We thank Wake Up Tampa Bay members for these very open and moving sharings. Please also visit the photo album from the March 2016 Wake Up Day of Being (click here).
With gratitude to Whitney Hill
My path to the practice was rough to say the least, as I’m sure it was for just about everyone on it. In fact, none of us are strangers to suffering. Without it, we wouldn’t be here. We don’t come to the practice because our lives are perfect and easy. We come because our lives are painful and difficult and we often feel alone. We are looking for reprieve from our tumultuous minds and the seemingly endless storms of emotion that run our lives. We come because we’re hurting and broken and there is a part of us that knows that this cannot be the only way.
Mindfulness offers the rest we seek. The habits we cultivate offer us a way out; they show us a different path from the one that brought us here. And the people who walk this path with us, our community, our sangha offers support and guidance when the way is not so clear.
That is what Wake Up has been for me. We’re all at different points along our journeys but, in a way, our suffering brings us together and we all learn from each other’s experiences. Wake Up is a space where we find refuge in the teachings and in each other. It’s a place of consistency and reliability where new habits are formed and old ones fade out. We’re a community notably free of the judgments and ridicule that so often plague our generation. We’re a force for peace in each other’s lives where old friends feel loved and connected and new ones feel safe and accepted. We stop, we rest, we calm, we heal. We laugh, we cry, we listen deeply and we share openly all in the spirit of mindfulness.
With gratitude to Aoka Carr
She said “I feel like I can be inside my skin in this place.” That's when I felt my eyes well, hot tears streaming down my patient face. It was because of the day's practice - the sincere efforts to attune to the present moment that I had the awareness to let them fall, silently, without trying to change them. I sat as each one of the attendees expressed poetically honest and authentically vulnerable sentiments. There were familiar themes: a sense of belonging and excitement to meet other young people on the journey of mindfulness and self-discovery, an environment of non-judgement that lead to feelings of comfort which allowed some to find an openness within themselves, discoveries of ways of looking at thoughts, feelings and sense impressions that inspired intentions for many to carry further.
As each person opened up, I saw the tenderness inside them, the place that, in one of our readings, we learned most people protect themselves from exposing. I saw deep listening, deep sharing, connection, space, presence, bravery, nakedness... and in the midst... I realized that this was a new experience, a curious one. This is what it is like to be in a room full of peers, who are seeing each other and allowing others to see them.
It was the end of the Day of Mindfulness that Wake Up, a meditation group for people in their 20‘s and 30‘s, had put on. Five hours earlier, we - some core group members, some who had been coming for a while and some entirely brand new to the center had arrived to a seated meditation. We were guided to find our breath and dwell in the presence of the moment. When the bowl was struck, we read from Nothing Special and practiced deep sharing and deep listening. I watched as people heard each other without trying to change each other; I noticed when I was trying to be of the moment rather than in it.
Next, we quietly put on our shoes and mindfully stepped out into the sunlight, walking the gardens, our shadows falling, in and out of step with the person in front of us, stopping midway to listen to the birds and feel the wind on our faces. Back inside the meditation hall, we were lead into a a gentle yoga class followed by a deep relaxation. I felt the peace in the room amongst the audible breaths, as we tightened and relaxed our muscles in unison.
Afterwards, we were lead down stairs to delight in the bounty of delicious foods people had thoughtfully prepared. We remained in silence, contemplating how the whole universe could be represented by the food on our plate. When everyone was seated we talked. Really talked with each other about our lives, why we were at a day of mindfulness, our struggles in our practice, our fears, vulnerabilities, advancements. I heard people whose practice had grown, talking with people who just began, and a lot of laughter. I felt such gratitude to be among so many who were so genuinely interested in each other.
After a beautiful time getting to know each other more deeply with words we went back into the meditation hall for our final sitting. This is where I could feel an expansion inside myself. Sitting, the thoughts still came and I still watched them, but behind them was a tenderness, a gentle potentiality of detachment. I could feel the energy of our collective efforts. In all of us, there was a softening - some armor laid down. And with the final sharing, she said, “I feel like I can be inside my skin in this place.” And my tears fell and I let them, grateful to be able to be so present in this wonderful day.
With gratitude to Casey Clague
I first became involved with FCM when I moved to Tampa about three years ago. Shortly after I began attending sangha, Bryan Hindert approached me to ask if I’d be interested in starting a Tampa chapter of Wake Up. Our initial group was only five or six people, but we met regularly and were all very supportive of each other’s spiritual growth. Unfortunately, I had some health problems and other life circumstances that prevented me from attending Wake Up for around a year and my spiritual practice became less of a priority.
