I didn’t always love meditation. When I was first introduced, I actually disliked it. My relationship to it has changed over the years, as I’ve found practices that work well for me. Today, I sit every day, teach meditation with One Mind Dharma, and record regular guided meditations for our community across the world.
The Introduction to Practice
I was introduced to practice at a fairly young age. In my early teens, while I was struggling with depression and drug abuse, my dad gave me a book by the Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. The book, The Miracle of Mindfulness hit me hard. I loved the ideas shared, the simplicity of it, and how pragmatic it seemed. However, I didn’t really put it into use.
Somewhere in my head, I thought that reading about these practices would benefit me without any further effort on my part. This is unfortunately a trap I still fall into. We can read, learn all the teachings, or know everything about a practice, but we also need to actually practice. Although I didn’t utilize what I was learning, I do think that this experience really planted the seed that I began watering years down the road.
Meditating while Using Drugs
When I was in college in Oregon, I sat with a meditation group in Portland. I was using drugs and drinking regularly, and using meditation as a way to try to fix myself. Rather than looking at my addiction, I tried everything I could to get better. It reminds me of the words on page 31 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous:
Here are some of the methods we have tried: Drinking beer only, limiting the number of drinks, never drinking alone, never drinking in the morning, drinking only at home, never having it in the house, never drinking during business hours, drinking only at parties, switching from scotch to brandy, drinking only natural wines, agreeing to resign if ever drunk on the job, taking a trip, not taking a trip, swearing off forever (with and without a solemn oath), taking more physical exercise, reading inspirational books, going to health farms and sanitariums, accepting voluntary commitment to asylums — we could increase the list ad infinitum.
This was definitely my experience. My intention behind practicing was to relieve some suffering, but it was really a way of trying to fix myself without addressing my behavior. This led me to eventually realize another important truth: we have to act in a wholesome way if we are to have a fruitful meditation practice. Jack Kornfield often says that it is difficult to meditate after a day of murdering. Although this is a dramatic saying, it’s true. When we are acting in unwholesome ways, practice can be quite difficult.
When I got sober, I was super active in twelve-step recovery. However, as an atheist, it didn’t really click with me super well. I turned toward a meditation center I found called Insight LA in Santa Monica. Although they weren’t recovery-based groups, these meditation classes and sitting groups helped me build a foundation for my recovery.
After a few months, I found Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society, also in Santa Monica. I began attending regularly, and they had a specific Buddhist recovery group. This later evolved years later to become Refuge Recovery. What I found with meditation practice was a way to connect with myself, with growth, and with the relieving of suffering. I was grabbed immediately by the Buddhist recovery program when a teacher said that we all have the power and potential to relieve ourselves of the suffering caused by addiction.
Through my practice, I began to see more clearly the reactions that caused suffering and pain. Through mindfulness, compassion, and concentration practices, I have been able to work with impulsivity, anger, resentment, and many more responses that cause harm.
Today, I teach meditation in Northern California. We just opened a donation-based meditation center, teach at addiction treatment centers, and lead Refuge Recovery groups. Although I don’t think meditation clicks for everyone in the same way it has clicked for me, it’s beautiful to have the opportunity to give this offering to the community.
My experience with meditation has gone through many phases, and today it is the foundation of my life and recovery. It takes practice, continuity, and love. I don’t always want to meditate, but I do it anyway. This is part of life and part of recovery. Sometimes I am excited to meditate, and other times I dread it. Either way, I suit up and show up for my practice. I do this because I see the benefits in my daily life, interactions with other, and behavior in the world.