This isn't an easy thing for me to do.
I've never asked for help in this way before!
I'm actually creating this fundraiser under the suggestion of my own meditation teacher, who never fails to have my back and point me in an interesting direction to explore. He's asking me to present my intentions to those who love me, and give them an opportunity to help me in my self-expansion, and give the gift of generosity to me and themselves... which is a lovely way for me to think of this, and make it a little less hard to put myself out here.
My intention is to undertake Mindfulness Meditation Teacher training. I have found the program that I believe is "the one", and for which I meet all of the pre-existing requirements to apply. It starts in January of next year, but I have to have my application in within a month, and tuition paid in full on acceptance, which we can do, but we will be putting ourselves into a very precarious situation by taking out such a loan. I needed only a letter of recommendation from a spiritual advisor or teacher who knows me well. I met with my own meditation teacher on Monday, who has known me since I took my very first step into meditation, mindfulness, and Buddhism, and is so encouraging me to do this. I have procured my letter of recommendation! My own teacher believes in me, and as someone who has watched me bloom in my own processes, this means everything to me. WAAHOOOO!
It's a 2 year program, certified through the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California's Berkeley campus. It's taught by some of the western worlds most brilliant teachers and PHDs. The main teachers are Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach, along with a host of other amazing guest teachers who I am positive will rock my brain and evoke the best me to the surface. I intend to then evoke others' best selves to their surfaces, or at least get them started with the tools that I truly believe ARE "The Start". I feel such confidence, being that I already reside right in the middle of a revered meditation center, surrounded by some of the most loving, wise, and experienced meditation teachers and friends in my every day life. I have every resource one could possibly even dream of, if they wanted to undertake training like this. I already live right smack in the middle of the teachers, people, and organizations that one might otherwise need to find their way into through networking. Shoot, I'd have to first even learn to network if I were shooting for something else, but it's already been done for me. I'm already there!
I believe there is no real chance of failure for me, my friends. I'm too inquisitive, too smart, I care too much, I love to learn almost more than anything else, and, through mindfulness and meditation finally believe I am worthy enough to invest the time and effort into myself, and worthy enough to bring these tools that have saved my life to the world. I have EVERYTHING I need to succeed - except for the big chunk of money this requires me to figure out.
The tuition and prerequisite courses I need to take are about $7300, but there are retreats and live events I must make it to, and travel and accommodation are not included in some of these. In total, it will cost me probably at least $10,000, which is why I am here. To ask for your help and plead my case.
As some of you may know, I started my journey with meditation and mindfulness in 2009. I was at the end of my rope. It was time to change or die trying. My life was the cumulative mess of 30 years of looking at things the "wrong way". During this particularly wretched part of my life, I dove head first into reading books on every religion you can think of. The internet was not as filled up with stuff as it is today. What seemed to call to me the most were the teachings in Buddhism, but the information to be found on the internet was so confusing! I was mixing the different schools of Buddhism, and really had no way to put the teachings into context. With whatever extra little money I had I was buying expensive scholarly books that I thought held the most information, but were a bit clinical or over-religious and dogmatic in it's writings (which has never been my thing!) I was trying to meditate on my own at home, but in retrospect, I had so many things wrong. But I was keenly interested in understanding. I didn't understand how important it was to actually have a teacher to not only help you know just what to do, but what to do with the information you came across while doing it. Luckily for me, in my effort to better put this stuff I was trying to learn about in context, I came across a website for a Buddhist meditation center right down the street from me that I never knew existed. Before I knew anything about anything, I somehow landed myself there as a cook, and after having found the dharma at Insight Meditation Society, my life has never been the same. Old Me would not believe New Me was possible.
As I write this campaign, I am feeling the recognition that I have never done this before! I'm scared (but doing it anyways!). I'm not exactly sure what to say (but I'm doing my best!). This is a subject I love so dearly, and want to share so desperately. My heart is bursting to want to share this stuff.
