Even though I have been practicing meditation for over 30 years, I am not a guru. I continue to learn about real inner peace every day.
This journey began when I was 18 upon reading a book called “Psycho-Cybernetics” by Maxwell Maltz. In it he talked about the power of the mind to make changes in one’s life. This was pretty intoxicating to an 18 year old. The idea of being more powerful by simply using the mind was an amazing possibility and so I started reading more about techniques and experimenting with them.
I have a vivid memory of lying on my bed with my arms at my sides. I would imagine that helium balloons were tied to my wrists, causing the arms to gently float upwards. Amazingly, up they went with a feeling of being drawn by some mysterious force. In addition, the arm muscles didn’t have the feeling of tension one would normally associate with lifting them. Pretty cool stuff!
Around this same time I developed an interest in psychology and philosophy, in particular philosophy of mind. It did not take long to come across the ideas of the East, since they were particularly interesting with regard to the mind. I realized that much of what I had been reading in the psychological field was related to these ancient traditions and it really came together when I read Robert M. Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. It was in this book that I first encountered the word “Tao” (Way), and this began my long exploration of the big three eastern traditions of Taoism, Buddhism, and Vedanta. All of these advocated meditation as a way to find ultimate peace and truth. Wow, who wouldn’t want that, I thought. So this began my meditation study.
I have worked with many methods and teachings over the years. Unlike many meditation teachers, I never went into seclusion within a particular tradition. I have learned on my own via books, fellow meditators, and a few teachers I met along the way. The only time I dedicated myself to a group within a specific tradition was in the early 90s. I spent 3 years in a Buddhist group practicing Vipassana (insight) meditation. It was educational in many ways. But I was not good at being in a group at that time and I disrupted it by my questions and frustrations. So I moved on.
There were several areas of inner knowledge that I explored because they related to the mind-body skills that interested me. In particular was the application of the mind in martial arts. I studied karate for a few years and eventually found my way to a rare art called Nine Dragon Baguazhang. It satisfied my fascination with how one can apply the mind to movement and challenging situations. During this time I continued to delve into deep meditation.
I noticed that there were many common features to the seemingly varied methods of meditation. While the words used to describe the inner process were different among the teachings, the actual experience of sitting quietly was the same. I started to become suspicious of many of the claims being made by teachers and experts, because my personal experience wasn’t matching what they described. Further, the descriptions in books were also varied yet I found my actual practice to feel different from what I was expecting, based on my reading. I started to wonder about the authenticity of some of the books and teachers, and once that happens it becomes very difficult to read or listen to them anymore. I had to find my own way without resorting to a specific teaching.
So I started sitting without trying to emulate what I had been learning. I wondered what would happen if I just sat there with no agenda other than watching what happens. It was fascinating. It took a long, long time to let go of the expectations and desires for enlightenment, oneness, etc. as those had been my motivation for many years. In fact one of my first realizations was of how attached I was to those goals. It was incredibly difficult to sit without a goal. Here’s how tricky it can be. I knew that this was one of the ideas that was prominent in Zen practice; to be without a goal, (called a “gaining idea” in Zen). So I would sit with the goal of not having a goal because that was taught in Zen. See the problem? I had not let go of it. This is the kind of thing I worked through to come to the simplicity of quiet meditation.
It’s important to state that my relationship with meditation has been a rocky one. There were times when I was completely enthralled with it, and other times when I thought it was a complete waste of time. I have had periods of sitting daily for months and others when I thought I had quit the practice. So I am quite empathetic to those who find the practice difficult. When I hear someone say they have been meditating for a number of years, I am doubtful that they’ve been as consistent as they are claiming. I know how challenging it can be at times, and how rewarding at other times. The trick is to maintain as much equanimity as possible. This is no small feat.
This journey is certainly not completed. I continue to learn about the inner processes of mind and body through direct observation. I am now interested in helping others walk their own path to simple silence by offering quiet meditation groups. People who sit with me have lots of questions and I do my best to answer them. I am not a guru, nor master. I am just a man who has worked at this for a long time and learned from my mistakes. I offer what I’ve learned so far, always keeping in mind that meditation is a work in progress. I continue to deepen my practice and am most grateful to those who want to share their journey with me.