Are kids who meditate happier as adults? Are they more compassionate and altruistic? Or, having been raised by somewhat "kooky" parents do they tend to be a little nutty themselves? Written with the idealism of a meditator pursuing a career in law, the following brief essay sheds light, in ways this prospective law student may not yet understand, on the divergent and often conflicting professional experiences of many adult meditators.
Here's what Sam Alexander, who learned to meditate as a child, has to say:
I grew up in a comfortable upper-middle class suburb of Los Angeles for the first few years of my life. I was surrounded by comfort and abundance, and wanted for nothing. When I was eight years old, my parents separated and my brother and I moved with my mother to a tiny town in Virginia founded by the Integral Yoga Institute. This town, Yogaville, is a living, breathing community based on the teachings of Swami Satchidananda, a renowned Hindu spiritual master who famously opened Woodstock with words of peace and love.
Yogaville was the antithesis of my privileged life in Los Angeles. We lived in a one-room trailer with no heat or drinkable water - we had to cross the street to use the community center's bathroom facilities to shower or brush our teeth. I volunteered to sleep on the floor so my younger brother could share my mother's bed. I was enrolled in the Vidyalayam (from Tamil, meaning "Temple of Learning"), a one-room schoolhouse with no grades, no grade levels and required daily meditation. I was given the name Tyagan, meaning "unconditional love". This was all foreign to me, to say the least, but I quickly learned to find the value in my new way of life.
I had no distractions and read voraciously. I immersed myself in Eastern and Western philosophy as I sprinted through the better parts of fifth and sixth grade. By the end of my time at the Vidyalayam, I was well versed in the works of Descartes, Pascal, Patangali, the Bhagavad Gita and the Ramayana. Swami Satchidananda became a mentor to me and to my great honor, acquainted me with His Holiness, the current Dalai Lama.
I eventually became something of a friend to the Dalai Lama, who visited Yogaville regularly when he came to the U.S. on a lecture tour or charitable venture. He would come to the Vidyalayam to speak to the students, always beaming with boundless and indescribable energy. I was delighted that he remembered my name from year to year. He told me after one of his talks that he thought I could do great things in my life if I remained true to myself and to the values I was absorbing at school. I told him how much I had learned about his country and the plight of his people, and how I wanted to help. He laughed and said that I had helped already by keeping my mind open and learning about Tibet. He told me to always keep studying and maintain an open mind about issues and cultures, and I hope that I have, in a small way, lived up to his expectations for me. I know that my going to law school is something of which he would be very proud.
If you really knew me you would know. . .
(If you're not familiar with this mindfulness practice take a look at the note below.)
That for nearly 20 years I was a transactional lawyer representing network owned and operated radio and television stations. First in New York City and later in Los Angeles.
That as a lawyer I learned to meditate and was inspired by the teachings of mindfulness and its ideal of transforming the world into a more altruistic and peaceful place.
That the pragmatism of law and the idealism of meditation became two deeply ingrained aspects of my worldview that were often in conflict and, like many other meditating lawyers, I had a tough time integrating the two.
That years ago I left my lawyer's life to practice mindfulness with kids, teens and their families.
That while many leave law because they grow to hate it there were aspects of it that I loved.
That while I loved meditation there were many aspects of the meditation world that I did not like.
Sam's essay stood out in my inbox because it struck a personal chord. Even though he's coming at it from a different angle, Sam's dream to bring his meditation into the law in an integrated way is familiar to many in the growing mindfulness in the law movement. With any luck, Sam's exposure to the elite, somewhat peculiar and quite different worlds of Yogaville and Hollywood will equip him to easily and gracefully integrate these divergent worldviews in a way that's uniquely his own and, in so doing, feel that he has lived up to what the Dalai Lama asked of him decades ago. From the looks of this essay Sam already has.
Note: "If you really knew me you would know. . . " is an awareness practice that many use with teenagers, most notably Challenge Day. Inspired by a New Testament verse, the premise is designed as a challenge "if you really knew me you would know [fill in the blank]" and taps into the emotional volatility of adolescents and pre-adolescents. Just uttering this phrase has a way of deftly accessing emotionally charged material which is one of the reasons it's such an effective practice.
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