Fourteen years ago, just weeks after becoming a new mother, I wandered into a “Meditation 101” class at a Buddhist center in New York City.
I was a wreck. My body was buzzing from sleep deprivation, and my mind was headed straight into an existential crisis over what was becoming of my life as I had known (and loved) it.
I sat down on a stiff red cushion in the back row and shifted uncomfortably. I thought about leaving. We already had two major religions in our household – my own Christian upbringing and my husband’s Judaism. Surely I could find what I was looking for in one of them.
A teacher sat on a raised platform in the front. He looked quietly over the room, then tapped the microphone and said:
“Don’t believe a word I say.”
These words, as it turns out, were similar to what the Buddha told his own followers (in the Kalama Sutra, if you like to know these things): Don’t believe what I say because I’m saying it to you. Or some other authority tells you it’s true. Or you take it as blind faith because it is found in some doctrine or tradition. Instead, test my words against your direct experience in life and see if they hold true for you. Do they stand up to your own life as a real way to reduce stress and misery? Only then, take them in.
I sat up straighter. I was being coached to trust my own wisdom. This didn’t feel so much a religion as a teaching. I don’t remember anything else the instructor said that night, but I felt like I had been handed an invitation to not shy away from my own life, and to examine what actually makes me happier.
I’ve been practicing meditation since that day. Sometimes my practice feels sharp and on the mark. Many other times, there are long gaps where I feel like I’ve tumbled head-first off the mindfulness wagon. To be perfectly honest, some of those gaps have lasted months, and once over a year. But I keep picking myself up and coming back because at best it feels like the Truth (with a capital T) and at worst I just don’t know what else I would do.
These days, I take a lot of classes on mindfulness and Buddhism. I spend time on whatever cushion or chair feels right for my aching neck or knee. Then I try to remember to keep it up when I’m in work meetings or at home with my kids doing school work and making dinner. I’m curious about what helps other people make it through the day, too, and have been known to step inside churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples all over the world.
I’m really honored to have you with me on this journey. Just one word of caution: Don’t believe a word I say.