circumstance, to make it into a place where happy memories can be born.

When we first moved in, my wife and I went through different phases of thinking we had made an awful mistake, that we should never have moved. As you can imagine there was little time or space to meditate, but one evening I was able to make the most of the warm weather and to go out into our beautiful (but overgrown) garden and close my eyes for almost an hour.

All the noise in my head related to everything that had to be done went quiet, as I entered the flow I recognised that my future, which once was everything, was now of little importance. It was as if all the bright lights that used illuminate its front, making it so attractive, one by one turned off.

The future I live in now is what I make of it – no big startling revelation for any of you who have done any personal development, but finally I got it !

‘…stop thinking and concentrate on the breath’ I reminded myself just before my wife came and joined me in our new garden.

 

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Year 2 as a Delaware High School Teacher

Life keeps moving along. I’ve got some good news to report. Dhamma Delaware is working on a huge expansion which will increase capacity from 15 to around 60 students. After a year away from the Center, I’ve accepted an invitation to join the Trust. The Catholic High School I teach at will be starting the Second 30-Day Meditation Challenge at the end of September.

These 3 events are helping to solidify the presence of Dhamma in Wilmington, Delaware and in my normal life. Since I started meditating, I’ve tended to be consumed by meditation or be pushing it away to create space for work and relationships. Now I’m starting to succeed at integrating it into a traditional life. I teach high school science during the week, go to the Center to meditate on the weekends, and have enough time to fit in connecting with family and friends over some fun activities. Even more significant is that everyone at my school knows how much time I spend meditating, but it’s accepted as my quirky hobby.

With the Center capacity quadrupling, I’m curious to witness how Dhamma and the Wilmington community grow together. I didn’t expect 400 people a year completing courses to have a community level impact, but 1600 people a year? That might get the the attention of the larger community. I’m excited to be a part of it, and I’m excited to see how it unfolds. As the first urban Center, I hope it’s a success because a lot of people will benefit if it works.  Time to meditate.

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A lovely hug

Even before Joely or JJ, my daughter, was born nearly two years ago, I struggled with  prioritising making two hours available for meditation every day. But most days, first thing before the day had begun, I would make sure I got onto my mat for an hour. In addition, blessed to be living in a neighborhood with an active Vipassana community, I was able to regularly sit with others; and for five important years, annually I sat or served on a ten day course. In short it was a big part of my life.

My experience of becoming a parent has been that everything that I once held sacred and essential to being me just fell away, and in its place became the need and desire to use every spare shred of energy and second of time on being there for my family.

Recently, I was able to meditate properly for the first time since JJ was born. Thanks to the Dhamma Shed which has begun to host monthly one day Vipassana courses, I was able to meditate from 9am-5:30pm, with a lovely lunch in-between. Although my time on the mat was challenging, the time flew by.

When I got home we had a Skype call with a dear friend who lives far away. As to be expected, speaking was difficult. All I wanted to do was to close my eyes and go to that place deep inside I re-discovered during my day of mediation. But something happened that has never happened before: JJ climbed onto me and held me tight, as if in an embrace for the duration of the Skype call that lasted an hour. As you can imagine all of my sensations exploded.

Since this experience, I have been trying to understand ‘it’ in the context of my difficulties in being able to prioritise my time and energy to get back to my mat and meditate regularly again.

On one level it gives validation – I could easily use this ‘story’ to justify why I should meditate rather than enjoy a beautiful sunny day with my wife and daughter.

On another level, with my understanding of equanimity, a way of being I only know of because of Vipassana, I understand that this thinking can lead to disappointment and ‘misery’ if it does not happen again. I loved JJ hugging me for a whole hour, I was able to be fully aware how wonderful it was, not only for me and my ego, but for us as a family growing together. I also understand that for me one of the big reasons I must find a way to keep up a daily practice is to help me keep a balanced mind. My goal as a parent is to love her as much when she decides to throw a pot of yogurt over me as I did when she hugged me for an hour.

Not easy, neither is Vipassana.

