Here’s a guest post from fellow blogger, Buddhist, meditator and compatriot in recovery Lizzie Critton. Check out her and her partner, Matt’s wonderful website and recovery resource, The Easier Softer Way.
I first came across meditation in grade school. My fifth grade teacher hosted a yoga and meditation class. If you attended the class you were excused from gym for that day, so of course I went every day it was offered. This type of meditation wasn’t really Buddhist meditation but visualization and relaxation. Over the next couple years this was the only type of meditation I had any real exposure to. I didn’t practice regularly but I was definitely open to the possibility of exploring meditation.
While in rehab I explored more relaxation meditation and also was introduced to concentration meditation. Although it was not presented as Buddhist, it was a basic listening concentration Buddhist meditation. I enjoyed this practice and found that it was easy to clear my mind and deal with anxiety while meditating in this capacity. I told my therapist at the treatment center how much I enjoyed it and she suggested that I go to a meeting at a Buddhist meditation society called Against the Stream.
Shortly after I left treatment I decided to try the meeting at Against the Stream. I accidentally arrived late, and sat by the door because the room was packed. I was shocked to see over a hundred people crammed into this tiny space. Everyone was seated and the speaker was standing. I heard the end of the talk in which he discussed one of the Buddhist precepts. He was talking specifically about not killing any other living beings. Although I had no knowledge of the precepts, this seemed like a pretty standard rule to me, and I related to the talk. What I was not prepared for were the shares and questions that followed. One man said something to this effect: “I have fully undertaken this precept, but I have a lot of trouble with other people killing living beings. I don’t know if it’s my place to say ‘no don’t kill that fly, it has just as much value as you or I have.’”.
This astounded me, mostly because I was newly sober and I thought it was ridiculous. I thought of course its ok to kill a fly if its really bothering you! A few more shares went on in this manner and I couldn’t hold my tongue anymore, so I raised my hand to share. I said something like this: “I understand that we shouldn’t kill other living beings, but at some point, isn’t it just a fly!”. What I meant was we weren’t killing other animals or even larger bugs, we were talking about a fly! A pest! The teacher responded by essentially saying that that view was ignorant. This was before I had any understanding of what ignorance meant in Buddhism so I was pretty personally offended. I decided that probably wasn’t the right meeting for me.
About a year after I went to that meeting, I met my boyfriend Matt whom practices Buddhist meditation. Shortly after I met him I ended up once again at Against the Stream (although it took me a while to realize it was the same place). I attended a dharma talk with him and I loved it. I enjoyed the meditation, the community and the talk, it all felt completely right. I didn’t start going regularly immediately; it took me some time to get into a routine. But I did go every once and while with Matt and every time I did I enjoyed it. During this time I went on my first meditation retreat. It was up in northern California and it was a daylong retreat on Metta, or loving-kindness. On the retread I had a very visceral experience with self-love. During a walking meditation I went off and could see the mountains around me, the birds above me, and I felt the sun shining on me. It all suddenly seemed so wonderful and beautiful. As I walked I repeated some phrases to myself, may I be loved, may I be happy, may I be safe, and may I be at ease. I felt deeply connected with these phrases and as cliché as it sounds, my heart was filled with contentment. This was when I really decided to make meditation a regular part of my life.
About six months ago Matt and I took a commitment hosting a group called Dharma Den on Sunday nights. Attending Dharma Den every week is what got me into a regular Buddhist practice. The group is small and intimate, with a very strong community of people who regularly attend. In this group we have gone through the heart practices, the foundations of mindfulness, and the eightfold path. I have learned about Buddhism from listening to the talks and discussions in the group. This has been a great way for me to learn since I absorb information more easily through practice rather than just reading about a topic. Hosting the group has really given me a sense of accountability in my practice. I enjoy showing up every week, seeing familiar faces, and sharing an intimate meditation practice among friends.