The Universal tools of mindfulness and meditation have changed my life forever. It has been one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. We all can often live with so much trauma, harmful habitual patterns, negative thinking loops, and coping mechanisms that keep us in prison cells inside of our bodies or heads. This stuff can rule us, and deeply affect the quality of the lives we live when we are unaware of our inner workings and the things that drive each and every action and step we take in this world. This affects our circle of influence, and therefore the quality of the world and it's collective experience. Our actions are all mingling together to create the flavor of the world we live in. Our actions are born from our thoughts and ideas. We MUST investigate where those ideas come from, and see for ourselves how and if they serve us and those in our lives.
I am someone who is deeply dedicated to understanding the causes and conditions of poverty through my own experience, the societal and economic systemics involved, and how poverty is very often an underlying factor of multitudes of psychological traumas and harmful coping mechanisms which turn into systems of habitual responses, which can make life just so blurry and hard to make out as we try to make the right choices for ourselves and those we are responsible for. Poverty is such a wicked source of fear and stress, and creates multi-generational PTSD traumas as we live in this American society which shames it's own victims through a lack of education, American triumphalism, American dreams that don't really exist much in reality, and a constant message of not being good enough and not having enough (we need more, more more!) to fill the holes we all seem to be walking around with. Holes that have been created for us in the first place, many times, way high up in the hierarchy by those who would benefit from our un-awareness and mis-education as to what life IS, what we are supposed to strive for, what we are supposed to value, and how we are made to see ourselves as people. Oh, we suffer so! But there is a way out, or at least a way to make things better for ourselves. I know this because I have experienced it.
It is my belief, based on my own experience with having the privilege to know so many wonderful people that came from a wildly different background that I did, that the working class majority of people who outnumber all other socio-economic classes, are indoctrinated into a wildly different story as those with more monetary safety, less traumatized parents, and support systems which allow them to explore life and possibly fail as they find what it is they want to do in this life. Poor people simply feel unable to take those chances. It is also my experience here on the east coast that what I wish to teach is mostly only for the people who can afford things most working class folks cannot. Western Buddhism and the meditation/mindfulness world is very rich, and very white. I have felt this and have had to work (quite hard sometimes) with some of these class frustrations through being involved in a very wealthy, mostly white, 40 year old, healthy, established Buddhist organization that is like no place I've ever experienced before and love dearly, even when it frustrates me.
It often feels to me that in the west, this stuff I so desperately want to teach isn't for people like me. It often feels to me that I got in as a fluke. In hiring staff members for a place like ours, which is SO careful in it's quality, the people who are hired, in general, had to have been able to afford experiences most working class folks just can't afford to have the experience needed to be a part of an organization like ours. There are very little pathways for those from more working class/poverty backgrounds to come be involved in what we do. We have working guest positions, but working class poor people can't afford to walk away from their lives for a week or a month.
This kills me. I understand it, but it kills me. Because me and others who came from where I did... we NEED this. The world NEEDS us to have these tools, and I plan to do everything I can to connect these contemplative, life altering practices to "my" people, who like I was, are just waiting for someone to come along and point them in interesting directions to go explore. It is my plan to eventually teach my own secular, universal classes, and have my own secular students, yet stay heavily involved with different meditation centers and act as an agent of outreach on their behalf. I'm not thinking any further about whether or not I ultimately intend to teach secular mindfulness meditation, or teach Buddhism. All I know for sure is that I know I have a tool that is worthy for others who've lived a similar life, and I want them to have it.