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Love the World, Don’t Try to Change It

As a youth, I wanted to change the world. More accurately, I wanted to fix it to my desired state, and be the glorious hero. On my quest, I acknowledged the failures of our world, developed the ego required to know what’s best for others, and the nurtured the arrogance that I could change people to my will. Instead of making the world a better place I cultivated resentment, disappointment, and fatigue. Through this process, I discovered many inadequacies with the goal of changing the world.

In the process of licking my wounds, I discovered meditation. Deep down I still had a strong belief that the world was full of failures that needed to be fixed, and I was hoping to find the answers in my protected meditation bubble. More honestly, I hoped that by meditating, and supporting the meditation organization, that meditation would fix the world. While meditation encouraged me to accept myself and the people around me as they are, I’ve still been looking for the solution to the worlds problems, until it clicked. There’s nothing wrong with the world. There’s nothing right with the world. The world just is. The reality of this moment is simply the reality of this moment, and I can either accept it or reject it.

But what are we supposed to do if we’re not trying to fix, change, and solve the world’s problems? The truth is, I have no control over the world. I often don’t even have control over myself. So I’m left with this choice of accepting this reality or rejecting it. That’s all I can do. If you take the challenging path of accepting reality as it is, you will discover an amazing power. This complete acceptance is call unconditional love, and unconditional love is inspiring. When loved, people become motivated to grow, heal, help, and accept. I’m not changing anyone, but by accepting individuals for the beautiful beings that they are, they can be inspired to accept and love themselves. This will naturally dissolve existing impurities while cultivating positive qualities.

Meditation isn’t going to change the world, but it can help people accept and love themselves and the world around them. This unconditional love will help us grow as individuals, and as a community. What we are today is amazing, and tomorrow we can become something even better. Time to meditate.

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Everyone Can Be Happy If We Stop Trying to Win

Survival of the fittest is awesome because it turns everything into a game. If I’m bigger, faster, and stronger, I will win and survive. I can spend my whole life playing endless games to acquire wealth, fame, and power. Unfortunately, this this scientific theory that we dedicate our lives to applies to species, not individuals. The truth is, none of us survive. No matter how we choose to live our lives, we are all going to die. When I remember this reality, these games of accumulation become meaningless. What am I trying to win? And am I actually struggling to survive?

A major problem with structuring our lives in the framework of games is that while someone will win, at least one person, and often many people, will lose. And losing is miserable. I can lose a simple card game and suddenly I feel like I’ve failed at life. By constantly competing to create a pecking order through grades, income, house size, or twitter followers, we are creating an abundance of miserable people.

So what if we stopped playing games and started living by the rules of reality? We accept that life is finite, skills come and go, and resources are finite. Instead of trying to stand on someone’s shoulders to feel self worth, we start realizing that we can join the same team and work towards being happy. Instead of hording resources, we use our resources to help our communities. Instead of forcing individuals to fight over limited jobs, we help people find a way to contribute. Instead of expending energy to create an artificial reality, we can start working to accept reality as it is. Peace isn’t something you go out and get. It’s something you receive when you let go of your attachments. Meditation can help us to find peace within so we can start to share the path to peace with others. Sharing this path is what will bring lasting happiness. Time to meditate.

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Love People, Fight Harmful Qualities

It’s extremely easy to react negatively to adverse situations and blame others for our circumstances, but the anger we project on others only makes situations worse. If we want to live in a loving environment, we need to love the people around us. We need to love their negative qualities, their poor decisions, and all their past mistakes. This love allows the me to accept the current reality and support the individual acting poorly. When I’m acting from a place of weakness, external support may give me the strength to change, so I hope my support does the same for others.

It’s not the individual that is producing the negative behavior. It’s their sankaras of the past manifesting themselves in a way that is overpowering the individual. They need your help, energy, and support to grow. It’s not easy to modify old habit patterns. It takes time and consistent effort, but if we work together, we can make a difference.

