Blog 1: Pondering The Practice Of Meditation
I'll never forget the puzzled look of an old school friend when I told him I was going on my first 5 day silent meditation retreat. He was genuinely baffled why anybody would willingly go and do something like sit in silence for days on end.
Addressing his confusion requires that I contend with my own internal questions about why I am doing what I am. Coming from a Jewish background, I was taught from a very early age to question everything and never settle for shallow understandings of an idea. In a culture that glorifies making things as easy as possible, I submit that there is nothing self evident about starting a personal mindfulness practice. People come to the cushion from many different angles and motivations. As students and seekers we can together consider the question: What are we doing when we sit together in practice?
A great benefit of working within a close knit community, in the ways that I do, is that I get plenty of facetime with other humans at different points in their life journeys. From 8 year olds to 85 year olds, I am afforded a full spectrum of accumulated wisdom on a daily basis. Parents hold a special place in my heart. I help them while they can vicariously enjoy my days as a single bachelor. They help me understand through their example how to give and sustain life in someone or something. My journey with mindfulness is 2 years old. Like a newborn turned toddler, I have stopped worrying about if I can keep this thing alive or not, and have moved into the realm of seriously asking what have I got myself into because this is really hard.
Anytime I talk with family or friends about my journey with the practice thus far, I always get the sense of a disconnect between us. Sometimes I wonder if the people in my life think I am merely stalling for time with my practice. I don't have any real concrete plans for my life based in past precedents or known paths to worldly forms of success. “Sitting together? How about you actually do something like make more money or develop new relationships or produce something?” These are some of the thoughts (judgements) I observed as they paraded through my mind in the earlier days of my practice. Would it not be easier to walk away from a mindfulness path and get in line with the rest of normally behaved society? My late grandfather always said “nothing worthwhile in life comes easily.” I believe his words to be true, and so also believe the difficulty of the practice is a sure sign of its worthiness in life.
I sometimes worry that the people I care about won't understand me and will grow more distant if I continue down the mindfulness rabbit hole. In the end what I've wanted from others is to be understood. Don't we all seek to understand one another in various ways through myriad languages? Whether the form of language be sports or music or writing... I feel like this culture elevates the role of certain communal activities over others. And, as of yet, sitting in meditation does not have a place at the table. Anything that makes you feel good or look good or both takes up a great deal of space in our social world. I have never truly connected with many of these sorts of activities or rituals. The more I see droves of citizens glued to their devices and screens, the more I feel that we are automating our lives away. We are neither machines nor robots, we are human beings.
In order to exist on this earth as the human beings we are, many of us are feeling compelled to relearn how to just be. The definitions for this more meditative form of being feel flimsy at best, void at worst. Perhaps I could say that when I sit I am attempting to reestablish a connection with the essence of my core humanity beneath the layers of mud caked on by modernity?
I don’t think any one person has the answers to placate our need for understanding, and that’s what I’m hoping we can work on together through this series of blogs. I hope we can bring our minds and hearts to this digital gathering place to share our ideas, discuss and disagree, and try to shake some deeper truths about the nature of self and the importance of mindfulness practice.
What brings you to the cushion? Are you trying to unplug from the world or plug into yourself? Please leave some responses below and let's start to figure this out together!
Beni Summers is an educator and youth specialist working in the greater Boston area. He holds the title of Moreh Ruhaniyut (hebrew: Spiritual Teacher) for a vibrant intergenerational community, and hosts weekly meditation and learning opportunities from his home. He is an avid soccer fan, a singer and community builder. He is pursuing a Graduate Certificate in Mindfulness Studies at Lesley University and is working towards Craftsmen level meditation teaching as a part of Mindful Boston.