Why I started meditating: Richard

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

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Richard Nathaniel headshot
Richard Nathaniel is currently on the Karma Yoga program at Clear Sky

How did you first hear about meditation?

My father recommended meditation as a way of relaxing, but I didn’t take it seriously at first. When I started going through more difficult life experiences, I started to consider it more seriously.

Then I was attending university in Japan and got interested in Japanese religion, which included Buddhism. As I researched Buddhism I started to become interested in the actual teachings had to offer.

I watched different Dharma talks on YouTube from Theravadin monks such as Yuttadhamo and Ajahn Brahm. I started doing about 30 minutes of breathing meditation every day.

I eventually searched for and found my Dharma teachers here, and this Sangha.

When you look back, were there any moments when the teachings were put in front of you earlier?

Once, I heard a song with the lyrics “the impermanence of all things” and thought it was a strange statement, but now it’s a big teaching in my spiritual practice.

Tell us a little about your early practice experience

Sometimes, I would go for several days or weeks without meditating. But I always managed to get back to it because meditation is always worth my time.

I initially started with breathing meditation. Later on, I was introduced to deity work and mantras, which have been my main focus for a while.

I never feel like I meditate too much. When I don’t meditate, I notice that negative thoughts and feelings become stronger and my mind becomes less clear.

What supported or drove your practice?

The mental and emotional suffering I have been through has been motivating my practice. [Previously] I put my refuge in different areas of life such as my family, my studies, or my identity… I have tried different things for my anxiety and depression, and have taken anti-depressants, but none of that worked. This all drove me to seek the spiritual path as something with more sustainable answers.

What kinds of meditation seem to most resonate or have benefited you?

Sitting meditation has made it easier to examine my thoughts and feelings and become more objective about them.
Karma yoga (mindful service) has helped me focus more on helping others and less worried about myself.
Saying mantras throughout the day has helped my mind stay away from negative and repetitive thought patterns.
Mindfulness – I have been receiving training on being more mindful with regards to presencing and noticing what needs to be done in the moment, which is something I am working on.
Other practices – Making an effort to be more expressive has loosened me up.

Please share an interesting anecdote where you saw the benefits of your practice

Recently, I have been living and practicing Karma Yoga at Clear Sky. Doing different activities such as cleaning the bathroom, shoveling snow, cooking, and even answering phone calls (which I am uncomfortable doing) have gradually weakened my preference mind. One day, I was shoveling the snow and noticed the same habitual thoughts and worries about a relationship come into my mind. I noticed how those obsessive thoughts are garbage and don’t really serve me. It was a beautiful moment where I achieved some clarity and wasn’t completely identified with my thoughts.

One of my teachers, Doug Duncan Sensei, has been encouraging me to be more expressive with my body movement and tone of voice. It felt unnatural at first, but I have noticed a little bit more joy in my life and the community has been supportive and receptive of my efforts. I have struggled with depression and thought there was something out there or someone that would make me feel better. Now, I am starting to realize that joy is something that takes effort to do and nothing and nobody can make me feel happy except for myself. Without my teachers’ help, I would not have made a conscious effort to be more expressive. So for me to shift some of my unconscious patterns, being expressive is just as important as meditation – if not more important -which is something I would not have figured out.

Name one way meditation has changed you

Negative emotions have become less intense.

What would you say to someone if they asked you, ‘why meditate’?

Without meditating, you are much less objective about your life, which opens you up to some unnecessary suffering.

If you don’t meditate or do challenges [conscious exercises to step out of your box], you are more likely to run on habit, and when life throws a curveball at you or you go through a difficult experience, you will experience more suffering.

The first noble truth is that life is suffering. I do not believe that life only has suffering, but life has more suffering than most people realize, and meditation is a way to realize and overcome that suffering.