Return to the Zen Center

After almost 30 years, it was time to go back.

I’d visited the Cambridge Zen Center once in the 1980s, back when meditation was considered an odd, esoteric thing to do. Back before Oprah and Kobe Bryant and corporate CEOs were doing it. I‘d 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 moved to Cambridge and was ready to meet a real live Buddhist who would teach me how to meditate. When I heard there was a Zen center nearby, I had 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

Crisis of Faith: Does Meditation Really Work?

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?

Revolving Door Meditation: Where Rather Than When

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

The Smoking Shack

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

What to Let Live: A Meditator’s Guide to Insects

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 and my mind was distracted, trying to remember the lyrics to “Muskrat Love.” Suddenly, as my left foot was in midair, a  blur of movement startled me. A bug scuttled past as I stepped awkwardly to avoid it. Continue reading What to Let Live: A Meditator’s Guide to Insects

Evidence of Meditation

You’ve been meditating for a while. Maybe a couple of weeks or over a decade. 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 high 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

5 Ways to Avoid Meditation (While You’re Meditating)

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.

Mannequin falling off cushion

While “meditating” today, I constructed a list of time-tested ways to avoid actually meditating.

Continue reading 5 Ways to Avoid Meditation (While You’re Meditating)

Beginning to Meditate

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

My Relationship with My Meditation App: It’s Complicated

Sitting isn’t easy for me, 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 finally 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 most every day.

Continue reading My Relationship with My Meditation App: It’s Complicated

My Migraine Guru

I’ve worked with some excellent meditation teachers over the years, but migraine headaches have taught me more than any of them.

When I had my first migraine at 13, the pain and nausea were extreme. My mother took me to a pediatrician, who referred me to a neurologist, who prescribed medicine that didn’t work. Fast forward decades and doctors and many drugs later—I still get migraines. Continue reading My Migraine Guru