March 03, 2011

Buddhist at the border: an unexpected encounter with a customs agent

On my recent snowy road trip from Maine to Wisconsin I decided to make a stop at Niagara Falls (despite the outside temperatures being just 6˚F). My friend and I had heard that the falls are best viewed from the Canadian side of the Niagara River, so we headed over the bridge to Canada, wary of the unpleasant hassle that usually comes with border crossings.

At the Canadian border we pulled up to the customs booth, occupied by a no-nonsense middle aged customs agent. After a long look at our passports, she asked about our professions. I told her I worked for a Buddhist magazine. "Hmmm," she said, and I thought I detected a quick smile flash across her face before she proceeded to her next questions: "What is the purpose of your trip?" then "How long do you plan to spend in Canada?" and finally, the unexpected: "So, if you don't mind me asking, do you meditate? I just started and I'm having a difficult time with my practice." I had stumbled across a Buddhist border agent.

"Not many people cross here when the weather gets this cold," she told me, "I used to just listen to talk radio, but now I've started to meditate here in the booth." She explained that she had recently discovered meditation but she wasn't sure what she was supposed to be thinking about, or where to go for guidance. "Is meditation supposed to be easy and blissful?" she asked. I laughed and told her about my own difficulties sticking with it. She was visably relieved, "I've seen all these people meditating serenely on the beach, or in a beautiful studio, and I always think 'That's NOT what I feel like!' I'm glad I'm not just doing it wrong." I told her that I was in the midst of the 28-day meditation challenge, and recommended Sharon's book. "Thanks for everything! Happy meditating!" she called as we pulled away.

Niagara Falls

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echitty's picture

Can't resist telling you as a Canadian crossing into the U.S. I have had very unpleasant experiences which include harassment for saying I was on my way to a Buddhist retreat centre (and this was pre-911) or ridicule for going over the border to an art gallery. Glad you had this experience.

ibvikinggirl's picture

That was a beautiful exchange in an unexpected place! I too struggle with keeping up my very new practice, looking at the serene expressions on the faces of those in magazines and books, wondering why my look is so distracted or frustrated...it is in reading the articles I discovered that it appears a lot of other people struggle also to do it perfectly or thinking they haven't gotten it. This knowledge helps me I suppose as misery loves company, but also let's me settle in easier knowing I'm okay where I'm at.....thank you for sharing her remarks....I've thought the same!