Over these last 8 years, through mindfulness and meditation, I have transformed from a person who considered herself worthless, who was crushingly depressed from childhood into my 30's, terrified of everything and everyone. I didn't even let people touch me, or hug me. I hermitted away for 10 years. My marriage was a hot mess. My friendships included invites that I didn't know how to show up for. I didn't know how to love or be loved. All I owned was pajamas and work uniforms. I was a hypochondriac with debilitating panic attacks and ambulance rides and hospital bills I couldn't afford, a negative thinker stuck in the same loops. I would "wake up" in the mirror and realize I'd been standing there for 45 minutes tearing myself apart and silently repeating how much I hated myself. I was completely unaware of myself or how I was reinforcing harmful habitual patterns born out of coping mechanisms trying to self-soothe and self-medicate. I hated my job running restaurants, but never thought I was worthy enough to find anything else, and I thought this was what life was like for everybody chasing the American Dream that we were sold, so I would just go home and cry every night. This was just life, and I JUST WANTED TO ESCAPE. Years and years of this stuff led me to be narcissistic and very toxic during different parts of my life to those closest around me. And an addict. Oh, the ways we try to fill those holes in ourselves! I didn't think I was worth anything at all, so I definitely wasn't worth investing time or energy into getting healthy, or seeing myself through therapy or something of the like. It actually never even occurred to me to. I just wasn't worth anything. This was just how life was, and was always going to be. But oh maaaaan, was I WRONG. I know this because I have experienced it. And now I want to teach these tools to others.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a way of seeing. It is a tool, like eyeglasses, through which one might observe the internal and external world, and then interpret it with objectivity, intention, and care as to what you are doing with the information you've observed. It is a mixture, for me, of meditating while you live your life, and being present for the here and now, whatever that entails.
In it's essence, it is being able to be present, and simply observe what is happening without being so attached to it in some personal way. It's seeing whatever is going on as just what is happening, with empathy towards the relational aspect, instead of what is happening TO YOU.
As one example of 7 billion wildly different situations that may exist, let's say you are watching a friend spiral out. Let's say you've helped this friend in certain ways, because you feel that you love them. You've invested your time and energy, and maybe money or other things that can make their lives better. While you are watching them hurt their own lives with action or non-action, you think things to yourself like "WTF, after all I have done for them, this is what they are doing? Why the hell are they doing this to me? They totally wasted my time". But are they really doing anything TO YOU? No, they are just doing things. Mostly to themselves, but because you've invested your time and energy into them, you feel offended that they seem to be negating the things you've done for them. In reality, it has nothing to do with you. They are not making their choices to hurt your feelings. They are generally doing the best they can, but you're still offended because they took a couple steps back, and now you feel like you've wasted your time. Not only is it not about you, but that is entirely a love based on conditions.
This is the stuff we cannot see, unless we can pay attention without attaching our preferences. Mindfulness helps us to do that. We might forgive more, be kinder, and love better when we can see things more truly as they are. That is just on example of how we suffer, and how we might suffer less through using mindfulness practice. "Oh, man.. this really sucks to watch my friend do this, but they aren't intending to hurt me, so there is no need for me to be so angry with them. What can I do to support and love them while still setting boundaries and taking care of myself?" I'm going to say there are probably at least about a thousand wildy different examples of things like that for each of the 7 billion humans inhabiting this earth. This shit is tough, but it ain't always about us! Living mindfully helps us see that for others and in ourselves.
When you learn the skill of seeing things after having taken a step back, without your preferences for how you wish things to be in the way, you are seeing things more as they truly are. You are living one step closer to the actual reality going on, and can make better decisions based on that truer reality. You can observe, pause, reflect, and respond according to this reality.
Our preferences make everything that happens inside of our view somehow about us. When that is happening, we have an overwhelming tendency to REACT instead of respond. What we normally react with is a lifetime of built up habits that were formed trying to protect us, based on past experiences and past miseries and fears that rarely have much to do with what is happening today. These sorts of reactions do nothing but squash us down into slavedom. They keep us small. Most of the time these reactions do us much, much harm. We fight ourselves, or we fight back with others, we run away, we mess things up with our friends and family and ourselves, we feel like shit, we hide, we refuse to show up, we hate ourselves, and we try to then cover that feeling up with a million bajillion coping mechanisms. There is a way out of this. I know it because have experienced it. I have this skill and it's a skill I want to pass on.
What is meditation?
