Meditation Testimonial: Aaron Stern
Dr. Aaron Stern
My two daughters were born during my doctoral program and despite the joy they gave both my wife and I, all parents know the amount of time and energy required for children-rearing. Meditation helped me maintain my patience when handling the strain of a temper tantrum, a near sleepless night tending to a sick child and many other responsibilities associated with parenthood. My introduction to Dhammakaya meditation began about five years ago when I first learned about the basic method from a monk at the Meditation Center of Chicago. I had meditated many years earlier using Vipassana meditation (essentially focusing on my breath) and had not returned to any regular meditation practice until learning about Dhammakaya meditation. I did some background reading and directed questions at various monks and people know ledgeable about the Dhammakaya method before starting to practice it regularly. Similar to other people who had their minds consumed by the vicissitudes and influences of daily life, it was not easy to meditate initially. A key element of the Dhammakaya method was to the mind, clear out mental clutter and let the mind become still.
A mind trained to “multi-task” (a good description of my mind) needs time to slow sown so that it will not wander from thought to thought, memory to memory and worry to worry. I struggled with this mental wandering (and still do) for many months before I experienced my first moment of true mental stillness. That brief moment demonstrated the happiness associated with a still mind; a sense of being relaxed and at peace with the world, without feeling the need to escape from the world. I continued to meditate, although I felt a little annoyed on some says at my wandering mind. There were also physical concerns with meditation. In my initial efforts to meditate, my legs would go numb and my back would start to ache. Monks recommended that I stretch regularly, especially found I could greatly reduce my back pain by sitting with my back against a hard surface and lodging a small pillow against my lower back. Once I had addressed my physical discomfort, my meditation sessions grew longer and more relaxing. Initially, I did nearly all my meditation at home. I was fortunate to have the opportunity in July 2005 to participate in Wat Phra Dhammakaya’s Dhammadayada International Ordination program in Thailand.
The monk instructors at the temple focused heavily on meditation practice, and all participants in the program meditated for at least four hours per day. The combination of concentrated meditation, along with the benefits of having regular access to highly experienced monks in Dhammakaya meditation, helped me progress notably. It felt very good to meditate and sometimes, I would see a small point or ball of light floating in front of me, something I had rarely perceived in my meditation at home. Even the memory of such experiences can help induce a feeling of contentment and help make future meditation efforts more fulfilling. Meditation has had a number of tangible benefits in my life and my family life. I took up Dhammakaya meditation while I was in my doctoral program. Meditation reduced the intense stress associated with simultaneously completing my doctoral dissertation, teaching 40-50 undergraduate students, and searching for a job. It became important to me to find the time to meditate, typically early in the morning or late at night. Without meditation, I could have easily succumbed to the pressure of my responsibilities as a student and simply given up pursuing the doctorate, even after investing so much time and money. Instead, I found that meditation helped me to concentrate when writing my dissertation. My teaching improved also, written by my students. My two daughters were born during my doctoral program and despite the joy they gave both my wife and myself, all parents know the heavy amount of time and energy required for child- rearing. Meditation helped me maintain my patience when handing the strain of a temper tantrum, a near sleepless night tending to a sick child and many other responsibilities associated with parenthood.
Meditation also improved my relationship with my wife. I would often forget things, make wrong turns while driving, bump into objects and commit other errors that frustrated my wife because they occurred too frequently. Meditation improved my mental clarity, reducing the frequency of these blunders. I also had a tendency to think too much about myself, focusing on my own problems and priorities when the concerns needing the most attention were with my focusing on needing has made me more aware of what matters most in life and led me to stop and consider the consequences of my choices in my studies, work and family. In addition to the benefits of Dhammakaya meditation, various monks recommended practicing “loving-kindness meditation”. Lovingkindness meditation involves mentally identifying and sending good wishes to all fellow human being s and creatures. When done consistently, it cultivates a sense of caring and com passion for one’ living companions on the planet. Lovingkindness meditation helped shake me out of my penchant for putting my own needs above those of others, especially those of my family. Whenever I meditate now, I devote some time to lovingkindness meditation as an integral component of Dhammakaya meditation.
The more I have meditated, the more I have realized that the human mind is strong but very susceptible to influences that may weaken its powers of concentration and clarity. Dhammakaya meditation helped me see the value of keeping the mind relatively free of unnecessary clutter and other things that may impede this clarity. This is an important reason why I decided to stop consuming alcohol because I started to find that even small amounts – say, one bottle of beer- made my mind fuzzier than I expected. The alcohol buzz soon lost its attractiveness. My decision greatly pleased my wife as well and I hope it will serve as a good example for my children. Meditation is an activity that everyone in this world should take part in. It is one of the few human activities free of any drawbacks. It is free, relaxing and good for the mind. For the mind. It promotes improved behavior and according to an increasing amount of research, it has medical benefits such as lowering blood pressure. Meditation does not need to be a religiously-motivated activity in order to reap its advantages. Meditation only requires a commitment of time and some per severance. The only case in which I would question the appropriateness of meditation is for a person with a serious mental illness or psychosis. Otherwise, there is every reason to believe that meditation has substantial potential for improving the quality of life for all living creatures by increasing the capacity of human beings to feel more relaxed, mentally alert, and at peace with themselves. And if people feel at peace with themselves, they will feel at peace with the world; something our planet direly needs.