When I finally started back, I felt welcome immediately, like I hadn’t missed a beat. Since then, I have been continually amazed by the growth of the group, both in terms of size and in our individual practices. In walking this path together and deeply sharing our experiences, I feel like we have learned to live more skillfully, kindly, and openly. For me personally, I have gained a peace and awareness in my life that I didn’t know was possible. It would be hard to overstate how essential Wake Up is to my continued spiritual development. I want to thank all members of the group for their continued support and insight; I hope that I am able to give back to some degree what has been freely given to me.
With gratitude to Jennica Rob
I started attending Wake Up about a year ago. Prior to this, I had started a meditation practice to help manage my anxiety. My only expectation was that Wake Up might help me become a better meditator in some small way. Unexpected to myself, I have become a regular at Wake Up and have benefited from it in ways that I never imagined. I feel that it has radically changed the course of my life. Through our discussions and guided meditations I have been given invaluable tools to ground myself in the present moment rather than being caught in the stories in my mind.
I have been able to bring this practice into my days and feel much more present and accepting of my life. But what I am most thankful for is how Wake Up has allowed me to make connections and foster friendships with some of the most authentic and open minded people I have ever met. I feel continuously inspired by the kindness and openness of my peers. I am in awe of of their consistent willingness to be honest and present with themselves, both with their strengths and flaws, sorrows and joys. I feel lucky to know them and look forward to seeing how Wake Up evolves in the months to come.
With gratitude to Jerry Stinnett
I initially found Wake Up through meetup.com. I was looking for a group of younger folks to meet with regularly and get to know under the setting of meditation. I had been experimenting with meditation on my own using self-help books. I also had been to a few different groups but they weren’t quite what I was looking for.
I really didn’t know what to expect when I first arrived, but I was getting into the practice of getting outside of my comfort zone. Being a highly skeptical person I felt some initial insecurity but I quickly warmed up to the guided meditation. Since that first day I believe I have only missed one or two events in the last year and a half. Everyone that I have met in this group has been sincere and open. I found my way into the greater Sangha as a whole from this group and became a member shortly thereafter.
I cherish the bonds that I have made through Wake Up and will maintain these friendships for the rest of my life. The personal transformation I have gone through in the last few years has been in large part due to the existence of this group. I look forward to seeing it grow and continuing to be a part of it.
With gratitude to Sam
For the past ten years, my struggles with anxiety have been exhausting. Whenever I thought I was “getting better” life would trigger me and I would lapse back into painful confusion. I started meditating about a year and a half ago when I realized that taking anxiety medication on its own would be only palliative for me and not transformative. The final straw that set me on the path of mindfulness was my first experience with heartbreak. Shortly after my heart had broken open, I sought out a community and started attending FCM. I like to think of my experience with heartbreak as a “Wake Up call”, because it called me to Wake Up.
Since attending Wake Up, my peers and I have grown together in so many ways. I have learned to value the art of listening more than the art of self-expression, which to my surprise has been a great relief. All of us at Wake Up have the great opportunity to feel free to be ourselves. Simply showing up is an act of emotional vulnerability, an admission that we are lost and in need of community, and I love that. This admission of pain is what binds us all together and is something I have learned to deeply appreciate.
Listening deeply to my friends at Wake Up has taught me that my very own anxiety is a source of motivation to heal myself and others. It has also taught me that my very own anxiety is not my very own, because fear is a seed in all of us. I am now grateful to have suffered my way to the path. Through earnest practice and the encouragement and deep insight of my fellow meditators at Wake Up, the natural wisdom at the core of every human is visible to me now. It is like being lost in a forest in the middle of the night and seeing the distant glow of a fire on a hillside. I know it is there, and I know I am going towards it, and the journey is the rest of my life. I cannot control the forest around me, but I can keep walking.
When I remember to surrender to the fact that life is unpredictable, existence becomes lighter. The precious moments when I become aware of my limited time in this body are the moments that bring me home to the present moment. I doubt that I could have learned to surrender without the help and wisdom of others. Speaking from my experience, letting go of the illusion of being in control does not come easily. I still have a very long way to go to heal myself, and I look forward to following the path knowing I am not alone. Not only do I see that my peers have plenty of wisdom to offer me, but I see that my pain has been a means of gaining insight that I can offer to them in return.