There are many different forms of meditation. The form of meditation that I practice, wish to teach, and am most familiar with is Insight, or Vipassana meditation. There are two parts to this meditation. One half of the meditation is understanding and practicing how to be still, relax, shush, and concentrate on an anchor, such as our breath. I feel it can also be used as relaxation meditation, which can't not help in and of itself. Not only are you literally practicing being relaxed and calm, which is a skill you can pull up later when you need it, much like a trumpet player in a band practices playing the trumpet, but when we point our mind towards an anchor, over an over again, every time we realize we are thinking, we are building concentration that gets better and better with time. We're also practicing allowing which thoughts we want to deal with, and how to let thoughts go.
For instance, when I am meditating, and am concentrating on my breath and realize I've started thinking about when I come too, midway in a thought about what I am going to cook for dinner, I say to myself, "That's cool Tarrah, but right now we're practicing with the breath!" and I drop the thought and head back into paying attention to the rise and fall of my breath. If I can let a thought go about what I want to cook for dinner, I can let a thought go when I'm in a mental screaming match in my head with someone who isn't even in my house let alone the same room as me. There are so many things like this that we might learn from while practicing meditation. It allows us training in how to be where we are for longer and longer periods of time, instead of getting lost in our thoughts and being elsewhere dealing with people and situations that are nowhere near our physical experience. It allows us training in how to occupy our bodies.
That first half teaches you many things, shoot, a million different things!... but I tend to think of it as a main way for you to learn how to concentrate and be calm enough in your mind and body to then touch upon Vipassana's second half: simply being in open awareness of what is happening in your body, and in your mind. Your somatic, actual experience. You take a step back and become "the watcher". You can watch your mind, and see it's cyclical nature. When you feel an emotion, you can take a step back and reflect on what thoughts you were thinking before that emotion arised, and in time, have tools to better manage your emotion and emotional life. You can eventually watch your own patterns play out, and more understand why you do the things you do, how things are connected in the body to your mind and vice versa, how you get attached to thoughts that arise in the mind, which would simply pass if you chose not to latch on to them. You can watch, from an impersonal point of view the things that happen within your body, and how your mind reacts or responds to these things. You can watch from an impersonal point of view how one thought leads to the next and next and how you can chase a million rabbits into a million rabbit holes that do you no good. You can see with an impersonal point of view HOW YOU WORK. Just by sitting down and shutting up.
With this knowledge of how you work, and knowing that you are putting real time and effort into yourself, you start to become more in control of yourself, able to break habitual patterns you never even knew were there previously, or perhaps you knew were there, but could never really understand why these habits existed or how they actually work or how to stop reacting out of them. I could just go on for ages. It's really just practicing mindfulness in a more formal way.
Mindfulness and meditation together, for me, is ultimately the act of just being here, right now, with whatever is going on. Not wishing to be anywhere else, doing anything else. Not some far off place in your mind, not mentally doing bills and incessant worrying about how you will pay them, or planning vacations you'll never take because you can't afford them but hot damn do you need an escape, or career moves that you will never take because you are too scared, ect., ect., ect! No ruminating, no daydreaming about the shiny things in life that may be wanted. Just being here right now, inside the body, feeling whatever there is to be felt, in your immediate surroundings and not far away in the mind - and seeing, moment after moment that each individual moment was actually pretty ok. And then realizing that a whole string of OK moments has gone by. Or a whole day of OK moments. And then being less afraid of upcoming moments because you've seen the long strings of okayness of previous moments, you experienced it yourself, so you KNOW - you know you can in fact have an OK day with 16 shitty moments. Your trapped unaware brain is going to tell you that you're whole day sucked. Your trapped unaware brain is going to take those 16 shitty moments you had and use them to override every other thing that happened in the day.
Equally important is learning to be still and sit right smack dab inside the moments which really aren't so ok. The ones that really suck a whole lot and make your eyes hurt from crying and your nose stuffy and your body tense and uncomfortable and achey. If you choose to pay attention during those moments, you will see YOU GET THROUGH THOSE TOO! This practice taught me that I didn't need to be afraid of what might be coming in future moments, because not only can I survive it, but most of the moments are 100% not as terrible as I thought they were going to be before I started paying attention to the quality of each of them.
