What I’ve Learned in 5 Years of Teaching Meditation

Today is my fifth anniversary of teaching meditation. As I reflect on these last five years, I feel incredibly grateful for this journey and everything I’ve learned along the way.

Teacher training class of 2014

Teacher training class of 2014

It was in April of 2014 when I finished a 12 week intensive training in the Himalayas of India, and began sharing Vedic Meditation in New York and California. I hit the ground running with fearless excitement ready to help anyone reduce stress and feel better. I had everything I needed to get started, but also had no idea what I was doing. I was a one-man show in my mid-20s with no entrepreneurial experience offering a service that was new and out of the ordinary for the common public. Believing in my potential to grow and share the practice that changed my life was enough to get me going. So I began teaching, one student at a time.

I thought teaching looked pretty easy from the outside, but as I got into it I realized the learning curve was STEEP. There’s also a lot of business work to sort out behind the scenes. Gradually, I figured things out and learned from my mistakes along the way. Staying diligent, I grew as a teacher day-by-day. After a couple years, word caught on and teaching became full-time. To this day it’s an ever-evolving process, which keeps things fresh and full of possibility.

Group meditation

Throughout the last five years, I’ve taught over 60 monthly meditation courses, hosted over 300 weekly group meditations, facilitated over 20 residential and non-residential retreats, traveled to India 5 times, and opened a new meditation studio in NYC, all in service of expanding happiness in the world. I’ve had the honor and privilege of teaching almost 400 students Vedic Meditation, and have facilitated advanced trainings for several dozen students who are now also teachers of Vedic Meditation.

If you told me before I became a teacher that all this was going to happen, I wouldn’t have believed you. I lived a simple life in NYC working as an engineer and making art with friends. Even though becoming a teacher changed everything about my life, I’m so glad I followed the call to serve in this way. There’s nothing more fulfilling than living out your purpose.

It’s remarkable how much growth we’re capable of when we listen to that calling, face fear with courage, and go for it. The path less traveled also makes for an unforgettable adventure. In some ways, I feel like this adventure I’m on is just getting started, and yet it feels like I’ve had a lifetime of learning experiences already. They say if you want to become an expert in something, teach it.

Here are six key teachings of spiritual growth that I’ve honed (or have honed me, I should say) in my first five years as a teacher.

  1. Take life as it comes as an open-minded, curious student of life. There is no point of arrival or perfection, only balance and beauty within the messiness of life. Change is inevitable and evolution is all that’s happening. Thus, learning is continuous throughout life, even when you’re called to play the role of a teacher. With a daily meditation practice, learning becomes more intuitive and less intellectual as the mind remains present to what is, and the clarity of insight sharpens within.

  2. Be consistent and self-motivated even when it’s easier not to be. You have to be your own leader when you’re your own boss. Diligence with your daily self-care practice and dedication to the cause you’re serving are both essential. It’s a balancing act between the two. Don’t let the cause overtake your self-care. Don’t let your self-care overtake the cause. Your self-care practice is there to make you more capable of serving. The cause is there to give you purpose and relevance. As motivational inspiration, envision your future self 10, 30 or 50 years from now and make them your hero.

  3. Sacrifice who you are for who you wish to become. Turning your caterpillar self into a butterfly is a process that involves letting go of what you believe defines you. It can be emotional and vulnerable at times, but also incredibly uplifting and liberating. The method and speed at which you move through this process of spiritual growth is up to you. The key is not to resist the process, but to sweetly surrender and get into it. Trusted guidance from a teacher who’s walked the path before is essential. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from experts. It’s also important for the process to elevate your dignity, for the fear of your dreams coming true can hold you back if you believe that you can’t live up to it or that you don’t deserve it.

