My Experience With Buddhism
I wasn’t raised Buddhist, but I was raised around Buddhism. I mostly experienced this as different ways to fall asleep in public. Falling asleep meditating, falling asleep at pirith ceremonies.
When I was 19 my mother packed me off to a meditation retreat with a Sri Lankan monk, Bhanthe Gunaratne. This was in West Virginia of all places.
I was definitely falling asleep through the just two day retreat — until I wasn’t.
On the second day I was sitting in a field, sunlight glowing orange on my eyelids, breathing in and out. Then, slowly, I started seeing colors with each inhale and exhale. And it became a delightful loop. I was there, I was present. I felt incredibly high.
The monk guiding us, Bhanthe Rahula, had obviously done a fair amount of drugs in his youth so I asked him. He smiled and said that this was a stage of meditation and not the point, but yes that joyful feeling was there. Bhanthe G was one of the more gentle souls I’ve ever encountered and he said the same.
But whatever, I was hooked.
From that point I meditated almost daily. At any time I don’t think I ever had more than 20 seconds of focused concentration, but even just sitting there till my legs hurt would allow the thoughts and impressions to parade through my head and eventually settle down a bit. It helped me live my life. Yes I did get that high feeling sometimes, but most of the time I would just struggle and itch and doze off. But there would still be a few seconds where my mind would clear and that would get me through the day.
It also connected me to something. I would walk through the streets of Montreal and feel a great love. I could feel it in the leaves on the trees, in the people on the street. It came from me but was everywhere. In the good and the bad, the pleasurable and the annoying, above all of those binary attachments. It was a great time in my life.
As a teenager I struggled with depression and intense self-criticism, basically feel not good enough all the time. Meditation really helped me to accept myself. I’m not advocating it as a form of therapy, see a doctor, take medicine, do whatever you need to do. However, if you’re of relatively sound mind, sitting for 20 minutes and breathing mindfully can work wonders. If you can carry that mindfulness throughout the day that’s the best.
To me the words and ideas of the Buddha, as I experienced and tested them, felt true. I could experience impermanence in my fleeting thoughts and sensations. I knew suffering well enough. I could also feel the solidity of the self (and all identities) blur if I sat still long enough.
Buddhism made a great difference in my life, the greatest difference beyond my wife. I still neglect to meditate for months on end, until I become grumpy and insane, but the practice and insights still guide me through daily life. It’s a beautiful faith. Or philosophy, or whatever.
Now I live in a Buddhist majority country, and I feel that true Buddhism is further away than ever. Which I want to address, at this troubling time for my country. But I just wanted to share my experience with Buddhism first. It has been a good one.