My first great Insight, my first EPIPHANY, I like to call "Cutting the Carrots". I had maybe been at IMS for 4-5 months, and was the cook on duty that day, and I had been practicing meditation ALOT at home, hours and hours a day, and trying to be mindful throughout my work-days, as the kitchen team at that time was a pretty serious bunch about practicing silence while we worked and practicing meditative mindfulness during our work days. So this day, as I was being mindful - feeling my feet planted on the floor, feeling my belly up against the edge of my worktable, feeling the knife in one hand and a carrot in the other as I carefully cut each, paying attention to the motions I was making, admiring the bright orange colors of the carrots, and how they smelled, and knowing they were going to feed these people who were my first experience in communities of kindness, and mindfully following those thoughts of taking care in what I was doing and why I was doing it I had the monumental realization that I WASN'T RUMINATING. My negative thinking hampster wheel had closed shop. And I realized that hours and hours had gone by where my brain was no longer on HellMode Repeat. I had no shitty loops on replay for the 389748974th time about how I hated my life and all the reasons why because I was still neck deep in depression. I was simply where I was, and doing what I was doing. Standing in a kitchen cutting carrots and NOTHING else. I wasn't in some room in my mind fighting with husband, or roommate, or fighting with myself about who I thought I was supposed to be. I was just cutting these damn beautiful carrots, and I was totally ok. I was not suffering. Not at all. Not one bit.
I believe that is the start to any other thing you might need to work on to bring yourself to a better place (And it IS US, who brings ourselves to better places - nobody else can do the work for us, but they can lend us their tools!). I really believe that is the start for many, many people. At least for people like me. This is true for me, because I have experienced it.
I am absolutely committed to this. I want to be a healer in a world that needs healing, or a catalyst, in the very least. I know this can be done, because it was done for me. I have experienced it.
Thank you so very for taking the time to read this, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for any consideration in helping me to bring this to life.
I love you and thank you all for supporting me throughout my life, in all the ways that you have.
This is a link to the program:
So much metta,
Edit: I'm including the contents of my letter of recommendation below so that you might see my own teachers ideas of what he sees in me and believes I am capable of:
"Hi Tara, Hi Jack,
I’m writing to you recommending Tarrah Schmidt for the Mindfulness Teacher Training Program.
I’ve worked with Tarrah here at IMS since 2010. I have a good sense of who she is, what she struggles with, and what she has to offer to the world.
As I imagine you know from Tarrah’s application, she has come a long way in her life. An incredibly difficult childhood and early adult life has been the catalyst for Tarrah coming to the Dharma and taking to it with some degree of fervor. Her background, as is often the case, is the raw material that she practices with and will play, and is playing, an important role in what and how she will give to the world.
Tarrah may not have the knowledge of Buddhism that is so based on the suttas or how the enlightenment factors give rise to each other in a progressive way, for example, but she does know very deep down how suffering comes to exist and how it comes to end. It is from the depths of this knowing that Tarrah will be able to speak directly to, and inspire people on the path. As the western Sangha diversifies, Tarrah will be well suited to meet this group. I could also see Tarrah teaching for Against The Steam, to various populations of women, incarcerated populations and young people. I don’t know many other people who I believe would be so well suited to teach mindfulness to a diverse population, and be such a support for marginalized populations.
We are in such need of teachers who can speak directly and knowingly to populations other than white middle class. Because of her difficult background and the compassion and wisdom that have come as a result, Tarrah will be very well suited to speak to and teach others who have not drawn the best hand in life and are marginalized in some way by popular culture. I know that Tarrah is keen to do this and I see this as one of her great strengths.
I have no doubt that Tarrah would make an inspiring and creative teacher of mindfulness. She is very keen to pass on what she has learned. Though there’s still lots for her to assimilate, I believe she is ready for and would benefit from the training, and see it as a way for Tarrah to continue her beautiful journey of growth and exploration of herself and of the Dharma , as well as a way to prepare her to teach mindfulness to others, because for Tarrah, these would be very much one in the same."
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