Updated: Jul 15
According to the Los Angeles Times, more than 35 million Americans are practicing meditation, and the numbers keep going up. Why have mindfulness and meditation become so popular in the west? Thomas Keating, the founder of Contemplative Outreach, believes meditation grew popular in the west as "a symptom of what is lacking." The more westerners have, it seems, the unhappier they are. Comedian and actor Jim Carry suggests, "everyone should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that's not the answer." So, what is the answer? More and more westerners are turning inward to try and find out. But something is missing.
With all of the meditation apps and YouTube videos available today, many of us are practicing meditation alone on our couches and diving head-first into the deep-end of our psyches with only a cell phone app as a guide. We dive in searching for peace, but we have not learned how to swim. Centuries ago, when the practice first came on the scene in India, students were sent to Gurukus to study and learn together under a wise Guru. Buddhists practiced together in communities called sanghas with masters teaching students the ways of meditation. Even today, gurus and masters guide students because meditation can bring about experiences and emotions that we may not be emotionally equipped to deal with on our own. As Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh suggests, "alone, you get lost, you get carried away. So taking refuge in the sangha is a very deep practice, especially for those of us who feel vulnerable."
Some of us in the west have teachers or meditation communities of our own. But many of us are practicing with little or no support. I was one of those people. After several months of meditating on my own, I realized that the deep-end of my psyche was not a place I wanted to be without a life-raft. I had so many questions and, while the apps were helpful, they just weren't giving me the answers or support I needed.
But there's good news for people like me, who find they want or need more support for their practice. Meditation has grown so much in popularity that it is now often possible to discover established sanghas or groups through Google searches, meet-ups, and meditation or spiritual centers like local churches, Zen centers, or Shambhala Centers. We can also create communities of our own to support us in our practice. My sangha includes fellow practitioners, friends, family, and like-minded FaceBook groups and Instagrammers, as well as an experienced meditation teacher and a good therapist. A meditation teacher can talk us through the sensations and experiences that may come up during meditation, and a therapist can address any emotional issues unearthed by opening ourselves up to ourselves.
My book, Remind Me to Breathe, is a gentle introduction to the practice of mindfulness for kids, teens, and adults. The poems and "conversation starter" questions encourage sharing feelings with trusted people. "Butterflies", the first poem in the book, explores the emotion of fear within the comfort and safety of mindfulness. It encourages the reader to recognize the feeling, breathe mindfully, return to the present moment and, lastly, to share feelings of fear with:
a friend or a teacher
or family at home.
When I share my fear
I know I'm not alone.
~"Remind Me to Breathe"
"Clouds" a poem that explores feelings of sadness asks that someone:
please sit with me
just to be there.
Remind me to breathe.
Just listen and care.
~"Remind Me to Breathe"
So whether it is a child sharing their feelings with a parent or teacher, or it's a teen or adult sharing with a friend or therapist, I hope that this will encourage readers to share their feelings with someone they trust.
Sometimes asking for help is the bravest move we can make.
If you have ideas that you would like to share on finding meditation support, or questions about mindfulness meditation practice, please contact me or log in and share. I would love to hear from you.
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