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Lions Roar : January 2013
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2013 67 As soon as I walked through the door of my apartment, I’d be in the kitchen, peeling back the foil, easing out the cork, and pouring a glass of wine. My favorite moment was when I raised the glass to my lips, before even taking the first sip. In that moment, there was calm and predictability. The problem was, that moment never lasted. The relief I sought was always just out of reach—maybe with the next glass?—or already in the past—why didn’t I stop at one? Before I knew it, the bottle was empty. Another night wasted. I was the party girl who was always up for a cocktail, the advocate of red wine as part of the Mediterranean diet, the foodie who never failed to pair a tasty morsel with its appro- priate adult beverage. It all served the same purpose: to distract me from the anxiety and uncertainty of the present moment. I wondered if I was an alcoholic and assumed I had two choices: identify as an alcoholic and stop drinking or not identify as an alcoholic and continue down this path. Eventually, I realized I had a third choice: stop drinking even if I never identified as an alcoholic. Four years ago, I decided to try life without alcohol. Life became very challenging. Most everything else remained the same, only now I was facing it unmedicated, feeling the discomfort I had always tried to avoid. Gradually, I began to peel back the layers of other accumulated distractions. I took a year off from non-essential shopping, began to ask myself whether I was eating out of physical or emotional hunger, and questioned my tendency to turn on the idiot box and zone out. I acknowledged my most familiar and disturbing distraction: obsessive, neurotic, discursive thoughts about the past and the future. These were an addiction in their own right. After a few years without drinking, I decided to try medita- tion. Susan Piver’s The Wisdom of a Broken Heart helped me break through my resistance, addressing the surprising power inherent in heartbreak and how meditation can help stabilize things. At first, my meditation practice consisted of short five- to ten-minute sessions. It seemed impossible to maintain aware- ness on the breath; I was inundated with swarming thoughts. Finding a meditation instructor proved essential. Her concise instruction and intuitive guidance helped me be gentle with myself, accept whatever arose on the cushion, and continue returning awareness to the breath. Gradually, I worked up to 15- and 20-minute sessions. Off the cushion, I began to notice small differences: situations in which I would have immediately reacted angrily or defensively provided an opportunity for reflection and thoughtful response. I felt more open, empathetic, and vulnerable. Through this practice, I have learned to allow some space into my life without needing to fill it with things that might have short-lived surface appeal but actually distract me from what is happening right now. I have also learned that the predictability I sought in a bottle is no more likely to be found on a meditation cushion. But it is possible—and perhaps the most important skill one can learn in life—to become more comfortable with that discomfort. JENNA HOLLENSTEIN is a writer and nutritionist living in New York City. She explores the themes of addiction, awareness, Buddhism, and meditation on her blog, Drinking to Distraction. Lost and Found BEN HUTCHISON THERE IS NO DENYING the spiritual power found within the Buddhist path. But what about the dips, those times of uncertainty when moving toward enlightenment feels like not moving at all? Feeling as if you have lost your path can be devastating, especially when you thought you’d found a spiritual practice that might pro- vide you with unlimited peace and wisdom. I’ve become profoundly disappointed in my experience with Buddhism at times. But I’ve also realized that that’s just a story, something I tell myself when my fantasy of Buddhism has run into the brick wall of reality. There was the time I went to my first really big Buddhist ceremony and felt lost, alone, and unprepared. Or later, when I had joined a dif- ferent Buddhist group even though I didn’t feel a connection to their form of practice. I’ve had issues dealing with sangha drama, and I’ve faced a more internal drama where I’ve had to PHOTOBYPETERHOLLENSTEIN