Start Again

I started this blog six years ago to challenge myself to articulate the many complicated thoughts I had in my head in the early stages of my Vipassana practice. One year ago I discovered that my vision for Vipassana as taught by SN Goenka was different from many within the tradition, so I started to walk a parallel path separate from the organization even while maintaining my daily practice. During that year, I discovered that I could be a strong leader in my community if I spoke my truth from my heart, but also realized that most of my compassionate wisdom had come from Vipassana. I’m returning to this blog because I want to find answers, and I need your help. Our world desperately needs truth and love to overcome our many challenges. I believe Vipassana can help lead us in a better direction, but it’s not currently fulfilling that potential. Let’s put our heads together and see if we can find some solutions. Time to meditate.

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Meditation Can Heal Student Minds and Help Adults Fix Societal Issues

Nine more students killed by a shooter. This time at Santa Fe High School in Texas. Things need to change and I’m not just talking about politics. Our minds are constantly being lured away from reality and soothed by artificial stimulants. We spend much of our free time attached to a device that allows us to escape our reality by diving into artificial stimulants so we can avoid feeling discomfort. The more time we spend consumed by virtual reality, the less time we’re attending to our personal reality, and the more we’re contributing to the escalating mental crisis in our country.

Our world has been changing rapidly, and most feel helpless when considering the complexity of its dysfunction. When confronted by impossible problems, it’s logical to choose to escape reality for something more comfortable, but this becomes the norm, it’s like throwing in the towel on our world, and I’m not ready to do that. Eight years ago I found a solution that has helped me look directly at the problems of our world without being overwhelmed, and to start unpacking and correcting issues in my own life. The solution came from the 2600 year old teachings of Siddhārtha Gautama.

Eight years ago, my healthy father was unexpectedly diagnosed with a stage 4 brain tumor and died 7 months later. Several weeks after the funeral, I attended a silent 10-day meditation retreat offered free to the public at centers all over the world. I knew nothing about meditation at the time, but this emersion course provided experiential education that was clear and profound. My world had been turned upside down, and I was being given clear incremental instructions on how to purify my mind. Step 1 – Establish your morality by make 5 commitments: Don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lie or use harsh words, don’t perform unwholesome sexual acts, and don’t use intoxicants. Step 2 – Quiet and concentrate your mind by focusing on the breath. Step 3 – Feel and accept the current sensations throughout your body and observe how these sensations change, knowing that there is a strong connection between physical sensations and mental health. In ten days, I learned that trying to force change or avoid truths in my mind only makes problems worse, but by simply observing without judgement, mental tensions start surfacing, unpacking, and evaporating. This purification process allowed me to feel a deeper connection to unconditional love in my life, and it has helped tens of thousands of people do the same.

This is not a quick fix and it’s not something you can simply purchase and passively integrate into your life. It is a slow and difficult process that requires you to feel and make peace with all of your mental and physical tensions. My tradition says that 2 hours of meditation a day is the right amount to stay connected to your mind. In American standards, this seems impossible, but if we’re entering a reality where students across our country are simply waiting for the day that a shooter will enter their school, maybe it’s time to try something new. Maybe all the hours we spend competing against one another in school and the workplace could be better utilized purifying our own minds and learning how to work together. Instead of allowing technology to up the ante in our rat race for success, maybe we can let technological advancement make life easier and create more free time so we can be more present in our lives and our relationships.

The mindfulness movement is spreading because a growing number of adults are desperately searching for solutions, and meditation works. One struggle I see is that many organizations are trying to use meditation as a tool to help people cope with the difficult realities of todays world rather than discovering that our current constructs are fundamentally flawed. Instead of adding meditation on top of our current dysfunctional systems, we should be using meditation to understand the fundamental flaws in our society so we can make appropriate changes. Siddhārtha Gautama didn’t teach meditation as a tool to cope with life. He taught a way of life that leads to peace, truth, and happiness based on his scientific understanding of the mind.

