Ten years ago, when I was an undergrad, I felt alone. I was known for two things around campus: the first was being a "hardcore" Buddhist and the second always being up for going out on the town with friends. I would drink, have sex and do a lot of things that my peers would do, but because I was a Buddhist and, more often than not, many people do not know of the rules for lay practitioners, I found that acting like a typical college student was frowned upon by my peers. On top of that, it took me a long time to figure out how to walk that fine line between being a meditation practitioner and living the life of a young person.
Partway through my freshman year, I founded a meditation group on campus. Soon, other Buddhists (or at least people interested in meditation) came and sat with me on a regular basis. That's the first time I started to feel less alone. These individuals were going through the same struggle as me. They were trying to test the mettle of the Buddhist teachings and see how it was relevant to what they were going through.
Those years are the foundation for the book I wrote, "The Buddha Walks into a Bar." In it I discuss how to bring the principles of mindfulness and compassion off the meditation cushion and into all aspects of our life, be it our work, our relationships or our family life. In my understanding, the principles developed in meditation can be applied to absolutely everything we encounter in today's society.
Recently, I was asked by Shambhala Publications to further this discussion and head up their Under 35 Project. The mission of the Under 35 Project is to serve as the digital hub for a new generation of meditators and act as a place for young meditators to share what it's like to try to live mindfully, every day. Each month there is a different theme and meditation practitioners write in with their experience on the issue at hand.
In the initial months since its launch, I have found myself inspired, and that sense of community of like-minded young people, struggling to apply these teachings, has flourished in a short amount of time. In the past three months we have explored the topics of sex and dating, work and social action.
Each month there is a different theme. For the first month, I was tickled to see people under the age of 35 trying to apply their Buddhist beliefs to online dating, polyamory and the traditional precepts. Some stories are tender, some a bit juicy. I am proud to say that this is the only Buddhist website on the iInternet where you will see a story of a traditional relationship right up alongside a tale of compassion as a gentleman gives another gentleman head in a concert bathroom.
Last month we went into the topic of work. How can we apply what we learn as novice Buddhists to the place where we spend most of our waking hours? Stories of people who worked in the reality TV world, as entrepreneurs and with really really difficult people taught me a lot about how young people view their livelihood.
One of my favorites is a piece by a woman I met in Portland, who works as an exotic dancer. "How," I asked, jaw dropped, "is that working out for you as a Buddhist?" Apparently, well. I've poked and prodded at this woman a few times since our initial meeting and I have to say that I have found zero self-deception with this lady. She clearly is a kind, compassionate person who is trying to balance Buddhism and this livelihood, in an effort to do the art that she loves.
Part of why I share these stories is because I think there are people out there (hello Internet) who will scream "bullshit." They will say that you can't drink and be a Buddhist. Or strip and be a Buddhist. Or (and this is why I hate the Internet) be a guy going down on a guy and be a Buddhist.
Yet, here they are folks. Step right up. Their stories are on display and they strike me as heart-felt. I have met many of these people and they are kind. They are gentle. They are young and struggling and still learning but they are genuine in their devotion to making meditation a part of everything they are doing. I think this Under 35 Project is important for that reason, and hope you take some time to check it out.
In July we will explore starting and deepening our meditation practice. In the future we will explore bravery, marriage, health and much more. We will continue to poke at the ways we can apply meditation to every aspect of our world. Because we are young, we are genuine practitioners, and the more this dialogue expands, the more I realize we are not alone.