Sloyer develops inner peace through meditation.
Nassau -- Before sunrise, he gets out of
bed and sits. In a small room with only a cushion on the floor, he holds his back
straight, eyes closed, legs crossed in the lotus position, and just breathes. When his
thoughts begin to wander, he observes them and gently brings his attention back to the
breath. For one hour -- a few times each day -- Joshua Sloyer meditates.
The peaceful tale begins when Sloyer, a
Lawrence native, planned a five week trip to the India last winter. Along his way around
the country, he schmoozed with local gurus and hung out with Duni Baba, a JuBu (Jewish
born Buddhist) originally from Brooklyn.
He joined in the month-long festivities of
dunking in the sacred Ganges River for the Maha Kumbah Mela, a religious gathering which
takes place every 12 years. Sadhus, India's holy men, get bathing priority. They walk
together, naked and covered in ash, towards the water. But he returned home with more than
souvenirs in his backpack.
Inspired by the spiritually elevated lifestyles
of those he met, Sloyer, 22, was determined to embark on his own Eastern-style journey. In
the midst of his final semester at Emerson College, Sloyer, an acting major, could often
be spotted on the grassy hills of Boston Gardens wrapped in a woolen shawl, his head
shaved and sitting in silent meditation. While his classmates were agonizing over term
papers, Sloyer was training to recondition his mind.
"I began to see the way I blindly express my
frustrations to the people around me," he says. "Through meditation, I am able
to observe the feelings in a detached, objective way and not lose myself in my
Now, when his anger begins to surface, he
mentally brings himself to a peaceful place. Instead of snapping at his mother like he
would have in the past, Sloyer stays calm and looks at his initial reaction as a way to
He no longer turns to alcohol or other
mind-altering substances for an easy escape. Instead of seeking out distractions, such as
watching television or diving into a bag of potato chips, he sits still and notices what
he is feeling.
The ancient practice is about cultivating an
inner peace while gaining knowledge of the self. It is discovering a personal island of
serenity and deep understanding. But it's not so easy.
The simplicity of meditation -- just focusing on
the breath -- actually involves a lot of work, Sloyer says. Building concentration amidst
a culture that tries to strip it is a big challenge. Everything from fast food to fast
moving music videos treat humans as specimens with an 8-second attention span. And acting
on every little impulse that enters the mind seems like a modern day birthright.
Meditation teaches practitioners to gain control
over a fluttering mind. The reward: "An unshakeable balance. The ability to deal with
all things expected and unexpected, the ups and downs of life," Sloyer says. After
graduating in May, Sloyer signed up for a 10-day meditation course in Massachusetts
recommended by spiritually elevated souls in India. It teaches a specific kind of practice
called Vipassana, the term for insight meditation. The intensive course solidifies
training the mind to just observe thoughts and feelings, instead of trying to control
Vipassana practice, which goes back to the
Buddha, proposes no imagery to conjure up, no mantras or funky sex positions. One works
solely within the framework of the body. Nothing external. In the beginning of the course,
participants learn to build concentration, which then gets directed to noticing the subtle
sensations of the body. For 11 hours each day, Sloyer concentrated on the touch of breath
hitting the spot between the nose and upper lip.
Through stilling the body and slowing the mind,
he began to clear out mental noise and enter a spiritually healing zone. (For more
information about the free course offered around the world, check out
www.dhara.dhamma.org.) "It's about developing awareness and equanimity by focusing on
the natural rhythm of breathing," Sloyer says. "In meditation, we stop doing and
get a chance just to observe."
So, instead of being controlled by powerful
feelings, the practice gives a person the awareness and power to stay balanced even when
toxic emotions try to colonize the mind. Buddhists have known about it for thousands of
Most recently, it has become an Oprahfied
mission. In this month's issue of O Magazine, she interview the Dalai Lama about happiness
and meditation. She dedicated the June issue to the principle of letting go. The gentle
act of detaching from emotions that weigh us down. The anger when someone cuts you off
abruptly on the highway. The lingering pain of a breakup. Disappointment with unmet
"Don't suppress them, don't express
them," Sloyer says. "Just observe the feeling and breathe." Building
concentration and a little oxygen to set you free. What could be more in reach? No
membership fees. No lines or waiting lists.
When Sloyer returned from the meditation course,
he moved to a farm upstate, putting his acting career on hold for awhile. In between
sitting sessions, he bales hay for a local farmer, gardens, cooks and swims in a nearby
lake with a newfound mindfulness.
"It's completely transformed the way I deal
with people. It's about becoming the master of one's own mind," he says. "It's
not an escape from reality, but a way to understand it and better deal with it."