This I Believe
I believe that the mind is malleable, and that intensive meditation practice has the capacity to shape the mind, eventually making a person more loving, more compassionate, more joyful, and more balanced. And, since I believe that we all affect one another very deeply, I have also come to believe that there is no undertaking more politically powerful than the act of meditation.
I began my own meditation practice a week after my seventeenth birthday. It was early December, 1994, and I drove the three and a half hours to a retreat center in upstate New York and spent two days sitting on a round cushion on the floor. During that time I learned that my mind was a torrid muddle of drives, conflicts, and imaginings. I also noticed breaks in the whirlwind, and felt a sense of profound, if short lived, well being.
Over the next seven years, I attended dozens of weekends at that retreat center. I took a semester off from college to spend six months in residence. Then I took a year off to live nearby. After completing my bachelor’s degree, I moved West with a friend, and found my way to the Zen monastery where I now live.
Living at the monastery I begin and end each day with meditation. And as the years pass, I notice the sense of well being that I experienced in my first weekend retreat spreading into my daily activities. Often, I am overcome with gratitude: for a flower, a chickadee—or nothing at all. Whatever narrowness there is in me seems slowly to be giving way to a wider view, in which the needs of others share the same import as my own.
People ask me if my decision to live in a monastery isn’t a form of escapism. They challenge me to take responsibility for my society, to engage. But I believe I am fully engaged. In fact, I am working to nurture and support the best in myself, and the best in others. And if I can be more loving, compassionate, joyful, and balanced—if I can be more the person that I am called to be—then we know that it’s possible. Then you can do the same.
A society is made up of individuals, and nothing else. I believe that one person can change himself, and that in each person changing himself, the world is changed. And so I believe that there is no undertaking more politically powerful than meditation. I believe that this simple act can change the world, and does.
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