By Liam Lindsay, Associate Editor
I don’t have time to meditate. When my clock radio clicks on with the morning news, so do I, and into my mind swarm a thousand worries and wants. Unbidden, the day’s schedule unrolls before me like a red carpet that impels me to rush headlong into the tasks at hand. And like every other day, it seems, there’s way too much to do. Not to mention the stuff I had meant to do yesterday that simply must be done today.
And that’s before I’ve checked my email, the local newspaper, New York Times online, Facebook, horoscopes… With two cups of black coffee, the day shifts into instant overdrive.
In other words, I start my day the same way millions of others do. We roll out of bed straight onto Western society’s autobahn—no speed limit and surrounded by people wrapped up in themselves, driving like maniacs. How fast is fast enough? We no longer have a clue, and it is increasingly clear that we can’t count on our society—this breathless lifestyle we’ve collectively created—to come to its senses and tell us it might be good medicine to slow down. That doesn’t happen because it goes against the very grain of this culture of ours—a culture of doing that has lost touch with simply being.
I barreled along like that for decades: raising a family while working as a journalist, letting career speed me up until the multitasking maelstrom of hyperkinetic newsrooms in New York and Los Angeles became second nature, years whirling by so wildly I seem to have missed some of them.
Fortunately, something happened along the way that gave me a glimpse of another approach to living. In 1977 a Calgary newspaper sent me to cover His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa, the head of the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, who was on his second North American tour. It was a transformative experience that culminated in my taking Buddhist vows with him and then going to Vancouver for meditation instruction from students of Shambhala founder Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.
I embraced the teachings, appointed myself drill sergeant of my own meditation practice, and had high hopes of being hitched to some sort of Enlightenment Express. (It took a long time for me to realize that, even when meditating, I was largely focused on speed and achievement.) Then along came a baby and a new job in a new city, and I was caught again in the riptide of our madding Western culture. Sit by sit, my meditation practice gradually slipped away.
However, a couple of years ago I got lucky, three times over: I had a major health crisis; my second marriage fell apart; and I got laid off. That’s when I stopped to think. That’s when I came full circle to the realization that it was time to take the leap—to borrow a phrase from Buddhist luminary Pema Chödrön—back into mindfulness and meditation.
So, even though I still think I don’t have the time, I am meditating. I am a beginner again. Through practice, I am slowing down, and, in the gaps that arise, opening my heart to what is. I am learning a new way to live, one moment at a time. There is tenderness toward myself and others, a feeling of basic goodness.
The clock radio still goes off. The day’s schedule is still ready, but I am no longer so driven to be an expert. Instead, I find being a beginner a big relief, and the world a vivid, magical experience in which there is time enough for everything—even meditation.
This special issue of the Sun is a wonderful opportunity to explore the many aspects of meditation and mindfulness practices, regardless of the extent of your experience. These teachings offer an easy-to-grasp introduction for newcomers as well as a comprehensive refresher for experienced meditators. After all, it’s never too late to be a beginner.