http://www.mindfulnessnw.com/ ). Since then I have followed up with 30-60 min of meditation three to five days a week mostly on my own. (If you don't count a visit to a Soto Zendo and lots of drosh & dharma talk mp3s -examples of sites for these listed below, as well as books on Jewish meditation and Zen.)
Objectively, I'm getting significantly more positive feedback at work and my wife says "Big changes". Specifically she says I'm calmer, more easy-going, much better with the kids, more positive and not as hard on myself.
Subjectively, I think all of my wife's comments are basically true. I first chose to take an MBSR class offered by my hospital because of stress. Between being the father of five children, three of which, whom I take care of full time three to four days a week, are on the autism spectrum, trying to make ends meet on the salary of a CNA, doing twelve hour night shifts then trying to help with kids and get sleep between shifts, and coming to terms that my dreams of finishing nursing school and continuing to play music semi-professionally were on long term hold until the kids could all attend school full time, I was as stressed as this sentence is long. I was forgetting to do things I said I'd do and I was doing things, complicated things, and having no memory of doing them. I was afraid I was losing my mind.
Now, I feel more at ease, I can see through my internal stories, opinions and the emotions surrounding them, maybe not yet in the moment but at least soon after occurrence. Comments from others that used to crush my ego and make me resentful come and go through my internal processing in minutes, hours or a day or two rather than the weeks, months, years and decades I used to hold on to hurt. I still have ego. Letting go is more peaceful. I also am much better at seeing things from others perspectives instead of making up my own stories about their evil intentions and natures. Not perfect, but better.
While I started out meditating hoping for some sanity and stress reduction, I no longer see that as the reason for my practice. Meditation is helpful for stress reduction, for gaining greater concentration, focus, creative insights and a whole host of other things but as I continue in my practice I find that those are the side effects, not the reason for meditation.
So then, what is the reason.
With this question I have backed myself into a bit of a corner. The truth is... I don't know... but I'm curious. Some days meditation feels like the mental version of weight lifting. I struggle, I hurt, and yes, I even sweat. Other days it comes easy and feels like slipping into cool water. Some days my mind is racing and running amok like a sleepy three year old, other days it feels like that same child, sleeping soundly in my arms. Some days I have great epiphanies on my cushion about my mind, the cosmos, the nature of God or just a better way to do a project. Some days I get an unending loop of 70's TV theme songs. Other days, I get wide open nothing, or the feeling of being good and doing good in the universe. I no longer sit on my cushion expecting a specific result. I sit, follow my breath and accept the experience. I don't try to hold any specific thought for too long but just acknowledge my thoughts, feelings, sensations as they come as what they are: thoughts, feelings, and sensations.
My current understanding of my practice leads me to think I need a sangha, a circle of fellow practitioners, to meditate and study with. A group that can help me grow into my meditation and challenge me in areas where I need work, a group that doesn't tell me what is "right" but allows me to find right (or the non-need for such labels) on my own.
In my location, finding such a group is difficult. There are fewer Zen centers or meditation groups in town than there are Synagogues (One Synagogue -in the next town over) Likewise there are no local Jewish meditation centers. There are on-line "e-Zendo's" out there (www.zenwest.ca @zenwest1) and I have enjoyed the couple of koans that were given me by someone from Empty Gate Korean Zendo (www.emptygatezen.com @emptygatezen) in CA. If I cannot make physical connections, I will accept what I have and will work on not clinging to the desire for more.
It is a lesson I am working on daily.
It's been a very insightful year of meditation, loving-kindness and Buddhist and Jewish ethics, philosophy, and drawing nearer to the One/None. Thank you to those reading, to those who have taught whether they meant to or not, and to myself.
May we all be at ease.
(Since writing this, I have discovered a blog that says what I was trying to say here only much more eloquently: http://t.co/VY8L58VGSt)