  4. Trust in the organizing power of nature. Life challenges can teach you how to persevere through self-doubt and discouragement. They can also show you how to adapt and respond gracefully in the face of any obstacle. When life throws you a curve-ball and things don’t go the way you expect them to, trust in the bigger picture that everything is ultimately working out in your favor. Trust that nature knows best how to organize and allow the universe to handle the details. Try that on and see how it feels. You’ll find that the need to be right and the need to control specific timing or outcomes begins melting away. It’s in the letting go of these thoughts that nature’s support is given. Letting go becomes second nature with meditation as it releases the stress that triggers the mind to be reactive and controlling. The meditated mind can more easily take pause, problem solve, and respond effectively in a challenging situation.

  5. Align your actions with nature’s intent. Nature supports and empowers you to thrive when you let go of your thoughts, listen to nature’s intent, and align your actions accordingly. Starting with meditation retrains the brain to automatically let go of thoughts that keep you in your head. A calm mind allows you to see nature’s intent through the subtle desires arising in your heart. Give these subtle desires the opportunity to inspire your actions everyday, instead of being driven by an agenda in your head. The mind is meant to follow the heart, not lead the way. The outcome of acting from your heart is a daily experience of peak mind and flow state.

  6. Bring fulfillment to your relationships rather than needing to be fulfilled by them. It can take time for the intellect to fully adopt this perspective especially when we live in a society that tells us otherwise. However, you can experience true unconditional love in so many of your relationships because of it. The mind has been conditioned to believe that happiness is coming from outside of you when the source is within you all along. Your relationships are a reflection of your relationship with yourself. When you take personal responsibility for this and uncover unconditional love within yourself, then love reflects outwardly into your relationships. Better relationships always begin within.

Rishikesh, India 2016

Thank you friends, family, teachers, and colleagues who’ve played a part in my journey thus far. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the insights I’ve received from my mentors, and without my community sharing their encouragement. Don’t be afraid to give honest advice or a kind compliment to the people in your life. Truthful words are influential.

And remember: everyone is here to carry out impactful work for the benefit of humanity. When you hear your call, don’t hesitate. LEAP. Leap out of your comfort zone and say YES to the path less traveled. The world needs your greatest gifts. They are already within you, but they can only shine through if you seek, inquire, listen, and leap.

4 Lessons from a Bike Accident

Biking Freedom

Ever since that first moment of freedom as a 5 year old on two wheels, bicycling has been a source of instant joy for me.

For the last decade, the bike has been my transportation of choice. One of the draws to live in New York City was being able to commute without a car. So when I’m in car-bound California, I get my fix mountain biking the trails of my coastal hometown. Riding through the redwoods with views of San Francisco is nature’s version of Disneyland. The beauty is awe-inspiring.

The other week we had one sunny day between rainstorms, so my dad and I decided to go for a ride up Mount Tam. My approach to the trailhead that morning was a bit cocky. I was feeling more confident than usually after my last ride the week before where I hauled down the mountain like a pro, or so I felt. I also hadn’t meditated yet.

We crossed the wooden bridge at the trailhead, which was slick from the recent rain. I wasn’t aware that the thick treaded wheels wouldn’t grip, and so I lost complete control of steering. My body flipped over the handlebars and tumbled down a boulder rock retaining wall into the creek gully with the bike on top of me. Thank god I was wearing a helmet. It all happened so fast.

As I came to a stop my dad yelled, “Don’t move. Is anything broken?”

I didn’t move. I took a deep breath, and realized I was okay. “Is the bike okay?” I asked. The bike was unharmed.

Holy $#*t. How did I not hit my head, break any bones, or destroy the bike? I walked away almost unscathed, with only a few leg scrapes and a 4-inch gash across my left shin. I got off scot-free.

Witnessing the shock setting in, I decided it was best for my body to rest. We rode home slowly. Once we arrived, I cleaned up the cuts, showered off, and had a nice long meditation to reset the body chemistry.

Reflecting on this experience, I was reminded of four valuable lessons…

1. Be grateful for being alive and well

Walking away from the accident, I was so grateful that I barely got injured. I’m grateful for my yoga practice keeping me flexible and strong, and for my dad for being there to make sure I was okay. (Always mountain bike with a buddy, and a helmet!)

