One of my new year's "aspirations" was to find a meditation community. This is actually something that I have known I needed to do for almost a year, and that I really should have done several years ago, as soon as I decided to take up this practice. This is really not a journey that should be undertaken alone. I have also known for many months that there is a Buddhist center in my city that holds a group meditation every Sunday morning. And most Sundays I would think, I should really try that out. But I never did.
I was afraid. I envisioned the Buddhist center as a place frequented mostly by monks in robes with shaved heads. I imagined being one of only a handful of U.S.-born people (even though it was my very white, English-speaking neighbor who told me about the center). I thought I would feel like a deeply out-of-place interloper at someone else's holy ritual. I also balked at the whole Buddhist thing. While I want to meditate, and I agree with every basic tenet of Buddhism, my desire to get involved with an organized religion is minimal. I had every reason (maybe excuse is a better word) for not giving it a try.
But then came the new year, with it's power to make you think you can change your life. And on Sunday morning, I told myself I was going to that center. I was going to give it just one try. The night before, I almost couldn't sleep I was so worried about it. I told myself that if I had too much trouble sleeping, I didn't have to go. But miraculously, I fell asleep. That morning, I made the 10-minute drive and sat in the car outside the non-descript building surrounded by warehouses. I had no idea what was in there, and I was terrified to walk in. ,
I guess we know what this is leading up to: Me walking in and discovering that all my fear was for nothing. The place was incredibly welcoming, and almost everyone there looked just like me. Westerners in jeans, regular people who want to cultivate mindfulness and compassion in their lives. Not only did I meditate for 50 minutes and enjoy it (after months of not being able to force myself to do more than 15 minutes at home), but I was welcomed with open arms by the center's regular members. They made a point of pulling aside the newcomers and giving us an orientation, handing us an information packet, telling us how happy they were that we came — and pointing out that you do not have to be Buddhist to be part of the center. I ran into three people that I knew. And I discovered that the weekly meditation is only a tiny bit of what they offer. They have a Sunday class for children (where they do yoga, read stories and teach about virtues like generosity and compassion). They have lectures and classes and service projects and social events — all offered for free and open to anyone. The center has many of the things I've always wished for as a non-church going person (community, a sense of common purpose, organized service projects, children's programs) with none of the stuff I've always felt is not for me (Christianity, talk about the Bible, undercurrents of social climbing).
For me, the lesson was: Stop letting your fear hold you back. To think that this incredible resource that provides pretty much all of what I need as a seeker of mindfulness has been right under my nose for years, and I was too afraid to walk through the door. Next week, I'm taking Mia with me. And eventually, I might even persuade Mr. SOC to give it a try. I feel a whole new era in my life beginning.