Thursday, September 9, 2010

Memory of My Teacher

In early fall of 1986, I spent a memorable evening with my teacher, Chogyam Trugnpa Rinpoche, a revered Tibetan Lama.  It was the last time I would see him alive.  I was aiding him that evening through his various tasks.  Those of us who helped him out rotated in “shifts” througout the week.   It was the most delightful night I had ever spent with Rinpoche.   He was more engaging than usual and as usual warm, kind, and humorous. He died a few months later in Halifax Nova Scotia. Nothing about that night told me he was going to die soon.  
We were talking in his bedroom with another close friend of his, Maggie R.  At some point, he said “Let’s go to Michael C.’s house”. I helped him dress and we drove to Michael’s house, and sat with Michael C. and his wife for a while.  I was sitting next to him, and I was starting to think, “Boy, Rinpoche  really likes me a lot”.  It meant so much to me that my teacher liked me; he was like a father to me and I had begun studying with him when I was 19 years old.  At that very moment, he asked me,  “Who is coming on next?”  I replied,  “John F is coming later sir,” to which he said,  “Maybe he can come here sooner”.  I was devastated. “How could he want to get rid of me so soon in favor of John?”.  I was quite miserable for most of the rest of the night which lasted until he retired at around 5:00 am.  
My brief proud moment turned into self doubt in a split second.  By the end of the night, I felt completely uncertain about my relationship with my teacher and I felt lost and confused.    Later in the evening, I  asked him,  “Did I do something wrong sir?”.  He replied, perhaps to reassure me,   “It really has nothing to do with you”.  I had no idea what he meant, but he had completely challenged my arrogance.  I felt wide open and vulnerable at that point.  It is said that this type of challenge is extremely helpful in learning how to truly become a good meditator. It would seem that one needs that kind of humbleness in order to become sensitive to one’s world.   Since that time, I have had numerous experiences of that kind of devastation, from life events themselves.  Now, I welcome those moments. It seems like those challenging life events help me to be open and vulnerable and humble.  I think this is more to the point of meditation.  This is very much to the point of the Buddhist view that hardship is good for learning to become a genuine person.   Whether it’s our boss, a loved one, a friend, a parent; we are often very much caught up in what people think about us.  It’s part of  our human experience I think and it can help us grow up.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Because I love my family. 

I was 18 years old and heart broken.    I had left home to take some summer courses at Boston University, and returned to my old high school sweetheart who was  studying at the University of Illinois in Urbana.  She had a new boyfriend, and I was devastated.  I was jealous, and was in a great state of turmoil.  I was depressed, and felt that I would never meet another love to replace this, my first love.  I obsessed when I thought about her with her new boyfriend.  I felt hurt, angry, self loathing, and depressed.  One day, she said to me, “my boyfriend practices Buddhism.  Buddhism is supposed to help you with pain and turmoil.  You should try it.”  And so I did.  

37 years later, I still practice regularly.  Since that time, I was devastated financially in the Madoff scheme.  Meditation helped me through that in many ways.  When my mind was in turmoil, I was able to place my mind on what I was doing so that I didn’t keep visiting various depressed thoughts.  Furthermore, my meditation training taught me to face my fears and anxieties as well as my difficult emotions.  Doing this helped me to get through this rough patch with renewed appreciation for my life, my family and the world around me.  

Now, instead of worrying about the future all the time, I spend a lot more time enjoying my life moment to moment.  Some people ask me,  “does that mean you don’t do any planning”.  “Not at all” i say.  Instead, it means I plan without fooling myself about things I am afraid of or stories of my past.  Finally, because I meditate, I am able to quickly see through the stories that create a sense of blame.  Blame is very debilitating for me.  When I blame, I get angry.  When I get angry, I stop enjoying my life.  So that is why I meditate.  But mostly I meditate because when I see my beautiful 2 year old daughter, and my 6 year old son, I feel a big motivation to make sure that they can understand how to enjoy their lives.  When my big hardship occured, I would meditate so that I didn’t bring home any kind of depression.  It was like building my “mind muscles” when I would meditate.  The more I exercised those muscles, the more my “mind muscles” would learn the discipline to stop the self-deprication, anxiety or depression which would make my household depressed or sad or heavy.   So I meditated, because when I see my kids, my wife, I feel love, and don’t want to hurt them at all.  I want them to be cheerful. 
So when fianncial disaster struck, i lost my career, my business and got embroiled in legal complications.  I would meditate in the morning, and later in the day, I would take a mindful walk and often stop in a field or on a hill near my house to meditate.  It cheered me up and kept my life going.  
 Why did you start to meditate?