By Gerald “Strib” Stribling
When I took my first formal training in meditation, I was 24 years old.
Transcendental Meditation was pretty much the only thing available in 1975. I was very enamored of learning how to defeat ruminant thoughts of utter worthlessness, even though I’d been a Marine just a few years before, and was attending graduate school on a full ride.
I felt that I was unworthy of living, and those thoughts reminded me every minute of every day of my life. I owed the universe big time for just being allowed to breathe. I had demons. I felt isolated. I felt a growing resentment toward non-veterans. I was a stranger in a strange land.
So after an idyllic childhood living on Army posts all over the globe, Stage One of learning how to deal with the real world was re-learning how to love myself as much as I did when I stood on the parade field in dress blues as a 20 year old, ready to pass in review. Meditation provided the battle ground on which I could begin to close in on and kill the delusions I suffered from.
Besides the discipline of sitting in meditation for 20 minutes twice a day, the other way I worked on my mind was through long-distance backpacking. In my time I hiked everywhere from the Sierra Nevada to the Bavarian Alps, most of it alone. In 1979 I hiked the Appalachian Trail for a whole summer, and walked 350 miles. That is when my attitude changed from thinking I-want-to-be-alone, to I’ve-never-been-so-lonely-in-my-life.
I had a lot of time to think out there. The whole experience was one enormous meditation.
In Sri Lanka for the summers of 2002 and 2003, I had an “immersion” experience with Theravada Buddhism, and learned Vipassana meditation from masters like Ven. Omalpe Sobhita Thero. That’s when the light bulb went on over my head. Samatha meditation was tinkertoys.
To see truth, I learned, one must strip away the filters that block the view to the truth: delusions.
There is no real end to the process. It’s sort of like edging your way toward the edge of an enormous cliff. The truth, you know, is beyond that cliff, and as you gather your courage and get closer, you hear the wind whistling and the clouds below, knowing that when you finally peek over the edge, there is nothing but wind and clouds.
As a mountaineer I know what it feels like to stand on a high peak surrounded by dense fog. It evokes a feeling of awesome desolation, and if you’re strong enough, there is a great joy that warms you from the inside and makes you impervious to the dampness of the clouds and the chill of the wind.
Photo: Oona Pearl Morris