Meet KR, a YA living in Northern California. This week, KR shares his story about navigating the winding road, and many phases, between first reading an Easwaran book and establishing a daily meditation practice.
When I read the stories of some of my friends on this blog, I'm blown away by their commitment to their spiritual path from the beginning. My own journey has been very unstructured and undisciplined. I want to share it in the hope of inspiring others.
KR at a Bay Area YA event held in San Francisco last year.
The False Start (2007)
In late 2007, I went through a lot of changes at once – I moved to a new place, applied to grad school, burned out from over-work, and went through an early mid-life crisis. I questioned the trajectory of my career, the purpose of my life, the weight of my commitments, the burden of my compulsions, and the nuances of societal expectations.
Somehow, while I was looking for advice on how to deal with all this at the library, I discovered Eknath Easwaran. I blitzed through four of his books. I ordered ten more on Amazon the next month!
The books seemed life-changing, so I devoured them. I read Meditation and loved it – I decided I'd meditate. Someday. And then, I didn't touch the books again.
Another False Start (2009)
Prompted by a confluence of stressful events, I revisited the books in 2009. Easwaran's non-judgmental and pithy advice was just as refreshing as when I'd first read him.
Re-inspired, I joined the mailing list of my local satsang, hoping that this would force me to meditate at last.
I soon started getting an email every week inviting me to attend a satsang. Every time I saw the email, I'd feel guilty, lazy, and tired, and brush it off because I was just oh-so-busy. Next week.
My First Retreat . . . Almost (2010)
This went on for more than a year. After 18 months of my faithful and completely absent membership, my satsang coordinator invited me to a local regional retreat. Excited and inspired, I registered.
But (and you may start to see a pattern here), I chickened out at the last minute because I was just "too busy." I was also terrified, though I couldn't tell of what exactly.
More Crises and More Easwaran (2011)
I went through personal and professional crises again in 2011, and I turned to the books for solace and guidance again.
I brushed off Easwaran's guidance on meditation altogether. This time, I convinced myself that I didn't need meditation. Of course, I was so busy, so stressed, and had so little time, I told myself. I decided to tackle it a quicker way – I'd read the books, understand it all, internalize the lessons, and I'd meditate when I'm old, with plenty of free time. Looking back, this was just another way for my mind to trick me with its penchant for clever intellectualization.
The Self-Development Experiment (Early 2012)
Prompted by the biggest crisis of my life yet, I delved deep into personal growth and reinvention. I read tens of personal development books, listened to scores of audiobooks, and along the way, I revisited Easwaran's books.
This time, the books stirred something in me . . . but as I went through my personal growth wave, I decided I'd focus on discovering myself and enjoying life's material pursuits. Meditation could wait.
I noticed that one of Easwaran's books talked about retreats for young adults in California. I thought a retreat in rural northern California seemed particularly enticing. I promised myself that if I ever found myself living in California, I'd go to a retreat as a present to myself.
Until this point, I had yet to meditate even once in my life.
My First Actual Retreat (Late 2012)
It so happened that in late 2012, I unexpectedly moved to California.
I remembered my promise to myself, and knowing nobody in the area, I thought a retreat seemed like a great way to meet new people and have fun. I distinctly remember introducing myself to everyone at the retreat, and telling them, "I'm just here to chill." And I did!
I finally meditated for the first time during the retreat. Looking back, everyone at the retreat emanated an air of caring non-judgmentalism that I've found at few other settings. Encouraged by their gentle guidance, I did the practice meditations throughout the retreat.
Meditation was way, way harder than I’d expected. I should have guessed – I’d been resisting it for more than five years.
I came home from the retreat, and overwhelmed by the thought of meditating every day, I didn't meditate again.
Wait, Wait – I Don't Want to Join a Cult
Growing up in India, I had plenty of exposure to fake gurus, cults, and blind hero-worship. As a particularly skeptical person, I was also hesitant to start meditating because I didn't want to join some "cult."
Looking back, this was my own mind's perfect weapon to dissuade me from beginning meditation. As I reflect on it now, meditation is a fundamentally personal and individual experience, and all Eknath Easwaran provides is guidance on how to meditate and how to progress through different stages of meditation. I decided I’d take what I liked and leave the rest.
Over time, as I got to know many long-term meditators and the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation itself, I felt that they were but a non-organized and small group of well-intended, serious, and spiritually-minded men and women who lived extraordinarily inspiring and simple lives.
