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I became exposed to the dharma when I was dealing with chronic pain. I was required to meditate as part of my treatment, and at the time I couldn’t relax any of my muscles. But the meditation helped me learn to relax. My massage therapist told me it was as if I’d switched bodies. That change was so profound that I got curious about what else meditation could do for me.
I am not sure exactly when I first became aware of the dharma path, but my first brush with it was through reading Thich Nhat Hanh's Beyond the Self a translation of the Sutra on the Middle Way. At the time I had been in recovery for about 10 years and had a sustain spiritual practice of self-reflection and service, but I had never been exposed to the truth of Dependent Origination.
My first exposure to dharma was during my undergraduate studies majoring in Philosophy/Asian Studies. However, this didn’t translate to a personal practice until a few years later when I lost two friends to suicide in a six-month period. The bereavement related to their deaths was so overwhelming that it forced me to seek out additional community and support.
I walked into Against the Stream Nashville Meditation Center in January 2012, shortly after coming out of rehab for alcohol dependence. It was suggested that meditation could be helpful in further recovery. I remember in one of the first talks Dave Smith mentioned that, sitting was just sitting. Whether you were in traffic, the motor vehicle department or sitting comfortably on your own couch that the experience of sitting was all the same.
I was more connected to the teacher than the teaching at first. I had a vision of a teacher, in the way you generate a visualization of a deity during some Vajrayana practices, while the lines of “Crying to the Guru from afar” started playing in my head. I had only ever read the text once, so was quite surprised to learn that I had memorized it.
My first year of high school I attended an independent Episcopalian school that required us to take a course teaching “world history” and “world literature” as seen through the lens of the religious traditions of the world. The course was constructed explicitly as a rite of passage, and the challenges were so intense that every one of us was transformed by the experience.