We need to produce answers that help everyone win. When I go to a car dealership, it seems that both parties are trying to take advantage of the other. If they overcharge me, they’re happy with the extra profits. I would also be happy to take the car for below market value. But what if we managed to recognize that I want to support the dealer making a living while they appreciate being able to provide me with transportation. It seems like this typically polarizing situation can be framed as a win-win scenario where both parties can walk away happy. Imagine what your community would be like if everyone focused on growing together? How do we work towards a more selfless society? I’m not sure, but I believe meditation can help. Time to meditate.

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Connecting the Dots

While I’ve experienced the benefits of meditation with my own experience, it bothers me that I can’t figure out the connections. When I’m meditating 2 hours a day, my life trends upward. If my wife or I start missing our sittings, our lives just go in circles and we become agitated by the details of life. As a scientist, I like seeing the action-reaction pairs. When I water my plants, they grow. If I neglect them, they die. If I push the gas pedal, I move forward. When I hit the brakes, I stop. With meditation, it’s more like, if I meditate two hours a day for the next 3 months, I know my family relationships will improve. That doesn’t make any sense!

With my plants or my car, I’m acting directly on the object and seeing the result. With meditation, I’m sitting in a room by myself for many hours, which has nothing to do with my relatives, but I interact with them, things keep improving. Even more frustrating is that when I try to help (or change) a relative, it backfires and typically makes situations worse. So, when I try, I fail, but when I do nothing, I succeed. Wait, what?

The scientist in me has mostly given up trying to understand. If things are working, what is there to complain about? By overthinking it, I’m simply tying new knots that meditation is working to unravel. Maybe someday I’ll develop a deep enough awareness to see these subtle connections, but for now, I’m just going to roll with it. Time to meditate.

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Confidence is Complicated

Learning Vipassana caused me to stop evaluating my life based on my accomplishments in the world and to start looking inside. While my resume looked pretty good, I discovered that I was carrying an abundance of anger, sadness, and fear. My confidence dissipated as I reflected on the misery I brought to the people around me throughout my life. Its been a long road, but I’ve worked through most of the deepest rooted negative emotions as they manifested as painful gross sankaras. I’m not prancing around in bonga, but the gross sensations that come up are less painful and pass away more quickly.

The difficulty now is living my new way of life with confidence. I know that following precepts and meditating 2 hours a day is the healthiest way for me to live, but since it’s so unusual, I feel like I’m on an island. Confidence often comes from knowing I have the support of family or friends, but when I’m doing something that few understand, it’s harder to feel the supported stability. Maybe I’m talking more about comfort than confidence. Living Vipassana is rarely comfortable. I’m constantly challenged by the practice to go deeper within myself to draw my inner misery to the surface and face it. That’s basically the opposite of comfort, but I know it’s the right thing for me to be doing.

For many years, the struggles caused by looking within required all of my braveness. Now I’m feeling the drive to bring my new dhammic self into new environments. I used to salivate at the thrill of meeting new people and taking on new adventures. Now that I value being open and completely honest, I feel more vulnerable exploring, but I think this is the new adventure. Hopefully I’m brave enough to accept it. Time to meditate.

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Becoming a Householder

Another chapter in my Vipassana journey is beginning as some previous chapters are coming to a close. This past year has not been about Vipassana. From 2010 to 2015, embracing and understanding Vipassana were at the core of my life mission. After completing a year of service at Dhamma Delaware in the summer of 2015, my focus turned to establishing a householders life. I had been drifting around the east coast between Connecticut, North Carolina, Georgia, and Delaware, allowing service and growth to guide me, but I needed to establish a householders life if I really wanted to make an impact.

With a budding new Center, lots of job opportunities, and nature and cities close by, we liked the possibilities and decided to establish our lives in Wilmington, Delaware. We got married, bought a house, and both started new jobs in a 30 day span last summer. Sitting in our house today, the whole experience is still a blur and just seems ridiculous. Could we actually transition to such a grounded and seemingly permanent situation so quickly? Well, one year later, all those intuitive vibrations that convinced us to take the leap are still there. We both had successful first years at our job, we love our house, and we love being together. My first year of teaching high school science was better than expected. I was anticipating a steep and painful learning curve, but a strong, healthy, and supportive school community combined with my extensive experience working with kids helped make it a pleasant experience.  We are regular old householders, and it’s great!