I’ve found gratitude to be a natural outlook from daily meditation, but an accident can really highlight what you take for granted. The importance of physical fitness and family hit me hard, literally. I’m grateful I’ve chosen to invest a lot of time in these values. Cultivate self-care habits and making time to evolve my relationship with my family wasn’t a smooth road. It’s an evolving process, and has been worth the many years of daily dedication.

2. Listen to what the body needs

After standing up from the fall, my old self would’ve wanted to push through and keep riding. Instead, I took a moment to silently check in with my body, and it told me it needed rest. So I followed that instruction. The rest from meditation helped me come out of shock quickly so I could enjoy the rest of the afternoon back at my baseline of bliss.

Rest is typically viewed as weak in our culture. There are times to push through, and there are times to take it easy. I see real strength as intuitively knowing the right moment for each. The ‘go, go, go’ mentality can cause you to forget that rest is an action too. It’s a subtle action to prepare the body for dynamic action. Meditation in particular is an efficient form of rest that’s deeper than sleep. It’s like a fuel-efficient hybrid car idling at a stoplight on its electric motor to conserve gas.

Meditation can also enhance your ability to listen to and follow nature’s cues more clearly. Perhaps if I had meditated before the bike ride instead of after, I would’ve picked up the subtle cue to slow down over the wet bridge, and the outcome would’ve been different.

3. Pain can occur without suffering

When I was cleaning up the leg wound after the ride, I noticed the pain, but also the lack of suffering. Mentally I felt at peace and was able to feel the pain without it conquering my thinking. Certainly, a leg wound is much easier to handle than most injuries. Still, it was a reminder that suffering is a state of consciousness not a physical condition.

My old self would’ve gotten stuck in a bitter state of self-loathing the rest of the day. Self-pity can happen when you’re way too attached to an outcome that doesn’t turn out the way you anticipated. I could’ve gotten stuck in thinking that I was an idiot, a victim, that I made a terrible mistake, or that I was unworthy of riding again. All those thoughts came up for a split second, but I was able to let them go just as quickly.

Meditation has taught me how to let go of any unproductive thought the moment something doesn’t go as planned. I’ve learned to trust that nature knows best how to organize and to take each moment as it comes. This trust is rooted in the experience of your inner nature, which is bliss. Existing at all times in the background of thinking and action is a state of Being that is pure bliss. When consciousness grows, the mind becomes more aware of this unbounded state of supreme contentedness within. First it happens in meditation, and then it occurs in the eyes-open waking state too. When the mind is fully established in this state of silent witnessing, then the equanimity of inner peace becomes difficult to disturb even with physical pain present.

4. The body is impermanent and not our true identity

Watching my wound heal, I’m reminded that the body is constantly changing at every moment. Skin regenerates itself every 27 days or so. The skin you have now is not the same skin you had a month ago. This is true for almost every organ and bone in the body, but at different regeneration rates. Bones, for example, take 7-10 years to fully regenerate.

If life, relationships, jobs, places, and perspectives are always changing, and the body is also always changing, then who are we? What are we?

There is one unchanging constant that I know of, which is the inner state of Being, mentioned before. This state of Being is experienced when the mind slips into the gap of silence between thoughts. The mind is alert and awake without thinking. In Vedic Meditation, it’s common to experience this state beyond the body.

Have you ever noticed your hands or feet ‘disappearing’ in meditation? Essentially, you’re losing spacial sense of your limbs; you’ve transcended the physical self without yet transcending the thinking mind. As soon as you wiggle your fingers or toes, the brain detects the spacial location of your hands and feet right where you left them.

This is one indication that consciousness is not body dependent. Bodies however are consciousness dependent. We can have an experience of consciousness without the body, but not the body without consciousness. What we are is consciousness having a body experience, rather than a body having an experience of consciousness.

The more we identify with our true nature as pure consciousness (or Being) rather than the body, the easier it becomes to ebb and flow with the changes of life. We can enjoy the roles we play with our jobs and relationships, and living in this body and on this planet with less attachment because our fulfillment is rooted in Being rather than thinking. Realizing this power and the magnitude of consciousness can be quite humbling, and brings me back to gratitude. How about you?