—by Steve Unger Portland, OR

I first met Stuart in January 2003 when he stayed as a guest at the bed & breakfast in Portland, Oregon that my partner and I had acquired in October 2002. I had lost my job in San Francisco in high tech marketing in June 2001 and over a year later, having moved to Oregon, we finally decided that we needed to “buy a job”. We now tell our guests that we were “high-tech refugees” who moved to Portland in search of honest labor— and found it. At that time I was overwhelmed by the challenges of our new business, and was depressed and anxious. In response I was proactive— attending a “Healing from Depression Group” and Alanon meetings, and taking medication and a homeopathic remedy. For the previous 15 years my life had pretty much been devoted to my career. Losing my job meant losing my identity. I had meditated a bit in college and read books. I had attended workshops like EST, but had no daily practice. I was a non-observant Jew, and yet felt I was spiritual. My practical spiritual expression mostly came from the 12-steps of the Alanon program.

During his first visit I talked with Stuart about his work. Later I talked more with the local meditation teacher, Kristina, who had booked his room. I learned the double-breathing technique and started a regular practice. Something just clicked for me. I felt a shift inside. There is something very down to earth and basic about the practice. You just do it and take what you get. The experience of meditating grows and changes over time. Some days it feels strong and deep. Other days I feel like I’m just skimming the surface. I try to attend one or two group classes a week. I am blown away that Kristina conducts these classes for free. About 3 times a year I go to retreat weekends with Stuart. These can be intense.

Overall the practice gives some experiential reality to the chakras (energy centers of the body). Every day now I remind myself to focus on building a strong Center below my navel, opening my heart and quieting my mind. I have a sense of drawing energy down to my center. After six years I still feel like a beginner. Sometimes when I ask God to help me open my heart, I am mostly aware that my heart does not feel very open. I still have depression and anxiety at times but deal with it more productively.

Opening the heart means having gratitude, appreciation and thankfulness for the many good things in your life. This is a refreshing alternative to my tendency to focus on problems or potential problems and the drama of life. “Let it all go” I remind myself. And sometimes I do. And when I do my heart opens and fills with love and light and peace.