“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.

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.

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.