I was stunned by the news that Jesse was in critical condition with pneumonia and heart failure. We had just talked the week before about his passion—bringing mindfulness to teens. He was in his early thirties and one of the most bright, vibrant people I knew. How could Jesse be on a life support machine? How could this happen?
On Mothers Day the doctors met with Jesse’s parents to tell them they should begin to prepare themselves for his death. But in the weeks that followed, they managed to stabilize him sufficiently to perform the most complex, risky heart transplant this expert team at the University of Virginia had ever attempted. Jesse survived, and was with us the following April at our spring meditation retreat. Recently, in a videotaped interview, we asked him what had helped him make it through such a harrowing experience.
Jesse’s response—his story about finding unconditional love in the face of his own mortality—is one of many videotaped stories that are now available through an online video project called Finding True Refuge. Other participants include Buddhist teacher Tsoknyi Rinpoche, devotional musician Krishna Das, leaders such as congressman Tim Ryan, experienced meditation students and those new to practice. The stories will be told by increasingly diverse peoples as we bring our camera to youth and the elderly, to schools, prisons, places of work and worship, hospitals and community centers.
In the stories we have recorded, people tell us how their meditation practice has served them in challenging circumstances. We’ve been awed and inspired by the ways that training in presence has opened them to compassion, resiliency and great wisdom. Lin talks about meditation deepening her connection with her young son after her husband left her for another woman. Steve has found meditation helps him deal with the stress accumulated from 27 years in the army. Terry shares how meditation eases the trauma of being an incest survivor. Laura has been able to find freedom from an eating disorder and alcohol addiction. For each, the discovery of true refuge has allowed them to live and love more fully.
“All religions and spiritual traditions begin with the cry ‘Help!’” wrote nineteenth century American psychologist and philosopher William James. Our lives are fundamentally insecure, and when we contact that vulnerability, we naturally cry out for help: “How do I handle this clutching fear… this sense of failure, of unworthiness… this anguish of loss?”
We are each seeking refuge, a sense of safety, love, peace. Our misguided attempts to soothe or fill ourselves with substitutes—false refuges—further distance us from the peace we long for.A true refuge is always here in the sanctuary of our own awakened hearts. And as Jesse discovered in opening to loving presence, a true refuge can hold whatever is going on in our life, no matter how difficult. This is what we witness through the intimate stories shared in this videotaped series.
The Finding True Refuge project is now live online. I hope you will visit it on our website, view the videos, and if you feel drawn, subscribe to the ongoing series.
For more information visit: www.tarabrach.com