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16 May 2024

I was terrified of meditation


Stressed about relaxation

My name is James. That’s not my real name, but I work for an organisation with a stringent social media policy that excludes any public comment and I’m in a sensitive and somewhat tricky professional role. I promise I exist; I promise my identity is verifiable. I’m not paid to do this, and I go to meditation classes every week and a retreat now and then.

Are you terrified of meditation? Congratulations, you are not alone! I was sure I couldn’t do it. I started by watching the classes online because I was anxious about looking like a complete idiot. Appreciate the irony, please. I was stressed about whether I would be able to relax successfully. Eventually, I gathered the courage to attend a Kadampa meditation class in person. Then I went the following week. Then I kept going, and I’m still going a couple of years later.


No Judgement, no fear

I’m still walking around with my L plates on. I meditate well sometimes, and other times, I need improvement. Some weeks, I apply what I learned in practice. Some weeks, I struggle. It’s okay. It is for me, and it will be for you. There’s no judgment and no recrimination. For me, that means no fear.
Meditating well means a couple of things to me. First is bringing some stillness to the week. There’s so much value to me in unplugging from the daily grind and having a chance to stop. My spinning mind slows just enough to give me space. Second, there’s the opportunity to think about who I am – and what sort of person I want to be. I can leave a class remembering that some things aren’t nearly as catastrophic as I thought, with ideas about happiness, acceptance, patience and understanding.

Don’t be scared of the silence

Modern Kadampa Buddhism uses, amongst other styles, something called ‘contemplative meditation’. Many types of meditation exist. Some involve long periods of silence; some are just breathing meditations. The weekly classes at a Kadampa Meditation Centre involve short breathing meditations for 10 or 15 minutes; then, your teacher talks about the weekly topic. That lasts for about 45 minutes. Then there’s another 10 or 15 minutes contemplating that specific issue or thought. You don’t have to be scared of long periods of silence. The classes give you a chance to learn how to meditate and then how to learn about Buddhism. But there’s a significant bit in the middle where you get to listen. Easy. Each series of classes follows a similar structure over a few weeks. First is looking inward to identify your feelings, thoughts, and responses. The second is turning that changed perspective outwards towards others.

A group of young people enjoyed drinking and clinking coffee cups together

Finding common ground

The people I chat with at classes or on retreats come from various backgrounds, but we have lots of common ground. They and I (and probably you) are questioning our Western concepts of success and what we need to be happy. You will meet people who are looking for a different perspective. Students like me make no claim to the “answer” but are interested in learning. Genuine curiosity is more than enough. I want to support others in their learning, and I’m sure they support me.

Keep trying, keep learning
Weekly classes allow me to reflect first on my perspective and then my behaviours. Don’t forget, I said I have good weeks and bad weeks. I now have greater consciousness about my response to external events. I think it’s an essential part of my emotional and psychological toolkit. It’s not the only support I have in my life, but it compliments my other structures. I know I have much more to learn and more change ahead. But before this experience of modern Kadampa Buddhism, I didn’t see a pathway to something different. Even when I’m pretty sure I’m not going to meditate very well, and even if my mind is spinning, I’ll still go to the class. Each week, I’ll keep trying. I’ll learn something new. I didn’t have this before. Now I do.

Anonymous, Brisbane.

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If you have a personal story about the positive impact of Dharma in your life and would like to share it with the community, please feel free to reach out to us. You can submit your story by emailing it to [email protected]. We look forward to hearing from you and sharing your inspiring journey with others.