Diving Into Chaos

I’m impressed by leader like Mother Teresa and Gandhi who walked alongside the weak, sick, and poor communities of our planet and inspired change and love. It’s one thing to be sitting in my apartment, driving my car, and attending graduate school in beautiful Chapel Hill, North Carolina while contributing to my community. It’s a whole other thing to travel to a place full of problems with the intention to help and the ability to follow through on that plan.

I’ve noticed with my meditation practice that when I keep my life simple and clear of distractions it’s much easier to meditate. I feel like I’m more grounded and equanimous in my sittings which allows me to go deeper within myself and pull out buried sankaras (attachments). When I get involved with the chaos of the world my sittings become more difficult: my mind is easily distracted, my sensations are solid and uncomfortable, and I find myself looking at the clock more frequently. So I’ve been wondering whether I’m better served to keep my life simple and safe or if I should push myself to help people with larger difficulties than my own.

I’ve volunteered in Harlem, NY and a border town in California and I learned how quickly someone can get drained and burned out giving to these communities. It’s possible to transition from a person who is helping to someone who needs help rather quickly. I’ve also lived in sheltered affluent communities and university towns and realize how easy it is to forget how many people in this world are truly struggling.

Maybe part of the practice is learning where this balance between over protecting and overextending oneself. Maybe I should put less money into my retirement account and donate more money so everyone can eat. Maybe I should spend more time with my own family and let other people navigate their own struggles. Finding this balance between giving and receiving may require constant evaluation which may be where Vipassana can help.

If I’ve gone a week and my practice is going really smoothly maybe I should take on a bigger challenge within my community. If my sittings have been erratic and frustrating maybe I should focus my efforts a little closer to home. Goenka says that the key to this practice is equanimity. As I continue to strive to make the right choices in my life I will observe whether I’m helping as much as I can while maintaining equanimity. I’ve never consciously thought about it in this way but I think I’ll give it a shot. My goal may be to follow in the footsteps of great people like Mother Teresa and Gandhi but I also need to be realistic when evaluating the strength of my mind to give properly. Meditation can help me strengthen my mind so I can give more in the future and give me feedback so I can pull back when necessary. I guess the solution is just to meditate.

I’m not sure exactly where the balance is but my meditation practice may be telling me.

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About Ryan Shelton

While I'm currently married to a beautiful woman while teaching physics at Padua Academy, these descriptors fail to capture the totality of my adventurous life. I have hiked over 1700 miles, traveled to 5 continents, managed a bakery, started a meditation center, counseled troubled teens, attended Duke, UNC, and Harvard, protected forests as a wildland firefighter, volunteered thousands of hours with Americorps, rafted the Grand Canyon, SCUBA dived on the Great Barrier Reef, and continues to find new adventures. I hope my writing encourages you to pursue your dreams and be the best version of yourself while supporting your communities to work together to solve the current challenges in our world.

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