I began exploring meditation before I was formally introduced to any specific form of practice. I was raised Christian, but in my early teens I began to sense a sort of intellectual dishonesty limiting my spiritual life. I started asking more questions, shifting away from fear of judgement as a motivator and towards curiosity. Years of intensifying curiosity primed me to attend a Christian Mysticism group, where I met a Buddhist practitioner who provided me books and guidance that eventually led to my starting a formal practice. I believe my initial interest was fueled by the expansive quality of not knowing. I challenged myself to read from a range of perspectives on Buddhism and attend a variety of practice groups experimenting with different meditation practices for about a year. In the meantime, I was working through the extensive application process to get into the Peace Corps.
A year later when I began my Peace Corps service in rural China, my practice began to lose its consistency. The constant flow of new experiences overwhelmed me more than I could handle at the time. For weeks and months I felt I was under way too much stress to force myself to practice. Eventually mindfulness became an idea that I knew I would return to someday, but wasn’t able to maintain any longer. I stayed in China for over six years, during which I returned to my practice intermittently, but it never lasted for longer than a few months before I’d feel overwhelmed by something and break my routine.
After I returned to America and reconnected with fellow meditators, the same Buddhist practitioner who had gotten me started introduced me to Shinzen’s Unified Mindfulness system. The framework of this system was exactly what I needed to manage the confusion and overwhelm that I had begun to identify with. I quickly learned that I did not need to be so purely disciplined and rigid with my practice for it to be effective. In fact, my practice could benefit from a little more of the opposite. Nudging my attention towards the rewards of practice could create positive feedback loops to actually reduce the perceived need for discipline.
Within a few months of optimizing my meditation practice through the UM system, my body felt significantly lighter, and my baseline of concentration noticeably higher. These rewards were so unbelievably palpable that deeper exploration into mindfulness practice became an utmost priority for me. The rest is history, as they say. I’ve maintained a regular practice ever since, go on retreats every year, and always work on my ability to coach others in their practices.