As some of our readers may not know, I moved to San Diego almost four years ago from Washington, DC. Just two weeks prior to moving, I had quit my job and sold everything I owned. The only thing I had waiting for me in California was a potential part-time job, and the temptation of a new beginning.
It was one of the scariest (and most turbulent) decisions of my life, but as we know, fear is also the greatest catalyst of change. As Malcolm Gladwell says, “You’re never more alive than when things get turned upside down.” If we embrace our fear instead of run from it, we are given the opportunity to grow in monumental ways, which is what happened to me.
Arriving in San Diego, I had no friends here, no family, and no safety net. I knew that I wanted to start from scratch and create the life I’d dreamed of, one based on loving my work and surrounding myself with people who believed in supporting each other’s potential. Back in DC, one of my most precious communities had been a weekly guided group meditation led by Tara Brach, which took place in a non-denominational church and usually turned out around 250 people each week. Her meditations and lectures are what gave me the courage and creativity to imagine the life I wanted and showed me that it was possible, through just my own awareness of self and willingness to constantly begin again, in my life and my practice.
For me, “beginning again” meant recreating that same type of community here in San Diego. Sure, a few yoga studios offered a weekly meditation class where no one spoke to each other or made eye contact afterwards, let alone talked about their practice outside of the studio. It felt to me like a secret that everyone kept, and it felt so isolated. Yes, my meditation practice was personal, but if we weren’t going to share and connect with each other what was the point of a group meditation? I missed the feeling of Tara Brach’s meditations, where I would take notes on her dharma talks and people would actually make eye contact afterwards and walk out together, laughing and chatting. Married couples would attend together and leave hand-in-hand, quiet but beaming. Everyone was certainly there for their own reasons, but the greater collective reason wasn’t lost.
And so Modern Meditation was born. Of course back then it was still known as the Insight Meditation Community of San Diego, and we started with only one member (me), and our first meeting consisted of myself and two other brave souls sitting in the back space of a run-down cafe in a dingy curtained-off corner. But looking back on that evening, my heart could not have been more full. I had begun again.
Today, the Modern Meditation Meetup page has over 400 members, making it one of the largest meditation organizations in San Diego. Our weekly meetings moved locations a few times, during which the values of the group were really distilled: To host an accessible weekly meditation class for the public, open to everyone regardless of practice or experience, with roots drawing from insight meditation, self-reflection, and self-acceptance. The idea: Awareness of our experiences and self, brings us insight into experience and self. And most importantly – You’re not in this alone. Be joyful in your practice, because there is no way to fail.
So this week as you meditate, try to look at each minute of your practice as an opportunity to joyfully begin again, over and over. Your practice is essentially is a celebration of the peace that we all know, deep down, is always accessible and real, even during times of the most turbulent change. Your practice is a celebration of being able to go deep into that place, magnify this peace and reflect it in your lives. It is a celebration of the fact that none of us are who we were 100 hours ago, 24 hours ago, or even one hour ago – that we can be born again, however we choose, every moment.
The trouble with beginning again comes when we think of ourselves as just a person, which is essentially just an object. Objects, to our minds, are unchanging – so as objects, we associate change with extinction, and we flee from it. In reality though, we’re more like events – always moving, fluctuating. We’re a constant process, and in order to find peace, we need to be comfortable with beginning again. We need to learn to start over and move forward.
And when your practice becomes frustrating, remember what Tara Brach once said: “Beyond any meditative technique, it is remembering what matters to us most that awakens and frees our spirit. Sometimes in our lives, we may unfold layers of more immediate wants and fears before we arrive at this source, this light of pure aspiration. But as we find the courage to inhabit this aspiration, it becomes the compass of the heart that guides us home.”