Why I started meditating – Dan


A series where our sangha members share their early experiences and motivation to seek out the teachings

meditate in nelson BC image
Dan O'Brien
Dan O’Brien

Many of us yearn for community, feel overwhelmed with information, and have a nagging sense of being both disconnected and hyper-connected at the same time. Does that resonate?

For me, then, meditation is a tool that helps me find the space to make sense out of an increasingly complex life.

Learning about meditation has been like being cooked in a slow cooker – in a good way

Imagine coming home on a cold, rainy, or snowy day. You walk into your kitchen to be welcomed by the aroma of chili, stew, or perhaps a curry – a meal that warms your heart.

Meditation has been and still is something like that for me. But it took time. Here’s my advice if you’re just starting out.

1) Trust your intuition and try things out

Initially, some books about Zen and other eastern philosophies “showed up” in my life. I read about meditation and its usefulness in bringing a sense of ease and awareness in the present moment and why that matters: wars, conflict, me against you in relationships and so on.

Over time, ideas began to warm up in my mind, like I’d been turned on low, leading to my first introduction to meditation itself. I was living in Japan at the time and my friend Neil invited me to go hear a class by Namgyal Rinpoche, who you may know was a master teacher in our lineage and also our founding teachers’ teacher.

My intuition told me to go along though I did not know what to expect. After the class, I signed up for the mailing list and was invited by Catherine Pawasarat, who was to become one of Clear Sky’s founding teachers, to a meditation opportunity. This turned out to be an overnight retreat in Kyoto, with Achariya Doug Duncan. Vegetables were being added into the pot. I’d met my teachers.

2) Find a teacher and begin to trust, little by little

I’d say the heat got turned up from low to high when I had a chance to learn from a teacher. I was suddenly being challenged beyond my comfort zone. It’s amazing how simple things can change you. For example, we were told to go into nature, even to lick trees. I did this and found that it was not at all like I thought it would be. Meditation is often like that.

being open to the newness of the experience is often important, though it might be a challenge.

So there I was out walking in nature, climbing trees, and I thought to myself, what if I put a rock in my mouth? I was now challenging myself to step out of my box, and do things just to experience them like I once did as a child.

After this retreat, I went to classes with Doug Duncan and a little at a time the vegetables and meat cooked blended their falvors.

3) Find a community of spiritual friends

To be honest, though, it took time before I warmed up enough to have a regular meditation practice. That came through support of classes and a group that was forming in Kyoto. I started to learn to meditate. Seasonings were being added, and the flavor was forming.

One day soon after, I was invited to a one-week retreat. I went and, after a lot of effort, was able to sit in meditation for longer and longer. It was an introduction to deeper meditation that connected me to the group, a way to learn, and a practice.

Eventually, I began to visit Clear Sky regularly (I’m now on the Board of Directors). While there, I found that I had an affinity for sitting in meditation.

3a) Check the pot sometimes…

As you can see, it took me a while to “get it,” so to speak. Nevertheless, the Dan Stew was now becoming an aromatic sauce, the flavors of the vegetables and meat coming together nicely.

In fact, sometimes I still try too hard and need to turn the heat down to simmer. That’s all part of the learning. I find that the most effective meditation is when I let go and not try so hard, which allows me to sink into enjoying the beautiful aroma.

Now I don’t want to skip meditation as it helps me be present or at least more settled, throughout the day.

So why did I eventually begin a regular meditation practice?

Intuitively, I thought that meditation would teach me something I needed to know about life. This has proved true and all along has been supported by classes with my teachers. I did not know what I had to learn for a while. I just kept showing up. Fortunately, my intuition was right. Over time, meditation has helped me to pay attention to things that matter.

After many years of practice, I’ve found that formal sitting meditation has come to be more relaxing and I can more quickly build energy for insight.

A little at a time, meditation has helped my heart be lighter. Even though I jumped right in not knowing what would happen, the process of learning to meditate has been slow, and something I’m glad to have done and continue.

After all, I like curry, chili, and stew. Hope you find something in meditation, too.

Edited by Andy Rogers

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