This transition did squeeze Dhamma (and this blog) to the back burner. I continued to meditate at least one hour a day, and have since returned to 2 hours a day, but I did very little service and was disconnected from the whole dhamma world. Now that I feel rooted and strong in my householder life, I’m finding some time and energy opening up in my life. I’m excited to discover where my volition takes me and how Dhamma fits in. Only time will tell. Time to meditate.

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Meet My Wife

Start again! I started this blog in 2012 to share my journey through the tumultuous beginnings of my Vipassana adventure. Establishing a daily practice of 2 hours a day was one of the most difficult challenges of my life, but the silver lining and my biggest support throughout this journey has been my now wife, Maria Shelton. I met her 4 years ago under a tree in North Carolina immediately after completing 7 months of service at Dhamma Patapa. Maria knew little about meditation and had never heard of S.N. Goenka, but on that day, she began an amazing journey with me along the path of Dhamma. Maria quickly established a daily practice of Anapana. 2 years later, she bravely relocated with me to Delaware to help support the start Dhamma Delaware. Recently she sat her third 10-day course with me and my Mom (her first course!) at Dhamma Dhara. Last week, she decided to start writing about her journey on this blog. She has some amazing stories to share, so please give her your support as she bravely enters the world of blogging. Time to meditate.

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Rocky, But Beneficial

I just completed my third 10-day Vipassana course a couple of days ago. It’s hard to believe that I’m a legitimate old student now—I remember regarding the old students with great awe during my first course three years ago. And yet, I am still such a fledgling on the path. I still looked with awe at the old student in front of me in the first row, who sat serenely like a statue of Buddha throughout every single sitting—and even the discourses!! I’m not there yet.

This course was tough. I brought much more agitation and reactiveness to this course than either of my first two courses, due to significant stress in my work life and personal life in recent months. (Not surprisingly, the increased stress coincided squarely with the dwindling and near complete evaporation of my daily practice…) My mind was, indeed, a wild and untameable elephant.

Ultimately, though, while I doubted my progress at various points during the course, in the end I was certain of my benefit. My equanimity has grown. I am relieved, and my faith strengthened that continuity is, indeed, the secret to success, in the words of Goenkaji.

I am back on the wagon. Now back home, I successfully sat my two hours today, and my compass in life feels decidedly realigned. Work and personal life stressors are shifting in the right direction. Dhamma works.

Hang in there, folks!

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Deliberately NOT sitting

Today I’m deliberately NOT going to sit.  I think it will be a good idea.  I will start my daily sits again tomorrow, but today I won’t.  Why?

Well, since I’ve made this claim to myself, I’ve already started to ‘want’ to sit.  My thoughts are intent on getting my daily sits in, but I don’t want my intention to sit to become robotic. So, by intently not sitting today, I am training my mind to be more flexible and more equanimous.  I am watching my uncomfortable attitude toward missing my daily meditations.

I think this is fun.  I would add helpful to that list, but that’s part of the reason why I’m not sitting.  I think sitting today is going to help me.  Thinking that it’s going to do anything for the ‘me’ I’m referring to, is just not true.  So, by skipping my sits today, on purpose, I am playing with the idea that meditation will help me get over things in my life.  I’m giving that idea no credit to being true.  If I were to give in and sit, now that I’ve made this intent on not sitting, I would be meditating for the wrong reason.

This is fun.  It’s playing with the practice and checking in on a moment to moment level regardless of getting the sits in.  Oddly, because of this act of not sitting today, I think my sits will be new and refreshed and less robotic tomorrow.  That’s back to thinking they will help me again.  Perhaps they will just be as fun.  I’ll see when it’s there.  Without any preconceived ideas about what it will do for me, I will sit… tomorrow.