To be blunt, I’m not telling everyone to become Buddhist. After 8 years of studying and practicing meditation, I’m no closer to being Buddhist than when I started. Similar to Christianity, there are stories in the scriptures that don’t make sense to me, and I’m not interested in joining intellectual debates discussing why one sect is better than the next. We have enough division in our lives without squabbling over details that are beyond our own experiences. I’m simply sharing that meditation has helped me purify my mind so I can align my life more skillfully with peace, love, unity, compassion, truth, and optimism, and I think it can do the same for others.

Our society is heading in the wrong direction. Anger, fear, greed, and apathy are growing stronger in our world causing many people to feel that our future is doomed. I’m here to tell you that there is another way. Siddhārtha Gautama left the course manual sharing how to align our lives with love, and many experts from all walks of life are transmitting these same lessons today. As individuals, we can decide to follow these lessons and live a better life. If groups of individuals start adopting these core strategies, we can realign the foundation of our society. It won’t be easy, but I know we can do it, so why not try?

Student Social Contract Following Parkland Shooting

Following the school shooting that killed 17 high school students in Parkland, FL, I wrote this social contract to offer support for my students in a confusing time. 263 students signed it. Our children want to come together to help build a better future. Let’s help them!

With this Social Contract, we will build the foundation for a positive future together:

While the Parkland shooting is frightening and devastating, I refuse to allow my life to be overpowered by fear, anger, or helplessness. I understand that there are many factors in this world that I cannot control, but I will not let these outside factors define what my life is about. When I am scared, I will reach out to friends, family, and other adults who can support me to borrow their courage to face my daily challenges with an open heart and open mind. When I am strong, I will provide support and friendship for anyone who needs it. When confronted by adversity, I will join hands with others in my community to face these difficulties together. When a community member offers an opposing opinion from my own, I will listen with an open mind, share based on my best understanding, and unite over the common goal of love. I know that we can build a healthy and inspiring future for our community if we work together. Every day, I will invest my energy into creating a positive future full of optimism, compassion, and innovation for the benefit of all people.

Relationships of Truth Not Perception

Nothing feels better than being accepted for who you are at the deepest levels of your truth. While it’s easy for anyone to appreciate our strengths, individuals who still accept and love us after understanding our darkest moments and witnessing our most hidden weakness are the people we acknowledge as our closest friends. As humans, social connections are pivotal to our happiness. We dress, talk, and act like the people around us because we want to fit in. We often straddle the line of being who we are and being who others want us to be without knowing which parts of us are which. It’s just as easy to get lost in abundant compliments as no compliments at all. We’re continuously searching for our authentic truth beneath the facade of superficiality we present to the world.

As I look out into this world, my stomach turns from the discrepancy between our perceived blissful surface reality and our ominous foundations we are secretly destroying. We pretend that our lives are full of joyful accomplishments while we sulk in our worries for the future. We’re afraid to say what we really feel because we don’t want to be ostracized from our social communities. We spend every waking hour trying to follow the script that was given to us without knowing how the story ends or what we’re trying to accomplish along the way. We’re afraid to question our true intentions because we doubt that people would still like us if they really knew who we were.

Well I have a secret for you: everyone is lonely sometimes, everyone has flaws, and we’re all different. True friends are the people who are willing to listen to your authentic truth and support you no matter what challenges you are facing in your life. These true friends are the ones you will still be in contact with you 5, 10, even 20 years down the road. Those friends who expect you to always be perfect will disappear from your life as soon as difficult struggles appear on your timeline. Struggles are not bad fortune. Struggles are opportunities to grow as an individual and to grow in your relationships. Every life is full of ups and downs. Don’t hide from your struggles, and don’t hide your struggles from your true friends. And when a friend approaches you to discuss a difficult topic, sit with them, hold them, and love them with your whole heart. If you can do that, I promise that they will be there for you when you need them down the road. There are many good people in this world. If one person lets you down, let it go and move on. Keep searching. Keep exploring. Keep living, no matter what.

