Meditating On What Life Is Supposed to Look Like

Shambhala-meditationThis personal account of Shambhala training level one by Jessica Runck speaks honestly and from the heart. This article originally appeared in the Fargo Forum “Homegrown Hollywood” column Jessica writes –

My fiancé is a Buddhist.

When I first told my grandmother, she made a sound reserved for those whose grandchildren are a constant mystery and then smiled.

“Well,” she laughed a few short, staccato laughs, “whatever.”

Exactly, Grandma. Whatever.

This was Los Angeles. Nothing could surprise me anymore. People here fill their face with chemicals to try and look younger, host dinner parties with mediums who claim to talk to the dead, and eat their placentas. When I met Jason, I accepted his Buddhism as just another Los Angeles quirk.

But now that Buddhist is living in my house. Now that Buddhist and I are getting married.

So I decided, if I’m going to stand up and promise to love him forever, I should at least have a base idea of what this whole Buddhist thing was about.

And that’s how I ended up, last weekend, crossed legged on a cushion trying to “pay attention to my breath.”

At the center of Jason’s particular kind Buddhism is meditation. If anyone could use a bit of meditation it’s me but I had resisted for our entire relationship. I felt uncomfortable with the idea – especially the Buddhist part – and I definitely wasn’t going to do it just because Jason was doing it. In fact, I was more likely to do the opposite – just out of spite.

I was raised ELCA Lutheran. I loved my church. I sang in the choir, taught Sunday school, and danced in something called “Motion Choir” where I could live out my dream of being a ballerina under the guise of dancing for Jesus.

I went to a Lutheran college and spent my summers working at a Lutheran camp. My whole identity was tied up in being Lutheran.

I was thinking about that as I sat on my meditation cushion, trying not to have thoughts.

I stole a look around the room. There were bright, Tibetan banners, a large gong, and I wasn’t wearing shoes. Martin Luther would strongly disapprove.

When I moved to Los Angeles I had searched for the perfect church but after a year (and about fifteen churches) I gave up. None of them felt the way I remembered.

After the last of these failed attempts, Jason said to me, “Maybe you’ve changed from the person you used to be and now you’re looking for a place that might not exist anymore.”

My heart squeezed at the truth of that statement but I tried to ignore it. I had to find a church, attend potlucks, and force my future children to dance in the Motion Choir. That’s how my life was supposed to look.

I shifted on my cushion.

What was I doing here? I missed the familiar hymns and wood smell of the pews. This room, with its blue cushions and gold Buddha, was a million miles away from that.

I felt rage beginning to bubble up from my belly. When would this be over? I looked at the meditation instructor to see if she was moving towards the gong – the sound that would mark the end of this torture session. She wasn’t.

We had been meditating for almost two hours and the feeling of wanting to escape was becoming too big to ignore.

“Just get up and walk out,” I told myself. “This is stupid. You don’t need to be here.”

But maybe that was the point. – to sit here and have an experience that I didn’t quite understand. And possibly, find something new.

I took a deep breath and tried to refocus. I decided to allow myself to be angry – to not fight and just allow that feeling in.

I felt the anger move up from my stomach, into my chest and throat until it was pouring out of my eyes. Tears ran down my face but I didn’t move.

I sat there on that meditation cushion in a room full of strangers and cried for the uncertainty of life. I cried for how closely I hang on to my narrow expectations of what I think my future should look like.

I thought about everything I try to control. How not a single thing was turning out how I thought. How angry that makes me – angry and sad.

Maybe if I stopped looking in the same place for things that had made me happy in the past, I’d find things that made me happy right now.

I would never have expected to end up in Los Angeles, surrounded by Buddhists, trying to learn how to meditate. But here I was, siting cross-legged on the ground, crying about my feelings. I was more “LA” than I’d ever been.

I stifled a sniff and readjusted. I could do this. I could sit here for as long as they wanted.

And suddenly, the gong rang.

JessicaJessica Runck was raised on a North Dakota farm but now lives and works in Hollywood.  This column originally appeared in her syndicated bi-weekly column “Homegrown Hollywood” in the Fargo Forum. More of her work can be read at

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