The first time I meditated I was six years old. My parents found me, sitting on the pillow from my bed, legs crossed, my gaze fixed a few feet ahead of me on the ground. My dad knocked and, when I did not move, nodded approvingly and wandered off. Later, over dinner, my mother casually asked, “What were you doing sitting on the floor earlier today?”
“Meditating,” I replied.
“And what do you do when you meditate?” she inquired.
“Just pay attention to my breathing.” She nodded knowingly and let the topic drop.
My mother took a yoga teacher training when she was in her twenties. In order to graduate, she had to attend a meditation workshop with a Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, in Barnet, VT. She went up there, sat the weekend, and didn’t think much of it. As was the case at the time for all the students, she went in for a one-on-one meeting with the teacher before leaving.
“How was your weekend of meditation?” Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche asked.
“It was okay.”
“Just okay?” She nodded. He began to laugh. Not quiet laughter. A full belly laugh. She rose, infuriated that he would laugh at her, and stormed out. She was so mad that the following week she went back to the meditation center and sat another full weekend, just so she would have the opportunity to go into that one-on-one meeting and really tell him off. The thing is, that was the weekend she fell in love with the meditation practice. The rest, as it’s said, is history.
My mother began sitting long meditation retreats and co-founded what is now known as the Boston Shambhala Center. She moved to the meditation center in Vermont, and my father, while courting her, ended up having to do so partly in that environment. He began meditating as a result, and they became a Buddhist couple.
Thus, when my father found me meditating at age six, he wasn’t completely shocked. My parents never forced meditation on me. It was just…around. I grew up in an environment in which one of my parents would go away for a week or two to a meditation retreat. Or I would be brought along, camping alongside them in a tent, attending daycare with other Buddhist kids while my parents would meditate nearby. At home, I remember knocking on their bedroom door, seeing my mother meditating and knowing that meant that I should come back a little later.
The environment that I was raised in slowly seeped into my bones to the point where I tried meditation at that young age. Later on, when I was having a tough time with bullies at school, my parents recommended I do a full weekend meditation retreat (in retrospect, karate lessons might have been more effective). At age 11, I sat my first weekend, much to the shock of the adults in the room. “What do you even think about when your mind drifts?” they would ask. In truth, I do not remember. School work? A budding crush that would go nowhere? Likely nothing too far off from the grown-ups. But I sat there, diligently coming back to my breath over and over again.
The moment the light hit the fuse came when my parents approached me about an opportunity a number of years later. I was 17 and contemplating college. “You know what would make for a great college essay?” my mother prompted. “If you went to Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia for a summer.” I didn’t have any big plans, so off I went, shaving my head, taking the robes, observing silence and meditating all day long. That level of deep immersion for weeks on end was really when I saw the effects of meditation for the first time. It made me more present, kinder, and more in tune with my environment.
I remember the exact moment when I realized my path had diverged from that of my parents. I was doing a walking meditation, in full monastic garb, and out the window I saw a whale break through the surf and crash back into the water. I suddenly recognized that my parents had never done what I was currently doing, the whole monastic thing. What I was doing was distinctly about me and my spiritual journey. It was eye-opening.
When I returned from the monastery, I found that my parents were right; the monastic experience made for a great college essay. I got into my first-choice school. The thing that they did not predict was that once I arrived there I would focus much of my energy pursuing the mindful path. Four years later, having founded Buddhist House, a communal living and meditation space on campus, I was hired as the youngest executive director of the Boston Shambhala Center, the same organization my mother had founded 35 years before. I went on to oversee development for all the Shambhala Centers worldwide before writing the first of four books, The Buddha Walks into a Bar. Today I am a full-time author, speaker, and meditation teacher (for more info visit lodrorinzler.com).
I am often asked what it was like to be raised in a Buddhist environment. Having not known anything else, I don’t have anything to compare it to. But I will say this: My parents subscribed wholeheartedly to the notion of basic goodness. As a result of their meditation practice, they experienced what the Buddha had: Peace. They knew that under the layers of confusion that plague our mental state we are innately wakeful. We are innately kind. We are innately strong. We are basically good.
Yes, I may be a rare breed, having grown up with parents who were committed to mindfulness meditation and through whom I was able to begin practicing at a young age. But the main gift they gave me was this notion of basic goodness. As opposed to what I think many of us experience in today’s society, growing up believing that we’re basically not quite right, basically messed up, I was raised with a different belief. Instead of giving in to society’s whisper that I would need a new product, or the best school, or a girlfriend to become whole, my parents raised me with the notion that everything I needed to be happy comes from within. They were my first meditation teachers, gently guiding me to the cushion even when they were not consciously doing so.