I've been interested in meditation since I was a little girl. It's not an activity that is meant to stoke your imagination - it is meant to calm your mind - but it was, and is, an imaginative relationship for me.
I learned that god has many faces, including your own, one rainy summer night in San Francisco in 1999. I was about nine years old, had never used the Internet, and my mode of enlightenment was traveling the world with my mom. I was growing up in the New Jersey suburbs, where colorful things like nature and outfits were suppressed. I was stoked to be in the Bay Area.
San Francisco had gay. It had rainbow flags. It had cold nights bejeweled by exotic plants transported from some hot, alien planet. It had young women like my mom and me walking alone at night. Through a mouth half-stuffed with marzipan, I begged my mom to go into a little store in the Castro District that was stocked with swirled glass tubes, patchouli air, and sitar music. New Jersey didn't have head shops, either. I was drawn to a table of colorful sculptures depicting Hindu deities: animals with human attributes, breasted men, and beautiful goddesses with peacock tails of many elegant arms.
My mom bought me a small sculpture of a dancing Shiva that came with a tiny booklet about Hindu deities and various depictions of the Buddha. Back in New Jersey, the sculpture came to rest in my room, along with the booklet, half-read in my waning obsession with mythology. Knowing that I was a voracious little reader, my grandparents soon supplemented my growing collection of Hindu sculptures and carvings with an easy translation of Herman Hesse's Siddhartha, a Western-centric history of the Buddha's early life and awakening.
My family's attitude towards what children should read is sink-or-swim. If you can read it and process it without the graphic imposition of moving images, then you're old enough to run it by your worldview. If you don't understand it, you'll come back to it later, no harm done. Books were always innocent in my house.
"Siddhartha" was confusing in ways that didn't meet: it was dark but hopeful. The hero was unattached but emotional. Adventurous but with no treasure to find. It was about a person's epic journey to nowhere. My brain expanded. I wasn't raised to be religious, but I ruminated a lot as a kid, and the Buddha's philosophy struck multiple chords with the thoughts that were developing inside my mind. I believed thinking about mortality made me creepy. This book told me it was the only way to live.
It was as if I'd been hiding a star under my bed, and looked out the window to see many similar, ancient stars raining down through the sky. The thoughts weren't mine; they were part of something bigger, part of a universal experience that didn't isolate with religion.
I tried meditating through junior high and high school, but strayed when it didn't bring me magical reprieve from teen angst. Recently, though, I began revisiting the things I liked as a kid, including meditation, and following my friends' example, I undertook a 10-day Vipassana meditation, a free, bare-bones course rooted in Theravada Buddhism, said to have been collected by Buddha's disciples and passed through the Pali canon of his simple teachings.
I don't know if I'm a "good" meditator, if there is such a thing. Can you measure a prayer, a thought, or a confession? They're nothing but breath. Strangely, when I took the meditation course, I lay awake at night filled with a pervasive dread. It was like opening myself to see that I am a Pandora's box and I don't always get to choose what gets let out and what remains asleep in the darkness as undeveloped, unexamined dreams. We're filled with both riches and monsters, but scarcely find the will to slow down and settle their epic wars.
For me, meditation isn't a religion, a language, or an idea. It's you + silence = . It's like a city street swept clean of pollution to let the sky through. It's not bigger, nearer, or brighter than it was before - you can simply see it.
Some people like to say namaste: the light in me sees the light in you.
So simple, really. Couldn't anyone have thought of that?