What has happened to me with meditation practice

meditation

I’m still a baby meditator, but I can say…

Nothing has changed but everything did.

I am not trying to be cliche or a “zen master” like. That’s how I really feel. I still am someone who gets annoyed by New York subway, passes out in the living room after partying hard, has many many awkward social engagements, fights with my fiance…. blah blah blah. But I am kinder. Some people I met recently would say that I am calm, quiet, grounded and all. That’s so sweet. But I always has been a more of quiet person. It has nothing to do with meditation haha. Maybe meditation did make me calmer and more grounded, who knows!? I am ok and now more ok than ever to be whatever I am.

One thing I remembered through this meditation practice thing is that I wanted to be kind やさしい as a kid. I clearly remember that moment on the elementary school play ground by the fake glass thinking…. “hey Kei, I wanna be a kind person.” to myself. But nothing around me really supported me to do that. Some friends were mean, I wanted to be liked… being kind seemed like going against the norm. And you know everyone wants to fit in when you are a kid even as a adult. Now the childhood dream of being a kind person means a lot to me. That’s the one thing that happened to me with meditation practice I know for sure… being a kind person.

Mindful door exercise

meditation

Mindfulness practice is not done only on the cushion. In fact, there are mindful listening, mindful walking, mindful eating, mindful washing dishes… I was doing mindful walking when I realized or felt overwhelmed, but we walk ALL THE TIME. I just felt overwhelmed by the thought of being mindful all the time when I was walking.

So I thought of check points in a day to be mindful. What could it be!? DOORS!!!! Whenever I go through doors or gates, I brought attention to my body sensation, usually feet, breath, or the weight of my backpack or phone….. To my surprise, there are SO MANY DOORS!!!! For a month everyday, I would try and fail, and notice later on that I already had passed 3 or 4 doors… if I was lucky, if not more.

In the end, on the contrary, I found that the mindful door exercise was successful. Why? Because I WAS more mindful of how un-mindful I was in daily life. I WAS noticing that my mind was wondering. And from that point, I just went back to walking meditation as much as possible, and not get so frustrated when I’m not. I felt ok by just catching the mind wondering.

Many many Tibetan Buddhism

meditation

I had started the exploration of meditating outside of HeadSpace. After many google searches and some visits to Zen center, I found one of the Tibetan temples in the city, KDK (I still don’t know how to say it lol). This one in particular because it was close to Lincoln Center Theater where I worked and I’m putting the link because I appreciate their online/home study course.

KDK is one of many lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, Kagyu. (The other main ones are Nyngma, Sakya, and Gelug). Tibetan Buddhism is school of Vajrayana Buddhism, sometimes called indestructible vehicle. Again my tiny understanding of this vast topic is that it’s to help you being awake in this life time. That’s because they emphasizes on the fact that we are all innately good inside. It has bases on other schools of Buddhism such as Mahayana and Theravada too, so it’s not their own thing to some extent. They do have unique practices of different mudras and mandalas and…. things that I don’t know but seems cool! But those unique practices are taught through real teacher-student relationship.

Anyhow, I went and it was in the basement of a building. It’s beautiful inside, lots of colors and pictures. It’s renovated well too since it’s used as a culture event center in other time. They do 5 to 10 minuets meditation called shamatha (calm abiding) twice or three times for 30 minuets, very short breaks in between. It’s semi-guided and you can ask questions in between. There is usually a monastic person from upstate leading. After that they do Dharma talk for 90 minuets or so. The teaching is very relevant to our daily life. But I usually had to go back to the theater for the evening show after the meditation.

I started their online/home study program, the Dharma Path Program as I started the teacher training at MNDFL, but that’s for another time.

Meditate alone or in a group

meditation

I solely meditated at home by myself for the good first year or so with HeadSpace. The duration was extending, I started doing walking meditation here and there, and at the theater before the show starts for a few minuets. Then something shifted. I had a hunch that there was more to this meditation thing. So I googled “meditation NYC”, got overwhelmed by the numbers of places, and just randomly picked one of the Zen centers because…..? I’m Japanese OF COURSE.

