Jerry Douglas MD
From there to here
Some people when travelling will draw a map with the shortest course from where they are to where they want to be, and then there are meanderers who don’t know quite where they are going and how they are going to get there, but are more apt to see and experience interesting things. I am a meanderer.
At the time of this writing I am 43 and have grown up most of my life as a fundamentalist Christian. It is the type of Christianity born of logic and the mind, and without much heart. There was much suffering, but that was an incentive to look for something to ease my confusion and pain. While in junior high school I taught myself self-hypnosis, read Jung and Freud, and looked for ways of understanding myself and others.
In high school some of my friends learned transcendental meditation, and I, too, wanted to learn but felt uncomfortable giving offerings to a guru which my church would have called “worshipping idols”. I continued to read and I began to learn of beliefs from the east. The books of Confucianism, the Tao, Hinduism and rare glimpses of Buddhist writings opened my eyes to seeing the world in different ways by different cultures. In college I tried candle meditations on my own and had interesting experiences. I learned some of the martial arts and continued interest in eastern religions.
I married and went to medical school. There was not time for much else until I graduated. While in residency I learned yoga (Raja Yoga to be specific) and had a wonderful woman teacher. I took several courses from her, and it was from her that I learned true samatha meditation. For a while I taught medicine but then went into private practice. Life was busy again, but I continued my practice of samatha meditation. When the guru was accused of sexual exploitation by some students, I lost faith (though my local teacher was always wonderful and an inspiration to me).
A move to a new medical practice out of the town I grew up in caused some breaking of ties I had over the years (though my friendships have tended to be few but intense ones). With this sense of isolation and deep issues arising within I dove headlong into the Internet and struck friendships which were not spiritual ones. These friendships filled a void and added excitement but also brought much darkness, secretiveness, and further emptiness into my life. It is through those friendships that my marriage was almost destroyed. It was at that time that I descended into a deep depression and after 2 years or so I sought treatment. The treatment saved my life. My therapist was a kind but very confrontational Muslim of whom I have great respect and a man of great heart. It was he who pointed that my crisis was a spiritual one. Though I had other issues, the core was spiritual emptiness. Part of my recovery was cutting off ties with “friends”. Some of them cut off ties with me, and that was very hard. I began seeking a path leading to the cessation of suffering.
Through links across the net I discovered that there was a type of meditation that I had not heard of called vipassana. I delved into finding out what this was, and tried teaching myself, fairly successfully, the techniques involved. Bhante Gunaratana’s “Mindfulness in Plain English” brought some clarity to my practice. With this came the exposure to the Buddha’s teachings once again. It was then that I discovered Theravada Buddhism. The wisdom of the Buddha’s message was so clear that it touched my heart. I had found a new home. I have no longer been depressed. When mindful, I can see the world and my problems more clearly, and hopefully act in better ways. My friends are now mostly Buddhist friends: friends who inspire me with their openness, their practice, and their lives. I try to walk the Eightfold Path that the Buddha compassionately shared with the world. I work with a local sangha and I feel I am a part of an internet sangha as well. Maybe in this lifetime I’ll achieve nibbana, but if not then maybe in the next, or the one after that. All I know is that through this path I see suffering, the cause of suffering, the fact that suffering can cease, and the path out of suffering. It’s a wonderful way to live.