After almost 30 years, it was time to go back.
I had visited the Cambridge Zen Center once in the 1980s, back when meditation was considered an odd thing to do. Back before Oprah and Kobe Bryant and corporate CEOs were doing it. I had read the few Zen books that were available in bookstores—The Three Pillars of Zen; Zen Flesh, Zen Bones; and Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.
I had just arrived in Cambridge and was eager to meet an in-the-flesh Buddhist who would teach me how to meditate. When I heard there was a Zen center nearby, I made plans to visit. My teacher, I imagined, would be an elderly Japanese monk with a shaved head. He would exude both wisdom and humor.
Continue reading Return to the Zen Center
I was having a crisis of faith. Not the usual kind, in which you lose faith in something you once believed in. No. My crisis was about starting to feel a little faith as the benefits of meditation became clear. Continue reading Crisis of Faith: Does Meditation Really Work?
The red-coated man was waving across Main Street. It took me a moment to realize he was waving at me, and another to remember who he was. When I did, I waved back enthusiastically. It’s been over a decade, I thought. I was running late and didn’t have time to cross the street to say hello. Hopefully my smile conveyed how much his remembering meant to me.
Most meditation books suggest setting aside a specific time each day to meditate—clearly good advice. I meditate every morning. The alarm rings, I get out of bed, drink a cup of coffee, and sit my butt on the cushion. Except on the days when I don’t.
Continue reading Revolving Door Meditation: Where Rather Than When
I don’t smoke, but finding the smoking shack on the first day made me smile. After unpacking and making my bed, I explored the grounds of the retreat center. The shack was at the edge of the woods in back of Shanti House. (Yes, the dorms have annoying Sanskrit names.) Almost hidden, the structure looked like a wooden bus stop. Continue reading The Smoking Shack
But is life as it appears in a fly so very different from life as it appears in a human? —Sharon Salzberg
Was I a hypocrite for rescuing the bug? It was a Wednesday, not that that mattered. I was halfway through a six-week retreat and, aside from laundry days, each silent day seemed more or less like the others.
During the morning walking period, I shared the basement with two other yogis. One was a heavyset guy who reminded me of an old boyfriend and the other was a slim guy with a moustache who looked like young Adolf Hitler.
I usually like walking meditation, and though I was trying to practice earnestly, I wasn’t connecting with my steps. My distracted mind was trying to remember all the lyrics to “Muskrat Love,” the wonderfully sappy Captain & Tennille song from 1976. Suddenly, as my left foot was in midair, a blur of movement startled me. A bug scuttled past as my foot fell awkwardly to avoid it. Continue reading What to Let Live: A Meditator’s Guide to Insects
You’ve been meditating for a while. Maybe a couple of weeks or several years. There are days when the benefits seem palpable. You don’t react when your brother belittles you just like he did in your sandbox days. When the woman in yellow heels tries to maneuver her cart ahead of yours in the checkout line, you pause, then wave her forward with a smile. She smiles back with what looks like genuine relief. Angry a moment ago, you now feel good, along with, you note, a hint of superiority. A friend you haven’t seen in years remarks how you seem more forthcoming.
Continue reading Evidence of Meditation
Meditation always seems like a good thing to do, except when you’re actually doing it. Then it can seem like a boring, uncomfortable, complete waste of time when there are clearly more important things to do, buy, watch, eat and read.
While “meditating” today, I put together a list of time-tested ways to avoid actually meditating.
Continue reading 5 Ways to Avoid Meditation (While You’re Meditating)
My story is like most others. I started to meditate because I was in pain. I was 29 years old and in a relationship that kept me constantly off-balance and unsure of myself. It was a cold New England January. I was depressed, though I didn’t know much about depression at the time and didn’t recognize my own condition. My depression was energetic, rather than lethargic. I felt like I had coffee running through my veins, keeping me awake all hours of the night with only black thoughts for company.
Continue reading Beginning to Meditate
Sitting isn’t easy, so setting a specific amount of time to meditate helps me maintain a consistent practice. I started off using a kitchen timer, but it ticked, so an audio-engineer friend created “songs” for my iPod with a gong at the beginning, silence for 10, 20, 30 or 45 minutes, and then a gong at the end. This was in 2006, a year before the first iPhone was released.
When I bought an iPhone in 2011, one of the first apps I downloaded was Insight Timer Light. I upgraded to the paid version later, for the advanced options. I can’t remember what it cost, maybe $9.99, but it seemed like a reasonable price to pay for an app I used almost every day.
Continue reading My Relationship with My Meditation App: It’s Complicated
I’ve worked with some excellent teachers over the years, but migraine headaches have taught me more about meditation than any of them.
I was 13 when I had my first migraine. The pain and nausea were unbearable. My worried mother took me to a pediatrician, who referred me to an optometrist, who referred me to a neurologist, who prescribed medicine that didn’t work. Fast forward a few decades, several doctors, and many drugs later—I still get migraines.
Continue reading My Migraine Guru