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Understand what you’re doing

It took me a while to understand what I was doing.  Then, it came to me.  What I was doing was understanding what I was doing.  For a while, I was in the process of learning what to do.  This was with my life, in a sense, but also more focused on the pursuit of learning how to draw and paint as a professional artist.

I am not a professional artist, yet.  I have now understood what I was looking at all this time.  I think this is what Vipassana is.  It is not changing what you are doing, necessarily, but seeing that change take place.  Seeing the happening happen.  I think this translates into most things that anyone would like to learn.  It needs to be seen, so that you can understand what to do, to know what to do.

I went to a dance course this last summer.  At the end of the course, the instructor said, “Now you know what you don’t know.”  Vipassana brings you into the unknown with each sit and with all the attention on your body.  Who knows what sensation will come next?  Not I!  It’s unknown, which is why it is rewarding and also why it is tough.

When you can see a path to journey, you can take that path.  It took me a while to see the path I wanted to take with my drawing and painting.  I had to listen to a lot of talks and practice a lot before I understood what I could do with it, or what didn’t serve me in learning it.  This is where I am now with that and that my understanding of this will change more, but I’m with that change now.  I’m beginning my journey, with my own guidance, into the unknown.  I have a stronger ‘seeing’ or understanding of what it is I need to understand.  It’s just as one sits their first Vipassana course.  Often, it takes you to a new level of seeing.  I think there is no way that it won’t, as long as you’re practicing properly.  The proper practice is the seeing, and that is the changing.

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Liveliness and Livelihood

I have been having trouble deciding what to do with my life.  Most people think that we should find a career that is something we love to do, so that we can make a livelihood while enjoying ourselves.  This can be useful to look at, but life is more than just what we do for work.  I’m also thinking that the true livelihood is not making a living, but living rightly.  Livelihood is the art of living, that does not need money as part of the equation.

Many will say to follow your passion or to live our your Dharma.  Or in another way, they’ll say to go after what you’ve got talent in.  For example, I’ve been seen by people around me to be a good draftsman and painter for most of my life.  My mom, and others, will say that I should pursue that, because I’m good at it, and I’ve always done it.  In a slight exaggeration, we can joke that the child who starts walking can ‘really get somewhere with that,’ just as someone who does something like play an instrument or draw a picture, can ‘really go places,’ with their art.  We don’t see the pursuit of these things in that silly way.  We don’t see that we are conditioned to think we should find a job, get married and have kids, or pursue things to make money that we may be good at or have done for most of our life.

One of my brothers started playing music when he was quite young.  He was let into the bars to play on stage, and escorted out.  Later on he played with many different bands and became a very good drummer.  He doesn’t play anymore.  Many musicians around the area were struck by this.  “You’ve stopped playing?”  This change completely threw them off of what was.  My dad has often been disappointed by this.  He wonders where my brother could have been if he kept playing.  My brother states, “He thinks I’d be a success if I was playing for drunk people in a club.”  Just because he is not playing, does not mean he will not play ever again, yet that’s what people react to.  It’s strange how our view of things can really alter our relationship to what we are doing or what we think we should do.

To direct your life into an area is a big act.  Some people take their whole life into one direction and specialize in a specific area.  I think that that can be great, but it also feels like a large commitment that should be undertaken for the right reason.  It’s as if one can go into a career for something, but to do that FOR the right livelihood aspect feels conflicting.  That right livelihood must be here now, wherever you are.  I don’t think it’s right if it depends on something, such as a career.  Yet, this is where I get troubled by my questioning of “what should I do with my life?”  I make the idea of career into this static image.  For example, I might go into art still, in the sense of drawing and painting.  It is something that I show continue interest in, and see lots of potential for it for self-growth and understanding.  Paradoxically, when I think I’m going to GET something from doing it, I lose it.  I begin to make an image of myself as an artist that feels lost, because it’s a fragmented view.  It takes away my right liveliness and makes it something fictional.

This is an art I’m still practicing.  The art of seeing what is and of also planning for what can be.  It seems anything I do will be a part of that practice.  Time to meditate.

