Four years ago, I learned how to meditate. It was the first real shift in consciousness that I’d ever experienced. My newfound spirituality was brought by tragic circumstances.
I had a childhood friend named Dan. We played in bands and wrote music together. He introduced me to the group I currently play with, Dr. Dog. His influence on my life is immeasurable.
Dan was diagnosed with leukemia in 2006 when he was only 20 years old, and spent the next few years going through excruciating pain. I visited him in the hospital weekly. He somehow maintained an artist’s spirit, painting beautiful watercolor abstractions and keeping a positive attitude. It was inspiring to see, though at the time I was too distracted to appreciate it. He was Zen before I knew what that meant, and even talked about meditating in the hospital.
From 2009 until 2011 we didn’t speak much, partially because we both unconsciously knew the inevitable. In the last week of his life, I received a phone call from him. I missed the call and scrambled frantically to call him back, at least 7 times. No response. A week later I was on a bus overnight from Boston to attend his morning funeral.
The next few months were a blur. Every building, tree, and light had a grey haze surrounding it. I took Dan’s pain and selfishly made it my own. I drank heavily to numb the sadness and engaged in a cycle of blaming myself for not being better. I was desperate to find a solution. My best friend mentioned that I should look into contemplative studies, such as meditation. I remembered Dan. I took the first course I could find.
Fast forward to May 21, 2011; 9:30AM. I remember the burden of suffering being lifted for the first time. No thoughts, just a vast sea of being. After I came out of my first meditation, I felt as if I had wandered blindly through the first quarter of my life. I walked outside and felt wind blowing against my skin. It was profound. Over time, I began to accept Dan’s death. I reconnected with people that I shut out of my life. I started living again.
This isn’t to say that all of my problems have been solved by meditation. Nor have I become completely cold or callous – I still experience emotions with intensity. What I’ve learned is that meditation is a practice. I practice daily with good intention and hope for the best. Thoughts are simply thoughts and nothing more. As they say: The less thinking we do, the less suffering we experience.
Meditation has helped my creative life in a way that I never expected. I’m no longer afraid to make music, sing, or draw. The crippling fear dissipates when I prepare to sit. I think of Dan every day of my life. There’s an unlimited well of gratitude for all of the things he did.
It’s good to know I’m not alone in feeling this way.