Introduction by Chris Hammond: I met Jamie around 2007. He had moved to Baltimore from Kansas City and was heading the registration for a local 3 day course I attended. He later contacted me asking if he could sublet at my acupuncture space for seeing counseling clients. That ended up working out and we shared space until he found a space of his own. He’d met up with a couple of psychologists and they’d found a very nice space across from Baltimore Harbor. For sometime I flirted with the idea of renting a room from them and that finally materialized in Sept. 2016. It’s been nice to work alongside a good dhamma friend who shares similar aspirations in dhamma.
We have a similar background of extensively traveling in the east and intensively sitting and serving over a long period in our younger years. We both reentered the householders life and have since been charting our lives forward, finding the balance between maintaining our meditation, being successful practitioners, and leading good family lives. Jamie and I have occasionally sat together at our practices spaces and we sit one Saturday morning a month with another meditator friend. Jamie has also been a great initiator in organizing a recent canoeing trip and several hikes. He’s helped to fill a real need of bringing dhamma friends together off the cushion to have fun and grow friendships. I’m grateful to have him as friend.
Dhamma Story: I first heard about Vipassana and S.N. Goenka during my travels in Asia. I had just completed a year of teaching English in China and was visiting my aunt and uncle who were living in Nepal. Part of my intent in being in India and Nepal was to explore various types of meditation, likely not too different from many others drawn to the East. After asking my uncle for advice on different spiritual traditions, he directed me to a priest friend of his that had lived and worked in India for some time. One of the 10 suggestions for spiritual teachers was Goenka. So when a friend I met in Calcutta mentioned that there was a Vipassana retreat happening close by, I immediately jumped at the chance to take a course.
My first Vipassana course was like most others, very difficult but also very eye opening. I thought I had found something very significant and was motivated to give this technique a try. But what really stands out to me was my experience of returning to Calcutta’s main train station (from the “suburbs”) straight from the course. The cacophony and press of hundreds of people was overwhelming. I immediately began missing the peace and serenity of the 10 days of silent meditation I just left. I was of course craving what I had lost.
This experience reminds me of how often the difficulties and distractions of a householder’s life seem to pull me out of a more peaceful space. It can be discouraging, like the proverbial two steps forward and one step back. Which sets me up for aversion to life’s hardship. However, over the course of my practice I have come to learn that though adversity can seem like a hinderance to our practice and equanimity, it can also provide motivation to use our practice to overcome obstacles. When I notice negativity triggered by hardship arising, I try to retell “the internal story” to one of hopeful meaning: “Oh, this suffering is just an opportunity to grow in Dhamma”. I see these daily struggles as a gradual, lifelong process of letting go of my reactive need to fix and control my life to that of “letting go”, a continual lesson of finding a path to acceptance and equanimity in the face of suffering.
Introduction by Jonathan Penn: I met Chris when I was coming back to the DC area after sitting my first course in Australia. At the time I didn’t know whether there were even other old students or opportunities for group sittings in my home town. I met Chris pretty quickly, very likely at a 1-Day course at the Mehta’s home and then saw him at different group sittings after that. I was just returning and starting my career as an engineer, and Chris was just arriving in Maryland and starting his advanced degree and then career in acupuncture. We quickly started hanging out and discussing our desire to meet someone and then we both did! In a somewhat bizarre parallel path we both met a partner, got married, had kids… and then both got divorced around the same time. I’m deeply grateful to have had such a constant and grounded friend through all of my life events over the past many years in Chris. These days our daughters (my daughter Layla age 5 and Chris’s daughters Lilly age 6 and Zoe age 4) are close friends as well and we just enjoyed a great pool day all together this past weekend.
Dhamma Story: I’ve had an epiphany lately. It’s an epiphany that’s come and gone before. It’s the role of what I eat, how much water I drink and maintaining a consistent eating schedule each day affects my meditation practice and my life. I was feeling tired, restless and foggy on a regular basis and was observing that a lot in my sitting practice.
As we know from the discourses, the sensations we experience are due to the current sankaras, past sankaras, the food we’ve eaten and the climatic conditions that surround us. I was feeling that my diet was playing a significant role in my experience so I tightened things up. In the morning I would have lemon water, some chlorella and some fruit, which has a cleansing affect. At 1pm I would have a salad, steamed veggies, lentils, and potatoes. Mid pm would be some nuts and a piece of fruit. Then 6pm would be a lighter version of lunch. After that there was no later evening eating, which allows the body over 12 hours to cleanse and rest the digestive system. Also during the day I would drink lots of water. This has some resemblance to intermittent fasting that has gotten lots of good press lately. I learned of doing this from Terri Kerr who was a nutritionist and an assistant teacher in Massachusetts. She had a book out called Terri Kerr’s Ultimate Detox Diet. She has since passed and there are used versions of the book on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Teri-Kerrs-Ultimate-Detox-Diet/dp/B002O6YHR0.
I noticed an immediate affect of having more energy, a clearer mind, much more rested and calm and able to sleep more deeply. The body felt more fluid and less tight, I also experienced the mind as more fluid. The factors of diet, water intake and daily rhythm play such a supportive role in the quality of our meditation practice and our lives. I realized that i’d been dehydrated, hadn’t been nourished enough and my eating schedule had been off. Sure our job is always to observe reality as it is but then we need to ask what are we doing to create reality as it is. If we are angry, we work to come out of that. If we aren’t drinking enough water or not nourishing ourselves, we need to work on that. Our body is constantly alerting us to what is or what isn’t in balance and we need to listen with wisdom.
Dhamma Friends: Jamie Metzler
Introduction by Ryan Shelton: When I arrived in Delaware, Jon was already an established contributing volunteer for the Mid-Atlantic Vipassana Association. I appreciated his enthusiasm, positive energy, and support of everyone in the community. My dhamma relationship with Jon grew as we served together on Committees, at Children’s Courses, and at the Center. I could tell that we both enjoyed the simple pleasure of watching dhamma grow in our region. Even though we live 2 hours apart, our relationship progressed beyond dhamma on a overnight canoeing and camping adventure. I’m happy to call Jon my friend and look forward to our future escapades.
Dhamma Story: By the end of college I had totally burnt myself out, so I worked at a restaurant, saved some money while living at my parents and then flew to Australia to figure something out about myself or maybe just have a good time. Volunteering in a scuba shop in Queensland (Byron Bay) I mentioned to a fellow diver that I wanted to learn meditation and she told me about a Vipassana meditation center a couple hours away that offered courses for free. The price was right so without putting very much thought into it at all I filled out an application and found myself at the center on my first 10-day course a few weeks later. I told some Old Students there that I had shown up knowing virtually nothing about the courses and when they exchanged a knowing look with each I knew I was in for a wild ride… I think that might have ended up being the most difficult 10-days spent of my life but it was worth it. I experienced a sense of peace that I had never known before and find that as I continue to practice that peace is something that grows for me.
After my course, I felt ready to return to regular life and booked my return trip. Since then I’ve been working and practicing and taking courses and also giving service as time permits. At times I work really hard in my professional life but am able to keep some balance that I don’t think I would have had without my practice and haven’t burned myself out again yet. 🙂
Dhamma Friends: Chris Hammond
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, Jonathan Penn, Mark Hoefer, Devika Patil
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.