By Alex Chong Do Thompson
This year, I did something a little different for New Year’s Eve.
Instead of partying with friends or sitting quietly at home, I took part in a 6-day silent meditation retreat at Buddhist Insights in Rockaway Beach, NY.
The practice was led by Bhante Suddhaso, a Theravadan monk, and it was incredible. For six days I didn’t speak, use my cell phone, or eat more than two meals a day. Instead, I did work practice, meditated for six hours a day, and listened to Bhante give lectures on Buddhist sutras. It was a challenging and an awe-inspiring experience.
But the biggest challenge I’ve faced now that I’m home is trying to explain it to others.
Case in point, I was talking with some friends about it the other day, and one of them replied, “You should just smoke weed instead.” That really pissed me off. I don’t smoke weed for the same reason that I don’t drink alcohol; I see it as a violation of the fifth precept. But not everyone is me, and I’m happy to let others live their lives as they see fit.
The problem comes when we try and equate meditation with getting high.
Or worse, suggest that getting high will improve one’s Buddhist practice. It won’t. At it’s core, meditation is about studying the mind. We sit without moving, observe our minds, and learn to work skillfully with what we find there. How can we study the mind if we constantly change it with substances?
That being said, I think the best way to explain my perspective would be to relate something that happened on the last night of the retreat.
On New Year’s Eve, Bhante told us that we were going to celebrate by doing seated meditation for three and a half hours straight; no breaks, no walking meditation. He went on to tell us that the first time he sat for four hours straight it felt like was being stabbed all over his body. But somewhere around the two-hour mark he learned to be okay with it. The physical torment didn’t change, but his mind did.
When the time came, I made that my motivation as I began my own meditation marathon. During the next three and a half hours I learned a great deal as I sat, squirmed, and suffered on the cushion.
I learned humility as I struggled to be perfectly still. I learned patience as the session dragged on (seemingly forever). And I learned a host of other things about pain and the nature of suffering.
There’s no way I could have learned those lessons by just getting high.
But what if I was high at the same time that I was meditating? Yes, the boredom that came with staring at a wall would have been easier. And the pain in my legs would have been less. But that’s not the point. I don’t want to be numb to my pain, I want to learn from it. Marijuana won’t help me with that.
And so, this plant will never be part of my meditation, or my life for that matter. There are many paths to enlightenment. But mine doesn’t involve getting high.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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