We are facing many real challenges in our world today. Let’s stop pretending that they don’t exist. Instead, let’s use these challenges as opportunities to help our friendships grow to deeper levels. Let’s discuss the real struggles in our world openly and honestly, and maybe we will be able to overcome these obstacles together. We will make mistakes, and some people will call these mistakes failures, but who cares what they think? We know that the only way through this mess is forward so let’s go! Be real, be honest, and be loving, and let’s see if we can leave a positive mark on this world together.

Children Are Calling For Help – We Need To Hear Them

It’s time to stop pretending that everything is okay. We’re trying to find solutions to specific issues like teen suicide and school shooting, but when are we going to realize that these are simply symptoms of much deeper problems. Our problem isn’t that a small number of children are struggling to cope with life in today’s world. The problem is most children are struggling to cope with life, and for a few, the only solution they can see to escape the suffering is to kill themselves and others. For a child to take such an extreme action, they must have built up a tremendous amount of anger and fear over many years of their short lives, and we’re letting it happen.

I’m tired of people justifying horrible societal norms in the name of some virtuous agenda. If you are attacking another person, tearing down someone’s beliefs, or using your platform as justification to refuse to listen, you are adding to the problem. If you are so busy that you don’t have time to question the long term outcomes of your actions, you are adding to the problem. If you are unable to hear the children all across our country currently screaming for help, you are adding to the problem.

We need to stop. The way we’re currently living our lives is not working. We need to take a step back and ask ourselves what kind of world we want to live in. We need to do better than choosing one side of a political debate and fighting for it. We need to realize that to make any improvements in this world, we need to work together on some common goals. Children across this country are screaming for help. Just because they don’t know the solutions to our problems doesn’t mean they can’t help us understand what the problems are.

Jesus Christ taught us how to bring love and compassion into moments of grief, division, and despair. He taught us how to come together for the betterment of the whole community. Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t simply mean attending church every Sunday. Following Jesus requires that we develop the qualities he modelled for us within our own lives. He taught us that no matter how dark the world around us, love can guide us to the light. It’s time to reject the rules that are guiding us into darkness so we can come together and write new rules that will guide us into the light. Let us hear the children across this country that are screaming for our help, and come together to create a future we can all believe in.

Ryan’s Classroom

After only 54 minutes of meditation divided over 6 months of school, my high school student completed a survey, and the results are impressive. I’ve added a page to the toolbar of this blog sharing the progression of events that lead to meditation in my classroom called “Ryan’s Classroom.” If you have thoughts, ideas, or questions, let me know!

Success vs. Love

One reason I believe daily meditation is hard is because it’s not simply about setting aside time in your busy day to sit. It’s about actively shifting the way you live your life. For decades, most of us have been taught to measure the quality of our lives by our successes and failures. This implies that we can write a list of the things we’ve accomplished, like a resume, and that we never write down our failures because that would be a knock to our reputation. We haven’t been trained to be honest and authentic; We’ve been trained to create the perception of a perfect life.

Meditation immediately eats away at this training. Every time we sit, we face our weaknesses and shortcomings. Every time we sit we’re challenged to reflect on our imaginary list of failures and accept that each item on the list as a part of who we are. Instead of trying to glorify our strengths and cover up our weaknesses, meditation encourages us to accept, embrace, and love everything about me.

This acceptance of oneself and each other is so rich that the last day of a 10-day course has a natural high, but what about after you leave the Center? Most of the people in our communities are living by the old rules of glorifying strengths and diminishing weaknesses, so if I present my weaknesses, I will probably get trampled. In order to live the life of dhamma, we not only need to follow these new rules of unconditional love, but we need to convince the people in our lives to embrace these new rules too so they don’t trample us while we’re trying to change. Everyone would agree that the world would be a better place if we all lived with unconditional love, but it’s very difficult to love while being attacked or put down. To start shifting the tides of the world, we need leaders who are strong enough to do just that. Meditation and meditation communities can help. Time to meditate.