So how did I first find myself exposed to Buddhism? Well, it started with an illness. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, to be exact. I won’t go into detail about what caused it but it’s been a major problem for me for several years, along with its close friends depression and anxiety.
I’d heard that mindfulness meditation could help with depression, so I made a few half-hearted attempts at it by following instructions from web sites and depression apps. I didn’t really have much idea what I was doing. Then I discovered the Headspace app, which is basically a course in mindfulness meditation by Andy Puddicombe, a former Buddhist monk. To this day, I’d recommend it to anyone thinking of trying meditation for themselves.
The Headspace app proved a revelation to me. Andy Puddicombe’s teaching style is relaxed and easy to follow, and before long I was meditating at least once a day. It didn’t take much time before I was noticing a marked effect on my mental state. Externally not much had changed, but internally things were different. The way I related to people, events and stress gradually began to change.
I still wanted a bit more direction, however. The app is great, but I figured that there’s really no substitute for an actual in-person teacher. I mentioned to my therapist that I wanted to explore mindfulness a bit more, and she gave me a flyer for meditation classes at a local Karma Kagyu Tibetan Buddhist centre, explaining that they were led by the lama and I could either sign up for a six month course or try their drop-in sessions for beginners.
Well, I didn’t want to commit to a long course without testing the waters, so I went along to the drop-in session one Sunday evening. It was a totally alien environment to me. As a former Christian and a teacher of religious education I’d been in a lot of places of worship, from churches to synagogues to mosques to gurdwaras to mandirs, but for some reason I had never been to a Buddhist centre before.
When the lama came in, we all stood (I’d been forewarned that this was the etiquette), and then the Buddhists all prostrated themselves three times. That felt weird, and then they all chanted in Tibetan before the meditation and teaching started. I’d been given a transliteration and translation, but it still felt strange to me. Even so, once the session got going I found myself getting into it more. The lama was very easy to listen to, with a touch of humour and a relaxed style that I immediately took to. Meditating with other people for the first time felt good too. It’s easier to concentrate, somehow, when you’re in a group and everyone else is doing the same thing.
Anyway, I went back the next week, and the week after that, and just kept going. The chants and the unfamiliar etiquette soon became more familiar to me, and I found myself wanting to learn more about not only meditation, but the tradition that had developed it: Buddhism.
So what happened next? I’ll continue my story in the next post.