I became a physician with the intention of diagnosing and treating disease in order to prevent death and suffering. When I began my practice in Santa Barbara in 1981, I found myself in an unanticipated position — it was the onset of the AIDS epidemic. I could not avoid the inevitable misery and mortality that came with that diagnosis. All of my training had not prepared me to deal with the ravages of AIDS. It was the worst of times, and I was desperately searching for some meaning.
I began to explore spirituality mostly as a survival tool. All spiritual paths seemed to lead to meditation. I had always thought meditation was the province of people who lived in foreign countries, whose cultures were distinct from mine and who had lots of time on their hands. Meditation seemed to require time, focus, and intense concentration, none of which I had to spare.
Years later, I took a trip to Bali, an exotic, enchanting, mysterious place that I secretly hoped held the answers for me. Upon arrival, I was immediately struck by the abundance of spirit that embraced the materially impoverished people of that little island in Indonesia. I spent 12 days in prayer and meditation. I felt a peace beyond my understanding. The experience was profound, and I was blissed out. Alas, upon returning to my workaday world, I felt it all slowly slipping away. I desperately wanted to return to Bali to get recharged. The wise counsel of a dear friend suggested that this would merely result in my becoming a spiritual junkie, looking for the answers outside of my self. In my heart, I knew she was right. My serious and committed exploration of meditation had begun.
I remembered an adage that the definition of a good meditation was “one that you did.” This was both pithy and prophetic. Daily meditation became part of my routine. I had always thought that the purpose of meditation was to completely quiet my mind. I was uniformly unsuccessful and therefore easily discouraged. This gave me an excuse to stop. An epiphany occurred when I realized that it wasn’t so much the goal, but the process that was important.
Meditation is like exercise for the mind; the practice is to observe and pay attention without judgment. The objective is to bring one’s attention back to the breath or the mantra in a loving, mindful way. The more one practices this exercise, the easier it is to focus attentively. This attentiveness or awareness or mindfulness is then carried into everyday life. I started to notice that the days that I meditated were just better days. I was more relaxed, more attentive, more playful, and more energetic. I even noticed that the flash to anger which has plagued me all of my life dissipated. I became more receptive and less reactive. Even the people around me were happier.
Meditation in a group is both powerful and empowering. Santa Barbarans have the opportunity to learn and experience meditation with Master Li Junfeng this Saturday at the Ladera Lane campus of Pacifica Graduate Institute. This workshop is for both beginners and experienced meditators. Teacher Li is an accomplished and acclaimed Master of Meditation, martial arts, and Sheng Zhen Gong, the qigong of unconditional love. His joyful, youthful enthusiasm is indeed infectious. Hope to see you when Teacher Li Junfeng returns to Santa Barbara.
Master Li Junfeng’s one-day workshop takes place Saturday, August 24, 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. For more information and to register, visit shengzhensb.com or call Pamela Grant at (805) 957-1773.
Dr. Stephen Hosea is an infectious disease specialist practicing in Santa Barbara.