I Never Meant to be a Buddhist

Stephanie PickerillRecently I saw an astrophotography exhibition. It was a competition and people from all over the world had entered their galaxies, auroras and skyscapes. These amateurs, as one of them described, ‘see a clear night and grab the gear and go’. They don’t know exactly what they’re looking at. They follow maps here and there but largely the activity is point and shoot, with patience. They look out beyond the everyday they have in front of them, beyond light pollution and into a vast creative world that we don’t fully understand.  And I thought, that’s what I’m trying to do when I meditate or when I choose truthful communication over the easy answer.

I never meant to be a Buddhist. I first discovered meditation through an app and I was hooked straight away. My life was busy but this new thing quickly made it to the top of the to-do list. My motto at the time was ‘move fast and break things’. But here was something that could slow me down.

I felt this deep drive to carve out time in my determined life of running a business and I meditated every day from the first day.  I remember a big sigh – my theories about life might be wrong, I didn’t know exactly how but I very firmly decided to explore it. Then meditation ruined my life. I was waking up to a painful clinging to a set of flashcard images that promised satisfaction, thrill and success. I’d been living by an idea that just around the corner I’d be exceeding expectations, I’d be satisfied and I’d feel loved. As long as I kept trying. I didn’t realise how exhausting that was – endless to-do lists, drugs and alcohol to let go, using people and social media to connect and prove I was living. Meditation got right in the way because starting again was an inherently bad thing to do, yet every morning I felt invigorated and alive by doing just that. I didn’t know anyone else who meditated – apart from a friend, Liz, who I had a feeling was into this buddhisty stuff. I don’t know how but she skillfully and lovingly nudged me in the direction of Buddhafield festival that summer and even more skillfully orchestrated a conversation between me and Abhayanandi. I have no idea what we talked about but I remember thinking that I’d be ok. This woman shined from the inside.

When I first walked into the LBC I couldn’t believe there were more shiny people. They seemed to sparkle. They asked me how I was. Then they listened for an answer! I learnt to meditate with other people. The meditation app felt superficial and a bit empty. It was as if I’d been painting by numbers before and now I was an artist. I went on my first retreat knowing that I’d love it. During that retreat it was like a balance shifted. To my friend’s and family’s amazement, I discovered patience, I gave more time to people. I rediscovered poetry. My memory improved. And it was all coming from this deep sense of things slotting into place and just being right. I wasn’t forcing it, it was almost as if it wasn’t about me!

I didn’t realise I was on any kind of journey till I thought it was ending. My practice had gone as far as it could go. It was nice and important but it had its place, I’d manoeuvred my life enough. I couldn’t possibly keep Buddhism up and be fully me – be working in the city and having a relationship and a chocolate addiction.  So I was ready to give it up. I now see (obviously!) I wasn’t at the end of the journey at all. I was at the beginning. I didn’t need a spiritual compartment in my life – my whole life could be practice. That includes poetry and meditating, and eating chocolate and getting grumpy. Turns out I can work with my mind in the retreat centre and the boardroom, even as I prepare to have a baby.  And none of it is any more or less buddhisty.

A few weeks ago the unfairly-dubbed resident grumpy guy at work was seeming particularly grumpy to me and Maitreyabandhu’s voice popped into my head. What would happen if I tried generosity instead of giving into the habitual inner moaning? So I made him a cup of tea. He cheered up. He even offered me a biscuit later on. That was one of the times that have confirmed to me that these shiny people are on to something – generosity can change the world.

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