Yesterday I went to my first Buddhist meeting. I started reading up on Buddhism a couple weeks ago and I wanted to learn more. I knew this meeting was going to be somewhat “12 step program” themed, but I did not expect it to be as heavily AA themed as it ended up being.
After finding the meeting room in the small building, I awkwardly went in to find a seat. Most of the people there were older or middle aged. One other millennial walked in after a few minutes. My boyfriend pointed out everyone else had their shoes off, so we quickly took ours off.
The meeting started with us sitting for twenty minutes. We walked over to the meditation area, which was basically a few rows of black rugs laid out with large firm black pillows. The leader hit a bowl to make a “dong” sound a few times. We then closed our eyes and she led us in meditation. She said that Buddhism is about not harming ourselves or others. Meditation helps our minds to be aware and mindful so that we do not even accidentally harm others. The meditation’s theme was letting go. She had us clench our fists tightly then release them. She said to think of something causing us fear while clenching our fists and then let go of the thought and release our clench at the same time. This was a relaxing technique, but then she stopped talking.
We were supposed to sit quietly and meditate. After a couple minutes I opened my eyes to see if anyone else was opening their eyes, but hoping they weren’t because then we would make awkward eye contact. My right foot started falling asleep. I tried to wiggle my toes to get the feeling to go back. I wondered if my boyfriend was as deep in thought as he looked. I admired the 30-something man across from me who had the picture perfect posture of someone meditating. I realized I was probably not meditating correctly so I tried to close my eyes and focus on my breath as my foot was falling asleep and thoughts of everything else came to me.
After what felt like forever, the leader hit the bowl thing again to make the dongs. People bowed forward and then got up. Some joked that the hardest part of “sitting” was getting up afterwards. My right foot was completely asleep at this point so I had to kind of hop on the left back to my seat until the feeling came back.
After sitting, they passed out a book called “One breath at a time”. The author writes about how Buddhism can help people with addiction. We went around the room and each of us read a paragraph or two. Then we had discussion for twenty minutes. It was then that I realized everyone in the room had some form of addiction. I felt like a fraud sitting with them. My boyfriend and I have thankfully not suffered from addiction. Part of me felt like if they knew they would kick me out. Also, I felt strange that they most likely assumed we had alcoholic or drug problems. It was an odd feeling to feel their undeserved empathy.
Many people shared their thoughts about the passage we read and their journey of sobriety. They talked about their sponsors from AA and how thankful they are for this kind of meeting to help them. I started to worry someone was going to ask me about my “sobriety journey” and I’d have to say I just wanted to learn about Buddhism.
Their stories were incredibly interesting and heartfelt. After almost everyone (except us) shared their thoughts, we had ten minutes of “meta”. We closed our eyes and wished ourselves happiness and wellness. Then we wished a loved one happiness and wellness. Then we wished a neutral person, someone we do not like or dislike, happiness and wellness. Finally, we wished a difficult person, someone we do not like very much, happiness and wellness.
I found the meta the most rewarding. I thought how lovely it is that they take the time to wish happiness towards people they do not even like. I think I will try to practice meta everyday. I felt happier and lighter after leaving. I think I will try to go to the Wednesday evening meetings- the ones that are not AA themed.