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‘Beginnings’ by Alan Bell

My path to Zen practice probably started in 2001, which was when I was first introduced to meditation via the practice of Yoga.

After a 15 year career both practicing and teaching martial arts I wanted to find a practice that would help me ‘slow down’. I thoroughly enjoyed the physical practice of yoga, that is, practising the Asanas (postures) but over the years as my yoga practice developed I became more and more interested in meditation. Up until 2007 I would say that I was probably meditating for 20 minutes on most days of the week.

Then in 2007, a number of life changing and somewhat stressful events hit me in a short space of time, which lead to a quite strong period of anxiety – such that I had to take time off work, to recover and heal. This time away from work allowed me the time to reflect on how I was living my life. No longer did I feel that sitting for 20 minutes a day, but then moving into the rest of my day on ‘auto-pilot’, was going to create the sense of well-being and ease that my mind and body craved at the time. I wanted to bring more meditative awareness to my life off the cushion as much as on.

This lead me to attending an 8 week course on mindfulness. My mindfulness teacher was not only very knowledgeable – but she had also been practicing Buddhism for a couple of decades. To say that I benefited immensely from the newly acquired mindfulness practices I learnt and applied to my life would be a gross understatement. In fact the practices on and off the cushion where helping me to develop greater awareness and therefore bring more ease into my life.

Soon after the mindfulness course, I started to attend meditation retreats – mainly at Sam Ye Ling (a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery in Scotland) which I found hugely beneficial. Returning home I found that I wanted to sit regularly with a group. I searched for local groups on the internet and that is when I came across StoneWater. I started sitting with StoneWater on average twice per week in December 2011, and have not looked back since.

Sensei often highlights the benefit of being part of Sangha – I have to agree, that this coming together as like-minded souls, all with our own challenges is what I find very rewarding – it feels like I am being held in a comforting way, this feels somewhat therapeutic and having a group such as StoneWater gives me a great opportunity to feel connected to myself and also something bigger.

I have made some fantastic friends at StoneWater – that have added so much richness to my life, I am deeply grateful for that.

In terms of other inspirations, I have read widely on the subject of Buddhism for quite some years. However, I would say that the one book that I always go back to is the classic ‘Everyday Zen’ by Charlotte Joko Beck. Joko writes with such clarity and simplicity and the teachings contained within the book make so much sense to me and more importantly are teachings that I can apply to my everyday life – if you have never read this book – I would recommend you do !

Finally, like life – practice has its ups and downs. In fact for me I don’t really make a separation between the two these days, that is, life is practice and practice is life. My practice life is much more than twice per day on the cushion and attending Sesshin once per year (although this is foundational for me). Practice for me, is a process of connecting with myself as often as possible and living with greater awareness. Attempting to live my life with greater awareness and from my core values via a simple and un-complicated life is what these days I value more than anything and helps me move towards a feeling of being at ease and authenticity.

Sitting each day gives me the energy I need to create this degree of authenticity, allowing me to be more aware of my thoughts, what I say and my actions – which I find will either lead to joy or suffering. We always have the ability to choose and with this comes freedom. This is why I choose to live my life informed with meditative/awareness practice each and every day.