When I arrived in the United States, I reconnected with my family, with my father. Growing up in America, I would repress and forget all of these experiences. Being a teenager in America, I learned to fit in, and act cool, and sound cool, like, “Hey dude, what’s up man?” “Excellent!” We were from the San Fernando Valley in Southern California. “Whatever!”
And in my twenties, I pursued fame and success as a theater artist. Ambitions driven comes also with anxieties and fear. A friend of mine recommended that I do a ten-day-long meditation course. I didn’t know anything about meditation, but it sounded like a vacation because I heard people could sit around. So I signed up for it.
So the first three days sitting on the cushion in silence, and being told to observe my breath, and observe my body, all I felt was exhaustion. And then boredom, and then fear, and then anger. My mind was just churning. I noticed, like, “Wow, all these judgments — I like him. I don’t like her.” And what previously mattered to me, no longer mattered. All I was focusing on was how annoying this guy sitting in front of me was. His burping and coughing, and the vegetarian food was like, “Where’s the beef, man?” And then worst of all, there’s this, like, “bzzz” — this fly would not leave me alone, and I thought, “Why are they making it so difficult for me?” I was so angry I picked a fight with the teacher.
And in the middle of the night I thought, “Okay, I have to devise a plan to escape from this meditation center.” This is worse than hell, worse than the experience that I had on the boat. But somehow I managed, one breath at a time. Breathing in and letting go, and breathing in and letting go… and then my mind would wander, and I’m like, “Oh I hate this!” and then breathing in and letting go… All of the sudden I could feel the sensations of my body. Oh my god, I could feel my legs, and my hands, and the tingling sensation on my skin, and the next thing I could feel my heart beating, and my brain was pulsing, and I was like, amazing. And of course I would get back to “I hate this, get me out of here!”
Then, on the 9th day, I experienced something very familiar. As I was sitting there breathing in, practicing letting go from moment to moment, just as I was sitting on this cushion the way I sat on the top of that roof deck, I felt peaceful and alive. And I felt myself connected to all these people. I felt awake. I felt awakened.
My experience, my story of being a survivor, and a refugee of war, is not unusual. I believe that all of us are survivors and refugees of war. The war that we see on the outside, the conflict that we see on the outside, is simply the manifestation of what’s going on inside. Please take a breath with me.
You know these days I just feel so grateful and delighted that there is research and neuroscience that prove the benefits of mindfulness and being mindful. Right? It improves your immune system, and is better for your heart, and you sleep better, and it even increases the size of your brain. You know, there’s even apps for this. Really! There’s apps for meditation! And now we have a whole conference, a TEDx conference on mindfulness and being mindful. You know that all the talks might be intellectually stimulating, but it would be of little use to you. So all the talks might be stimulating, intellectually, but it would be of little use unless we learn to practice. And by practice, I mean to pause, to breathe, to settle down, to observe what’s going on, inside out and outside in.
We practice so that we become awakened. And in this moment, what matters is our presence, together, here and now. By practicing being in the moment, one moment after another, we are guided. We are guided into true freedom, unconditional love, and real happiness. So I wish all of you true freedom, unconditional love, and real happiness. I love you.