February 22, 2013

Meditation Month, Day 22: Buddhist Black Sheep

black sheepI'm my family's Buddhist black sheep.

When I decided to go to Nepal some years ago to study at a Tibetan Buddhist shedra, my parents and most of my friends, none of whom are particularly religious, thought I was nuts. Granted, they were entertained—never have my Facebook statuses, which mostly centered around monks playing badminton with me, been so popular—but no one took it very seriously.

When I came back from Nepal and my loved ones noticed that I was, as a matter of fact, very serious about Buddhism, I was treated to a series of lectures about what my friends and family viewed as the worrisome trend of my declining ambition. (Actually, that's putting it a lot more eloquently than it was in reality. It was more of a derisive, "What are you going to do, Emma? Be a Buddhist as a career?")

So it hasn't always been easy to convince those around me that I'm doing something worthwhile with my life. Luckily, as the years went by and those who cared for me came to terms with the fact that my "Buddhist thing," as they put it, wasn't just a phase, I've felt a subtle status change from being the Buddhist black sheep of my social circle to being the more positive-sounding and welcoming "token Buddhist."

But while this change slowly developed, my meditation practice suffered in the meantime. Living in New York once more after spending time in Nepal, I was no longer surrounded by a support network of dedicated practitioners—people who thought it was a normal, and in fact, a highly admirable achievement to disappear to a cave for a week or two of meditation. I had a very hard time shaping my life so that practice was still the most important thing in it. 

Last night before I sat down to meditate, I was feeling wonderfully grateful that since that time, the circumstances of my life have changed dramatically. Best of all, I'm much, much better at setting aside time to do the things (like sitting in silence and doing nothing) that are important to me, despite the naysayers. Then this morning at work, I was struck by the following from Sharon Salzberg's Real Happiness book:

How many people were involved in some way in your decision to meditate? How many people loved you, or prodded you? Told you about their meditation practice? Challenged you so that you decided to look for more inner calm and understanding? What about those who hurt you, brought you to an edge of some kind so that you thought, I've really got to find another way or I've got to look for another level of happiness? They may be part of why you're reading these words. We are each swept into the here and now by a confluence of events, causes, and conditions. A large community brought you to this moment.

I realized that I've been wasting a lot of energy caring about the people whose actions and attitudes had seemingly brought me away from practice. But what about all of the people who have done the exact opposite? Why haven't I spent more time thinking about them?

This will be my last day blogging for the 28-day meditation challenge, so in the spirit of that realization, I wanted to extend my warm thanks to everyone in my life—and that, of course, includes the online community right here on Tricycle—who has brought me to this moment, of coming back to my cushion time and time again.

There's only one more week left in the meditation challenge. Let's make it count!

—Emma Varvaloucas, Associate Editor

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