Originally Posted in June 2008

Two months ago was the inauguration of a meditation group in my adopted home of Leominster, Massachusetts, a town of about 40,000 situated “in the middle of nowhere” but “close to everywhere.” There are meditation groups and dharma centers in Cambridge (45 minutes East of here), Worcester (30 minutes South of here), and Amherst (60 minutes West of here). With the cost of gasoline rising, and no end in site, it seemed like the right time for Leominster to have it’s own meditation group. The purpose of the group is to offer a space to practice shamatha-vipassana.  Although shamatha-vipassana was originally articulated by the Buddha and elaborated upon by his community of students, it is not necessary to consider oneself a “Buddhist” in order to benefit from practicing shamatha-vipassana.

Shamatha-vipassana is frequently called vipassana meditation, or insight meditation.  However, I prefer the term insight/awareness, or awareness practice, because as I understand the practice we are cultivating awareness and developing insight.

I came to awareness practice through the typical sixties path.  I began in my twenties  by practicing the style of meditation that was being taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi through the Student Meditation Society, as that was the most easily accessible source of meditation instruction at the time.  I also heard Dr. Richard Alpert (in the process of being renamed Ram Dass) speak in Boston when he first came back from India where he had studied with Neem Karoli Baba.   During that period there was much popular interest in Zen, which began with the Beats — Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, and Alan Ginsberg, and the writings of D.T. Suzuki, Paul Reps, and Alan Watts.  I heard Ginsberg speak and read poetry at Harvard.  I studied Zen with students of Phillip Kapleau, who had been a student of Yasutani Roshi.  I visited Chogyam Trungpa’s original center, Tail of the Tiger, in Vermont, and heard Trungpa speak at the University of Michigan when he was doing his “Spiritual Materialism” tour, around the time that he founded Naropa Institute with the support of Alan Ginsberg.  I met the current Dalai Lama when he came to the University of Michigan during his first tour of the United States and later attended his first teachings at Deer Park in Madison, Wisconsin in July 1981.  I also had the good fortune to meet Gwalyang Karmpa (Rangjung Rigpe Dorje) on his first visit to the United States in 1974 and then once again  before his death in 1981.

That is the early years.  I won’t bore you with the rest.  Suffice it to say that I have at least investigated all the major meditation traditions, and familiarized myself with complementary disciplines.  That doesn’t make me a master of meditation.  Far from it.  But I’ve had broad exposure to principal sources, something that is not available to most people.

So, I have been fortunate to take teachings from many very accomplished meditators, though I could have been much more consistent in applying what I learned.   I was the beneficiary of a treasury of teachers, even if I was not the best student.  The least I can do now is to try to share some of that, because my mortality clock is ticking.

One of the benefits of years of experience is that I have have gone through the highs, the lows, the diligence and the laziness, the enthusiasm and the boredom, the doubts, the questions, and the clarifications of meditation practice, and had the benefit of many, many excellent teachers form many traditions.  So, I can relate to it all — or just about all.

I’d like to do some good with all of this, in the remaining years of my life, so I’m happy to answer questions and help others the best that I can.  I don’t wish to have regrets when I die that I did not freely share what I experienced and learned, and what was generously given to me.

I am a clinical psychologist by education and experience and have familiarized myself with the medical and scientific approaches to meditation, as exemplified by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Herbert Benson and others.  I think it is legitimate to offer mindfulness meditation as a wellness technique, for those who find that frame of reference more accessible.  I am also comfortable with those who pursue meditation from a more classical viewpoint.  How one pursues the path of meditation is up to each person, not to me.   My intention is to establish a group where anyone can come and practice concentration and awareness in the nurturing silence of the group.  I will also share the instructions in shamatha-vipassana that I have received, and those who wish to make use of those instructions are welcome to do so.  Those who wish to merely use the silence to meditate in their own way are also welcome.

The url for the meditation group is http://leominster-meditation.com

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