It’s fun to see all the different trends of diet come and go. And it now seems like a good idea to eat whole food veggies and grains and all that, which we have had here all these time… like for a long long time.
Meditation has been here also for at least 2,600 years. And people started to notice again that it may be a good thing. With the time tested aspects and recent science studies, I think it is a good thing. Experientially I know it is good for me.
I could live without or with little veggies but I may not be in great health. The same goes to meditation. I had lived with very little meditative exercise for 30 years but I was not in good mental shape. Some veggies I didn’t like but I came to like them, like eggplants and kale. Now I mostly eat vegetables, no meat. In a million years, I had never thought I would stop eating meat growing up in Japan. But you never know.
Meditation practice is not always fun or amazing, sometimes even annoying and boring. But I came to enjoy it regardless of how I feel about it that day and just keep going. Just like I keep making choice of eating veggies.
The one thing I learned through mindfulness is that I’m not going to stop thinking. The mind thinking is as natural as my body breathing. I guess trying to stop thinking is like trying to stop breathing…. not smart lol My teacher would say if you can stop thinking you are either dead or enlightened.
It becomes a bit problematic when I get hooked into the inner narrative/ story I tell myself. So I come back to the body sensation of breaths because it’s always there whether I like it or not, which really means that breathing is happening in the present moment. For the thinking mind, maybe I don’t have to push it away but just watch it as I can observe breathing…… sometimes.
I teach and practice mindfulness meditation. I only practice Vedic meditation. It’s interesting to see some people with meditation practice go about what’s good and bad or right and wrong. And I get why to some points. But really any meditation is good meditation I think.
I got interested in Vedic meditation because of the teacher training to be a mindfulness meditation teacher. My peers are all lovely people but even then when it came to Vedic meditation I felt the room went a bit defensive or skeptical. Some of my good friends in theater community practiced Vedic meditation so I just wondered why. I am in the business now and people I would start to teach were going to be those in theater community. I just wanted to be clear for people about any techniques even though not to teach, because mindfulness and Vedic meditations are two techniques that are coming to be more popular these days.
One reason some people have strong opinions about Vedic meditation is the money part. Sometimes transcendental meditation (TM) and Vedic meditation has image of taking lots of money, a week of your salary, so basically sliding scale. It’s for this 4-day course where you get initiated to the practice and get the “secret” mantra from your teacher. The amount of money you spend on the short course and the secrecy of mantra may give some people their skepticism.
But if you practice mindfulness to some extent, you start going to retreats which cost a few hundreds dollars at least (usually sliding scale available). You keep going then you could spend enough money to cover the week worth of salary. Also once you do the 4-day course, you can go back to group sitting or refresher classes for free even with different teachers. My teacher explained to me about the secrecy of the mantra like this:
Vedic meditation doesn’t work if you don’t get initiated to the practice, so if you tell your friend your mantra and she tries it, then doesn’t work. She may never try Vedic meditation again. That’s taking her possibility of practice away.
Here is my teacher Lodro Rinzler and my teacher’s teacher Thom Knoles talk about this topic.
I practiced at home alone for more than a year before I started to go to group sittings. Good two years until I found this wonderful home MNDFL where I got certified as a meditation teacher.
Putting that aside, it is a wonderful place to practice with other people who has similar interests without any dogmatic religious teachings. I still practice at home alone daily, but going to MNDFL is very important part of my practice. Having teachers in person who came from different traditions and can answer questions on the spot is amazing. Also with hearing other people’s experience through meditation makes me feel I’m not alone.
Don’t get me wrong. There are tons of amazing groups/places in the city for meditation. But MNDFL offers so many teachers from different lineages in one place through out the day and week. What a great gate way to start the journey. I’d say you may wanna find out yourself why you would take a meditation class!
I don’t want to make this blog all about Buddhism and religious stuff, but I must say it’s hard to separate:
1. I grew up watching monks visiting home and going to temples in Japan so I don’t mind the religious aspects of it.
2. Mindfulness came from Buddhist tradition although what’s taught here is usually secular version of it.
3. A little mystic, magical, rainbow, unicorn, woo-woo in life wouldn’t hurt anyone.
So the three schools of Buddhism are Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. I talked about Zen(Mahayana) and Tibetan(Vajrayana) because that was a part of my earlier journey meditating in NYC. Theravada Buddhism is called the oldest one. Again and again, with my micro knowledge, they go back to original teaching of Buddha in the Pāli Cannon (scripture). In the US it is also known as Insight or Vipassanā. Those who brought the big part of mindfulness practice back to the west are in this tradition, Sharon Salzberg, Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield… so yeah.
Actually I practice and research a lot on this tradition now, because those people have written great books on mindfulness and loving-kindness. It gives me a nice guideline to practice and teach mindfulness. Also I listen to the podcast created by Dharma Punx. It’s mixture of Buddhism and neuron science, making the teaching very relatable to daily life.
I will write about different wisdom traditions too but the bottom line is….. it’s all the same shit in a very positive and wonderful way. There are so many similarities with different emphasizes. One may suit someone better in some ways, but really it’s all very good is what I want to say.
When I was practicing with Andy P.(on the app lol), he would sometimes ask to set an intention. I watched so many anime growing up, usually things come up to me in cartoon ways. Every time for me then it was Princess Mononoke…
“To see with eyes unclouded by hate”
They translation gets very particular about the hate but basically seeing clearly with unclouded eyes. So that was my intention for a long time, still is. It is very helpful for me to have any simple humane intentions for meditation practice. Usually after settling in the posture, I briefly ask myself or remind myself why I practice. Especially when I do that in the morning, the intention of the practice seep into the day and carries on.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.