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How I Came to the Practice: Part 2 – Why Meditation Came Naturally to Me May 26, 2012

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(How I Came to the Practice is a series I am writing to fully explain the story of how I came to Buddhist meditation–starting at the very beginning! This is part 2, read part 1 – My Christian Roots here.)

To encourage people, I like to assure them that meditation seemed to come quite naturally to me, because I possessed a certain number of factors that are related to meditation. Four areas toward which I was already predisposed, and which are related to meditation, were self-awareness, psychology, solitude, and non-activity.

First, meditation is related to self-awareness, and I think I have been very self-aware for as long as I can remember. It was usually quite easy for me to identify what was happening internally for me, for my thoughts and emotions. I was also quite sensitive, and it was easy to get me upset or to start crying.

I can remember being self-aware of my thoughts. When I was a teenager, I used to lie in bed at night waiting to fall asleep and I would actually trace my thought patterns one by one as I went down a long train of thought. I would catch my mind ending up at some quirky, random thought, and I would go, “Wow, how did I get there?” Then I would trace my pattern of thoughts all the way back to the initial thought that seemed to arise out of nowhere. The whole process was fascinating and fun for me!

Second, meditation is also a solitary practice, and I have been quite solitary for much of my life, and even more so when I was younger. I am quite introverted and am usually unable to be around people for large amounts of time. My fondest childhood memories were spent alone, where I would be outdoors for hours at a time “exploring” (wandering around in a field or forest, seeing new places I had never been to before).

I also had a deep need for solitude as I got older and spent more time with friends as a teenager. I actually used solitude as an antidote for too much socializing or to restore myself after spending large amounts of time with other people. I felt that when I spent time with other people, I really put on a false front in order to please others and was therefore not being true to myself. I used solitude after these times to come back to myself, or to feel more authentic. I think that I was tapping into a larger cultural discourse aimed at teenagers emphasizing “staying true to yourself” and “not changing for anyone else.”,

A time when I especially needed to be alone was after partying and drinking. As a teenager, I used alcohol as a way to be more outgoing, more energetic and lively, in order to please others. Extraversion was highly valued in high school, so I used alcohol to achieve that. But I knew that I wasn’t truly an extrovert, so I needed to spend time alone to feel okay just being myself.

Third, meditation is also closely related to the field of psychology, and both concern investigating the patterns of the mind in order to understand behaviour. I have been interested in psychology for quite a long time, probably mostly to understand myself when I was a teenager, but as I got older also to understand other people around me. To satisfy my curiosity, I took out a textbook from the high school library on introduction to psychology, and I read through most of it just for fun and personal interest.

I think another reason I was drawn toward psychology was to help come to grips with my own struggles with mental illness, as well as to deal with the history of mental illness in my family. Psychology gave me the tools to deal with these challenges, and it gave me confidence to skifully face the future when these issues might come up again.

Finally, meditation can be described as a “non-activity” because the point of the practice is, for the most part, not to actually “do” anything. I am sitting still, right where I am, and noticing what happens. For some people who are energetic and restless, meditation can be torture. But for someone like myself, who is already quite laid-back and relaxed, meditation was a needed break from the hassles of daily life.

I am quite easy going, and seem to have always needed to take time off just to be still and relax. People have described me as appearing quite calm on the outside (even if I am filled with anxiety inside). Even as early as high school, one of my teachers once described me as “calm, cool, and collected.”

So there you have it, some reasons why I was drawn toward meditation and why it came naturally to me once I started trying it out for myself. I’m not saying that someone who doesn’t have these qualities shouldn’t consider or practice meditation, but that they might face more challenges than I did.

Read on to part 3 in the series on Asian exoticism and Zen for Dummies.

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