I am not a serene person. Irrational worry and crippling depression have plagued me since I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 13. Thirty years later, it still feels like I haven’t really found peace, or acceptance for that matter, in trying to navigate life with a mind that turns on me without warning. Along with a lifetime prescription of various antidepressants, tranquilizers, and mood stabilizers, I’ve been on a zealous warpath of self-medication, rocking my central nervous system with booze and narcotics. My goal has always been peace and understanding; my sometimes indifference to following doctors’ orders combined with a sad pursuit of drug-induced delusions brought me neither.
Around eight years ago, I attempted to make some changes toward better, or at least more adult, health. One of those included a shaky surrender to spirituality, which in turn led to the practice of meditation. Previous to that point in my life, I had been completely indifferent to the belief in any kind of God, higher power, or spiritual consciousness. I had a respect for others’ beliefs, whether they were religious or atheist. But I simply didn’t care. Working through this impasse involved flipping my obsessive nature toward studying meditation and skeptical attempts at sitting in silence for minutes at a time. The initial obstacle was finding a comfortable position. At 6-feet-4-inches tall, and 250 pounds, I felt like a boulder trying to balance on a lily pad. Half of my earliest meditations were spent writhing and twisting from cramped muscles. Eventually, I solved this by purchasing a meditation bench and a zabuton, a padded cushion.
The next stumbling block was deciding which way to go. I set up a shrine on a small table with images and effigies of Christ, Krishna, Buddha, and various other God-action-figures vying for my attention. In hindsight, this kind of splattered devotion was like picking up different keys to see if they’d open the tumblers on one particular lock. Over the years, I’ve followed a rambling mix of guidance that has tended toward the esoteric. My lean toward the arcane was ignited by a deep suspicion of dogma, indoctrinated from growing up in the Bible Belt. Gnostic Christianity, Vedanta, Theravadan Buddhism, Alchemy, Sigil Magick, etc., have all been studied, used as the terra firma of my practice, merged, and eventually discarded. Yet all of the meditation-based traditions seem to share this similar refrain: Whatever the vehicle, the universal destination is returning to the present moment — repeatedly.
Like many others, I had doubts regarding meditation because “my mind won’t quiet down.” But that is, in the words of Ram Dass, “the game.” Whether using a mantra, image, or, in my case, the breath, the practice of mediation is a mix of acknowledging the constant distractions and chattering of the ego (“the monkey mind”), returning to the breath/mantra, and letting go. I repeat this constantly for an uninterrupted 20 minutes. It’s an exercise in patience and discipline that has brought me insight, compassion, and even healing, sitting in stillness and surprised at my sudden tears.
Meditation has provided me with some poignant memories. In August 2009, I flew out to Estes Park, Colorado, to sit with hundreds of others during a five-day retreat led by the Thich Nhat Hahn sangha. While there, I had my first glimmer of the realizations that can be achieved through prolonged meditations. At the end of the retreat, I received the name “Dharma Opening of the Heart,” a title I employ only for the IRS and Starbucks. Four years ago, I participated in a 10-day Vipassana retreat in Jesup, Georgia. Sitting for 14 hours a day was one of the most intense and revelatory experiences of my life; I walked away with a defined sense of what really matters to me: God, love, family, and art. An even weirder, Hollywood meditation moment occurred months later. When Sun-Ray Cinema scheduled a screening of David Lynch’s documentary, Meditation, Creativity, Peace, I decided that I would somehow attempt to interview Lynch for this very magazine you now hold. I knew that Lynch was a decades-long practitioner of Transcendental Meditation (TM) and I was eager to hear his field report. With the help of Sun-Ray major domo Tim Massett, I got in touch with Lynch’s reps. Remarkably, Lynch agreed to speak with me via phone. During our 30-minute talk, Lynch’s passion for spreading the word of meditation shone through. It was admittedly bizarre to talk about “diving within,” The Bhagavad Gita, Christ, and God with one of the true auteurs of contemporary cinema. At the end of the interview, Lynch offered to pay for my TM training. I accepted the gift and for six months practiced that tradition. While I eventually returned to Vipassana, I’m grateful for that weird encounter that was made possible solely by my decision to sit in stillness and try to observe the barrage of fear and desire generated by the relentless ego.
I don’t know if years of meditation have brought me any closer to God, but they’ve surely brought me closer to myself. A cursory online search will produce the many documented benefits of meditation, ranging from stress-relief to help with addiction and depression. I do know that I am less of an asshole than I was 10 years ago and, believe me, that’s saying something. If that’s my enlightenment, that’s enough.