When I was 12, I wanted to be the next Stephen King. I'd just read 'Salem's Lot and it was the spookiest thing I'd ever held in my little hands. I wanted that power: the magical ability to scare someone at will. Or, in Steve's case, millions of people.
In high school, I wrote painfully basic, angsty teen poetry and clumsily dark short stories. A lot of them got published in the annual literary magazine because so many teenagers identify with moody free verse and macabre prose. So writing was obviously my calling. I went to college with the vague ambition to become a famous author. My freshman year, I took a journalism course because my mom insisted.
"Just in case," she said. "Just in case your career as an internationally renowned horror novelist has any hiccups. You can fall back on this."
Journalism was dry as graveyard dust and I hated it. I wanted to make up stories at my leisure, spin lurid tales evil, creeping creatures eating children in the pitch-black dead of night. That was way more fun than research and facts and all that boring shit.
Thankfully, I was spared the ticklish task of deciding exactly what to do with an English degree. Toward the end of my second year of school, I was kicked out for aggravated destruction of private property and general alcoholic mayhem.
I didn't have much to contribute to higher education but there was at least one place where alcoholic mayhem wasn't only tolerated but encouraged: the service industry. I could be a superstar there. And it's probably where I would have ended up anyway with a BA in English.
After two years in the biz, I was tiptoeing up to suicide. I discovered a certain ennui and lack of fulfilment that came with being a degree-less 23 year old surfing the seas of substance abuse, relying on the public's generosity for income.
I'd never been religious. Quite belligerently the opposite, in fact. But when I stumbled across a little introduction to Buddhism at a local bookstore, I bought it on a whim. At the end of that book, I was home. It just made sense on an atavistic level, touched something ineffable that was already inside me.
I spent the next few years studying everything about Buddhism I could find. As deeply as I connected with the basic teachings, I never really meshed with a specific style or approach. All the teachers were clear, however: it was important to pick a tradition and stick with it to really get the life-altering benefits of practice. Otherwise, you risked drifting aimlessly through a spiritual buffet, nibbling here and there without ever sitting down to a real meal.
Nonetheless, I persisted with my drifting. I dabbled in all of Buddhism's major flavors. I went on Zen retreats and vipassana retreats; I read hundreds of books; I tried a dozen different meditation techniques. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I loved aspects of each approach but felt they were all too limited individually. I wanted an all-inclusive approach, something that embraced a multitude of methods, an exhaustive plan for engineering enlightenment.
Eventually, I found exactly that in the teachings of Shinzen Young. Shinzen has spent almost 50 years immersed in contemplative traditions from around the world. He took the most effective tecnniques from each tradition and assembled them into a universal, secular system called Unified Mindfulness. He designed this system to produce tangible positive results and evolve in tandem with modern science.
UM was precisely what I'd been looking for. And all it took was the patience to make it through 18 years of being told it didn't exist.
These potent techniques kicked my lagging practice in the ass, streamlined it, and maxed it out. I felt like I was finally going in the right direction, at the proper speed, with the correct signs in front of me to keep me on track.
After a couple years working with UM, I decided I wanted to learn how to teach others the system. This is a non-religious approach that doesn't require participants to believe or disbelieve anything particular. There's no dogma attached and it plays well with any creed, method, or philosophy. Because of that, it can be utilized by literally anyone. Many people aren't interested in adopting a new spirituality, or discarding their existing one. Lots of folks don't want anything to do with words like "spiritual" at all. UM offers everyone a practical way to explore their innermost experience, get to know themselves on the deepest level, and experience happiness independent of circumstances.
UM has been a powerful tool for me and I think it's invaluable for the rest of the world. It has the potential to ease suffering on a massive scale and democratize enlightenment (Shinzen's words, not mine). I look forward to spending the rest of my life writing about the colossal potential for modern mindfulness and coaching others toward their greatest fulfilment. It's a privilege to be able to help.