I can’t pinpoint the exact moment in time I became interested in meditation. While it may seem counterintuitive, my 12 years of Catholic education did an okay job of exposing me to other religions, albeit from a very specific, Catholic slant. I have a very clear memory of learning about Hinduism in class when I was 12. (I vaguely recall learning about a bunch of other religions, too, at that time, but for whatever reason, the specific lesson on Hinduism stuck in my brain.) And all students at my high school were required to take a semester-long comparative religion class in their senior year.
It wasn’t until later in life, however, that I began actively seeking out more information about eastern religions, specifically Buddhism. In my early twenties, I picked up copies of Buddhism for Beginners and Zen Meditation in Plain English. I read the first book cover to cover and revisited specific sections of it off and on over the next few years. For whatever reason, the meditation book remained mostly untouched. At that time in my life, I was much more interested in learning the philosophy and less so the practice; I viewed meditation as a “for later” thing. It might actually stem a little bit from my Catholic upbringing. While we weren’t a particularly religious family – we went to church on Sundays when I was little, but by the time I was about 9 or 10, it had become an Easter/Christmas thing – Catholic school was non-negotiable. I think this was equal parts tradition (both my parents went to Catholic grade school and single-sex Catholic high schools) and a perception/preference on my parents’ end regarding private vs. public education. As a result, while our family became less and less religious over the years (or, perhaps more accurately, less and less observant of religion, as I can’t speak to the internal beliefs of anyone but myself), the habits that went along with Catholic school – daily prayers, confession, mass, Catholic doctrine as a formal part of curriculum – remained constant. Somewhere around 14 or 15, I started to realize that a great deal of Catholicism didn’t really resonate with me, but these habits were in place regardless. I don’t think this is a particularly unique phenomenon, but I do think it partially explains why later in life I was more interested in searching for personal resonance in the philosophy before taking up the practice. It’s also due to the fact that personality-wise, I’m the type that likes to understand the why before I jump into the how.
A few years later, I took another step towards meditation, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I spent a Tuesday evening in Central Park hearing a live performance of The Moth’s Radio Hour, and Jessi Klein told this story. A couple years later, not long after after moving back to California, I reheard that story on the radio. I already knew how the story was going to end, but I was in a pretty intense phase of missing my life and friends back in New York; nostalgia kept me from changing the station. Jessi’s comments about the impact of Ajahn Brahm’s talks really struck me on this second listen. Over the next few months, I started streaming as many of his talks as possible, often while sitting in traffic. My capacity for patience started to grow, and my reluctance to let go of stress and certain conflicts started to fade.
But still, I wasn’t ready to begin meditating.
I continued my education with Mindfulness in Plain English – I’m only partially through this text, actually – and Leo Babauta’s blog Zen Habits. In one of Leo’s recent posts about distraction, he referenced his Sea Change program. April’s topic was about incorporating a meditation habit, and this time I was ready. For the past seven days, I’ve been sitting for three minutes a day. While it’s only been a week, I’m really enjoying these quiet, (mostly) distraction-free moments. Over time, these periods will (hopefully!) become longer as I become more disciplined. The Sea Change program is really well organized, with accountability groups and various forums for discussions and tracking progress; I don’t anticipate I’ll be writing a ton about my practice on this blog, since the Sea Change site is filling that need at the moment. But since I’m in the process of trying to form a new habit, I think a little extra accountability in this public space will go a long way.
And perhaps it will encourage you to take the plunge into exploring something you’ve been thinking about but haven’t quite said yes to yet. =)