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10 Minutes a Day

What does it take to bring meditation into your life? How much effort is required to change your life patterns? More and more people are becoming aware of the benefits of meditation, but how do they start a meditation practice? How much time must they invest before they experience the benefits?

Our lives are like freight trains. We’re all going full speed in different directions. Meditation makes individuals aware of a specific path of purification that leads to peace and harmony. The further your current life is from peace and harmony, the more difficult meditation will be. We purify our minds by observing the misery inside of us with patience and equanimity. Repeating this process over and over again allows equanimity to seep into the rest of our lives.

I wonder if 10 minutes a day for 30 days is enough to plant this seed people. Finding 10 days to discover Vipassana is impossible for many people, but 10 minutes a day might be an appropriate and valuable starting point. After 30 days, each individual could decide if they benefited from meditation, and decide if they want to continue with the practice. Some individuals may  decide to meditate for longer periods of time. Some may even be inspired to sit a 10-day course.

In my high school, I’m conducting this 30-day experiment. I’m inviting students to join me for a 10 minute meditation every morning before school starting February 17th. I’m curious to see how many students participate, how many complete the 30-day challenge, and what they think of the experience when it’s over.

Are you have trouble starting a daily practice? Why don’t you join us for the 30 day challenge. If your new to meditation watch this video first (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K5CJLKTn47k). Let me know how your challenge is going in the comments. Time to meditate.

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Sitting in Movement

Every Monday night I go to a movement class.  The movement can be anything.  It can be stillness, like sitting cross-legged and still, or wild movements that spread wide and fast around the room.  It’s called Mandhala Sacred Movement, and the way to go about it is to be still and check in with how your body wants to move.

I think that this type of exercise is very nice with how it relates with Vipassana daily sits.  I have some friends, both Vipassana-goers and not, who don’t like the movement class.  On the Vipassana side, they don’t want to mix it up with the practice of sitting.  On the other side, they don’t understand what it means to move how your body wants to move.

What I get out of the dance is an investigation into my depth.  Usually I am applying Vipassana while moving, whether quickly or in stillness.  Vipassana is one of the best tools for investigating oneself, and I think those who don’t have this tool would have more trouble to investigate while moving.  It is different then Vipassana, because you’re allowed to move and encouraged to listen to how your body wants to do that.  I can see why that would cause some to avoid it, as it differs from sitting without physical movement.

The benefit of this class, for me, is that it gives me a little leeway.  It’s more of a push and pull game with my craving and aversion and chattering mind, then a game of sitting still and watching.  I am always watching and listening to myself in this movement class.  I can move if it feels right, yet I am seeing if I am moving based on some conditioning or if it is a freeing movement in itself.  It is an act of listening and learning.

I think one gets a lot out of being very still for no matter what arises.  That is a deeper way to develop equanimity and this calmness.  Yet, just leaving the space for anything to happen, with the attention to whatever comes, is also an act of equanimity and of change.  I sat on the floor mid-dance last night and a thought came.  It stated, “It’s silly you still think it doesn’t change.”  There, amidst my movement, was the clearest viewing of how everything changes and how the ‘I’ is always expecting what it knows.  Sometimes something like this can be a new way of seeing how we sit, or how to use our sits in another way.

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Blowing the mind with dangerous fire

I was once addicted to marijuana.  It started as a recreational activity which I did with friends.  It inspired me with visions that I could use in my art and ideas that I thought were very unique and astounding while I was high.  Sometimes these ideas helped me when I sobered up to have a new understanding of an aspect of my life.  Most of the time, however, the ideas that I wanted to apply after I had had them, were impractical.  Also, at this time, I was hardly in the state of applying what I learned to life.

As it happens, I started to crave the visions I saw.  I wanted to have more ideas. Consequently, I smoked more and I ended up having many thoughts about thoughts.  The way I’ve described it to friends of mine is that when you are high, you think you are smart.  You think you are coming up with some great thing that is ‘blowing your mind’ and then it usually comes back around to being amazing just because you’re high.  Or the idea looks novel, but it is thinking about thought, and paralyzes the thinker into a roller coaster that is not anywhere near truth or a Dhamma-like change.  It is a battle that you consistently lose, because it is based on craving and aversion.  It may seem like genuine inspiration, but it lacks substance.