My Second Young Adult Retreat (2013)
My first retreat was a great way to be around young, spiritually minded men and women. Even though I didn’t meditate after the retreat, I still wanted to go back!
I felt an inexplicable draw back to the retreat house environment, and I knew that I wanted to be around the same people again. I felt guilty that my motivation seemed more social than spiritual, but looking back, that was perfectly OK – I had to be around such spiritually driven people to finally begin my journey.
I attended my second retreat, and got even more out of it. This time, I went back home, meditated every day for a week, and grew so restless with energy that I gave up.
I tried to meditate again several times, but each time, I'd gain a sudden spurt of restless energy. Two months after the retreat, I wasn't even trying – I stopped meditation altogether.
I Really Start to Meditate! (Late 2013)
Almost 10 months after my second retreat, I went through yet another set of personal and professional crises one after another.
Completely overwhelmed, I finally decided to meditate, but remembering the advice at the retreat, I channeled my post-meditation restlessness with exercise.
Playing Games with My Mind
Instead of committing to meditating every day for the rest of my life, I decided to meditate for 30 minutes just once a week for a month, at whatever time I could. I'd couple every 30-minute meditation with 30 minutes of exercise.
Previously, if I'd set a meditation goal for myself and failed to meet it, I'd use my failure to reprimand myself further and not meditate any further. To work around my then inability to deal with failure, I set a goal simple enough that I could be sure I met it.
Around this time, a friend taught me about the value of having a daily routine. As an experiment, I tried to begin and end a weekend day with the same routine: 30 minutes of meditation and 30 minutes of exercise in the morning, and 30 minutes of reading Eknath Easwaran before bed.
I did this just once a week, but soon, others around me started to notice a dramatic change in my behaviors during the week. Strangers commented on how calm I was. Situations that would have provoked me into rage and fury seemed to have a weaker hold on me.
Results and More Experiments
Startled, I decided to expand my experiment to doing meditation for one whole week if I could, but if I couldn't, I told myself that was OK too.
This time, I meditated 3 or 4 times in a week – so I actually could not keep my week-long streak. Because I'd given myself an OK to fail and to only try my best, I soldiered on. I decided to experiment again for another week.
Eventually, after several months of experimentation, I caught myself meditating every day for a week. Inspired by this success, I wanted to try and extend it one more week, to see if I could beat my mind's resistance. And I did – soon, I had two weeks of meditation every day!
Meditating one whole month seemed like a lofty challenge, but I was enjoying playing this game with my mind. After several false starts, setbacks, and pauses, I hit my one-month mark of meditating continuously.
Now, I still wasn't a regular meditator. After a month, I took a break for weeks, and then I went back into it. But once I'd meditated for a month, I felt that I'd tasted something so sweet that I wanted one more taste. I picked up my meditation habit again, and I went one more month.
Eventually, I started to meditate every single day. Today, I don’t begin my day without meditation.
My Lessons from My Experience
My life's changed in ways too dramatic to describe fully in this post (that's for another time). My productivity at work has skyrocketed, my personal relationships are far stronger, my personal confidence has never been higher, and my creativity is in full bloom. As I reflect on my experience, there are many things I'm grateful for:
- Attending a Young Adult Retreat was the best decision I made. I'm glad I attended even though I didn't meditate at all before or afterwards. I'm glad I kept going to the retreats even when I wasn’t a regular meditator.
- I’m happy that I stuck with Easwaran’s books and kept going back to them over the years.
- I’m also grateful for joining the mailing list – I joined almost every mailing list that the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation and my local satsangs offered, long before I started meditating. Seeing the emails regularly served as a constant reminder and source of inspiration.
- It took me many years, but I’m grateful for finally figuring out how to overcome my mind’s significant resistance and self-sabotaging logic. By being playful with my own mind, I’ve gone from being “I’m too busy to meditate” to “I love myself too much to not meditate.”
- The facilitation and guidance at the YA and regular retreats is exemplary, and it's just a lot of FUN! Today, I count some of the people I met at the retreats among some of my best friends. I attend every single YA retreat now, and I’m looking forward to attending the upcoming retreat this November!
- In my years-long journey to meditate, I’ve learned the power of self-compassion and the art of being patient with myself. I continue to use constant self-compassion and self-kindness in all my ongoing challenges, both big and small.