Zen (or Chán in Chinese) is school of Mahayana Buddhism. My tiny understanding is that it emphasizes in being in service to others with open and gentle heart. And they have lots of rules and forms to follow concerning the practice itself. Usually Zen centers in NYC are open to public and have the first timer instruction lessons on certain days. Basically they tell you how to enter the room and bow with everyone together somewhat like how martial arts classes you bow and all that. Some places lend you a robe to wear. And it’s usually not guided meditation (zazen). They may have a short chanting which I don’t mind just following along. (They usually have booklet for you to look) The places I went to did 30 minuets sitting – 5 to 10 minuets walking inside- 20 to 30 minuets sitting. Or 45 minuets just sitting. You get the idea.

So I went and it was a stretch for me to sit that long. I was somehow sweating like crazy! For good or bad, I felt accountable or supported sitting next to someone (strangers) otherwise I would have given up. I felt pretty goof afterwords too with pins and needles on my feet. Haha. There is something about gathering with others to sit silently together. It makes me giggle a little but I like it still. Usually the place is very simple, minimum decoration, and beautiful in that sense. I went back for a few weeks then explored more to the different places. But there is something that felt very comfortable reminding me of home. I actually went to a week long retreat in a Zen place in Catskill but that’s for another post.

I meditate everyday

meditation

As of now, I practice about 90 min consistently everyday. It really revolves around mindfulness of body, open awareness, metta (loving-kindness), and Vedic meditation. Sometimes people have different opinions about “other” techniques, and I do have opinions too. But I would like to stay open minded and see what can be offered through different techniques. The technique is a tool. In the end with the support from the practice, I would like to be awake and show up fully for what’s coming up in life whether it’s good, bad, or neither.

I wake up and sit 20-30 min at least (of course after going to the bathroom). I may take a class or two at MNDFL in the day. I sit another one in the later afternoon for 20 min. Then sit for a few minuets before the show starts.  A part from that I come back to the body sensation over and over through out the day like a mini meditation session. Spontaneous walking metta comes in often these days.

Oh and one more thing!!! I play a monk in Miss Saigon so I get to do walking meditation on stage everyday and wish everyone there well 🙂

I’m being very flexible and open to what tools I use now, but the time I dedicate for formal sitting has been good for me. With the show schedule, I cannot go to weekend retreats or anything longer. But at the same time, I started to just stay at MNDFL for a few classes or find a half day sit event on Sundays. I have a fiance and a dog, so this is pretty darn good to me!

 

 

How I started meditation. 

meditation

I grew up in Japan with a Buddhist family but really didn’t know anything about meditation. The first encounter was in NY around 2012…. I picked up a book called Surfing the Himalayas. The book had some visualization teachniques of “blue sky” and what not. I meditated when I felt like it and it was nice. That was pretty much it. Didn’t stick much. 

It all changed in 2014 when I had a big break up with my teacher and mentor in Japan. We fought over emails and phone, didn’t not go well. It was just like I was shot in my heart and there was a huge hole left over. I really couldn’t function and started to have panick attacks, anxiety, and nightmares. It’s all a blur how I actually started meditating… Anyhow thankfully I found Mindfulness Meditation by UCLA on podcast, then HeadSpace. I started 10-15 min everyday. The rest is history. 

After about a year of practice alone everyday, I started to look into different Buddhist temples in New York City. For my surprise , there are so many! I went one of Zen centers once a week for a while and Tibetian temple. I was practicing 20 min everyday with HeadSpace. Probably at that point started therapy and some medication, anti-depression and anxiety. Medication and meditation both helped. But I got off meds after 6 months or so. It was getting expensive and the dose was going higher. I didn’t want to rely on it forever. 

What’s funny is with all that heart break that was when I had my dream come true, being on Broadway production of the King and I. The high I felt and the low I experienced were tough to deal. I have tremendous appreciation in the meditation practice.