This, of course, is my personal experience.  It has nothing to do with anyone else and what they’ve gotten or get from the use of cannabis or any other thing like it.  I used it for recreational use and got addicted.  I was addicted to the craving and aversion, and the plant was my gateway to get there quicker.  It lead me straight onto the chain of ignorance and of chasing sensations.  This was before I had practiced Vipassana, and naturally Vipassana is what began my observing of it and understanding that it was not beneficial to me anymore.  It was also my strength to leave it behind and overcome the ‘need’ for it.

For about a year, it took over my life.  I smoked daily.  I got depressed and anti-social, and generally unintelligent and unresponsive.  I simply wanted to hide away and smoke. It was really difficult to come to terms with the fact that I tortured myself like this.  It was a dead life.  I had to forgive my actions and find peace with which was, in one sense, a wasted year.  In the other sense, it’s a year that propelled me onto the path of Dhamma with determination and a ‘smack to the face’ that it was absolutely the right path for me.

Presently, I don’t do any and I don’t think they are needed at all.  I still sometimes have the idea come up that I would like to go smoke, but the moment the idea comes, it’s gone.  I see how destructive and useless it would be to do, and simply move on.  It’s not a ‘thing’ that sticks anymore.  I see it and that’s all.  These ‘drugs’ have a use, but when taken with an unclear mind, their use is easily misunderstood.  I wouldn’t recommend them to anyone who hasn’t done Vipassana.  And to anyone who has, I also wouldn’t.

A metaphor: The elephant (our mind) isn’t trained to jump through the hoop.  We sit to train it.  Taking a substance is like setting the hoop on fire and pushing the elephant through.  The trained mind will see the fire and be able to avoid it with a concentrated jump and the wisdom to see the danger.  I pushed through the fire, with no wisdom.  In hindsight, I see what I did and why it hurts.  That had a purpose in my life, but it isn’t the way I would suggest.

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Dhamma in My Catholic High School

I started teaching at a Catholic High School in August with the no intention of discussing meditation. I was hired to teach Chemistry and Physics, so that was my focus, but a strange series of events has caused the wheel of dhamma to start turning. When the administration informed me that their primary goal was to reduce student stress, I started talking to different people about my meditation experience.

Within a month, I was in charge of a meditation club that would meet every 2 weeks to practice 10 minutes of Anapana together. Initially there was a reasonable amount of interest, but I was so nervous about getting into trouble that I didn’t give them much instruction. I didn’t want to talk about Buddha, sankaras, or even my own personal experience because I thought the information could be misinterpreted second hand, so I just asked them to focus on their breath with me. Similar to adults, the students other commitments started crowding out their meditation practices, but I never heard one concern or complaint about what I was teaching. This gave me confidence to be a little more bold.

A second opportunity arose when my school was looking for 3 teachers to prepare a Ted Talk type presentation for the students related to stress. I was again nervous, but I started asking inquiring. The campus minister and I decided if I wanted to give a presentation on meditation, it would be smart to practice with a smaller group to see how it was received. I prepared a 35 minute presentation and gave it to both of my Chemistry classes with a few teachers present. The presentation got wonderful reviews, and my classes have decided they want to meditate at the beginning of each class. Again, I received no negative feedback from teachers, parents, or students regarding me lesson.

I just gave my presentation to 200 people. That’s 1/3 of the school. Almost everyone was interested and engaged. When I asked the audience to close their eyes and focus on their breath for 5 minutes, everyone participated. So far the feedback has been incredibly supportive with many students asking questions and expressing interest. Some faculty have commented on how their students were calm and attentive in the classes following my presentation. And still, I’ve received no negative feedback. Over the next month, I’ll be giving he presentation 2 more times so all of the students will see it. I’m not sure where things will go from their, but I’m optimistic that the dhamma wheel will continue to turn. For now, I just need to keep meditating. Time to meditate.

 

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Between Things

Marilyn and Steve snuck up behind me on the boardwalk where I’d been trying to still my fiery brain with the sound of rippling water. I’d seen them here before. They scan the landscape through binoculars for blue herons, and wallow in wonder with every glimpse of one. I wanted to wallow in wonder, too.

Blue herons, they say, prefer to hunt at twilight, often with one foot in the water and one on land, staying still for long stretches of time while waiting for the perfect strike. Blue herons, in other words, are creatures of liminality.

After they’d entertained some of my elementary questions about the birds, Marilyn and Steve offered to lead me to an unobstructed view of the sunset, achievable from some abandoned train track bridge just a short walk away. They struck me as worth following. So that’s what I did, followed familiar strangers onto an old bridge at dusk: neither here nor there, day nor night, but somewhere in between. We, too, are creatures of liminality.

Sitting in stillness, paradoxically, exposes a constant and subtle flux at the heart of experience. Much like standing on a bridge at sunset, though, we can practice welcoming and even appreciating liminality—not for certainty in a world of dichotomies, but for clarity in an experience that can’t be contained by them. There’s a kind of clarity found only in moments of suspension, I think, and however rare and fleeting our awareness of these moments may be, I’m reminded by Marilyn and Steve to keep scanning, to keep rejoicing in every glimpse.

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Returning to Living Vipassana

I stopped writing regularly for this blog about 8 months ago. I had run out of things to say, and there were aspects of my life outside of dhamma that required my focus. Today, I feel new questions surfacing within me, and the answers aren’t obvious. When I started this blog in 2012 I had a similar feeling. While dhamma is not an intellectual exercise, I needed a space to logically process all the changes dhamma was bringing to my life. I found writing helped bring focus to my thoughts.

Sharing my writing has provided different benefits at different times including providing a platform to communicate my changing perspective, an opportunity to connect with other like minded meditators, and hopefully providing some support for individuals facing similar struggles. I think it also boosted my ego at times, for better or worse, to see people from all over the word reading my posts.

Today, I hope that writing and sharing my thoughts will provide similar benefits. I feel that I’m entering a new frontier on my path, and I can use all the help and support I can get. While I’m not sure how long it will last, for now I going to try writing once a week, every Friday. Hopefully the blog continues to benefit me and the people who come in contact with it. Time to meditate.

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Stopping and Snowballing

Last week I started to stop my daily meditations.  By the end of the week I was not getting my two sits in.

This problem reminds me of a poem that was in the book, “The Moon Appears When the Water is Still.”  A monk arrives at a woman’s house and is looking for a place to stay that is out of the rain.  He can’t stay with her, because it would be against his precepts, as she lives alone.  The woman then asks him to lie, and then eat meat, and then take a drink. The poem takes us through his declining of every action that is against his sila, which is implied in the woman’s every request.  At the end of his declines, the woman says, “what can one drink hurt?”  The poem finishes by saying that at the end of the night, all the precepts were broken, because of that one drink.

This is the danger of taking one step in a direction away from Dhamma.  It multiplies.  The daily sits, I’ve noticed, are important to my well-being.  If I miss a day because I’m busy, I might say, “that’s okay, I’ll get it tomorrow.”  Though, if I miss tomorrow, I might say the same thing.  Then, I’ve missed three days, and pretty soon a week’s gone by.  After a week of not getting my daily sits in, I notice that I start to feel more agitated and less equanimous in my daily actions.  It is important to me, to get my daily sits in.  I also think that it is important to be an inspiration to others by sitting daily.  That’s almost an extra incentive to make sure you do it; consider how the example looks to others and that it might help them get their sits in, when you do.

Sometimes you may still lack equanimity and balance of the mind, even when sitting every day.  The mind is a wild animal at times, and we are required to tame it.  As we tame it, it still runs wild.  The difference between not meditating and meditating is that we are dealing with it on a morning and night basis, directly.  It may still come up, just as much, or more, while we sit.  The good thing to notice is that it comes up less and less because of our work; because we meditate.  Time to sit.

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