• Ferdinand Tongson

My Meditation Story

Updated: Jun 12, 2019

How I started meditating, I suspect, isn’t how most people start meditating and when I started is probably not the norm. I started meditating when I was around 8-years-old and not because my family or parents meditated, they didn’t and don’t, but because I had accidentally found a book on meditation and, for some reason, thought it might help me cope with my night terrors.

I say night terrors because it wasn’t just nightmares. Before I would go to sleep or when I would wake up at night, I would “see” a woman sitting at the foot of my bed or feel that something was looking at me through the window and, of course, be afraid of the monster under the bed. If the bedroom door was open, I’d imagine something waiting outside for me and, if it was closed, I’d hear things in the closet; a lose-lose situation for little Ferd. And when I finally would fall asleep, I’d have reoccurring nightmares of monsters and entering haunted houses.

For the book I found, it was not an in-depth look at one type of meditation and the philosophies behind it but more of a summary of various techniques of meditation. Because of this, I learned to look at meditation as a tool without the burden of religion or philosophies. And, all I really wanted was something to help me get through the night so I could at least have a couple hours of good sleep. 

I’m not sure how my 8-year-old self could have understood what meditation was since I don’t ever recall being exposed to it as a child, my upbringing being Catholic, but through synchronicity and desperation, I started meditating or what I thought was meditation at the time.

I experimented with various techniques like visualizing a still lake, walking down colored stairs or seeing the colors of the rainbow and there was even one where you imagine tasting something. I ran through at least several until I settled on a body tension technique that worked for me. And from 8 to 13, I meditated when the night terrors were really bad, which was more often than not.

By 13 though, I suddenly stopped having night terrors on a consistent basis. I’d have them from time-to-time but not as bad. And as junior high, high school and college came and went, my meditation practice became less and less necessary until it became something that I remembered I used to do.

Fast forward a little over a decade later to 2006, and now I was teaching conversational English in Japan, practicing martial arts, and hanging out with a friend who started introducing me to psychedelics and Ken Wilber books. As an off-hand remark, he mentioned doing a 10-day silent meditation retreat and that it was a “trip”, so I asked him what it was and scheduled myself for the next available one.

The course was a Vipassana meditation retreat taught by S. N. Goenka and what I learned on the first day of that retreat was more than all the things I learned combined when I was a kid. I was immediately hooked, and I knew if I allowed myself, I could potentially become a monk. Not because of the philosophies or religion attached to this meditation but because it would require the dedication of a monk to master this tool to deep dive into the Ultimate Truth. So, after the retreat, I promised myself I wouldn’t become a monk because I wanted to stay in normal modern society, and I felt I was cheating somehow by escaping into a monks’ life. Not that a monks’ life was bad, I think I would have made an awesome monk, but that by choosing a monks’ life I was running away from something.

Jump forward to December 2011 and I had just spent the last two years volunteering around South America. I had started in Peru, gone to Bolivia, dropped down into Chile and found myself in Lima, Peru again. Not knowing what to do or where to go next, I decided to attend my 7th Vipassana retreat through the New Year to ground myself so I could decide my next course of action. 

Before I started my South American adventure, my original choice was to go to India, so I had an inkling of going there next since South America was feeling more and more like a detour. But I knew the odds of me becoming a monk would almost be certain if I went to India. Yet, before and after my retreat, that was the plan. 

As the year changed from 2011 to 2012 in meditation, a plan to India was sparked. I would go to Panama, find a freight ship to take me across the Atlantic or Pacific so I could get to Europe and then walk to India. The plan still bothered me though since I promised myself that I wouldn’t become a monk, but I didn’t really see anything else that I wanted to do.

After the retreat, I stayed in a hostel in Lima to prepare my trip to Panama. In the hostel, I clicked with one of the guys bunking with me in the same room since he was also a Vipassana meditator. He told me he was going into the jungle to experience Ayahuasca and asked if I wanted to come along. I said yes.

Four years later, after staying in the high jungles of Peru working with plant medicines to explore emotions, I returned to San Francisco. I found out what I was running away from was my emotions and how, ever since I was a kid, I was using meditation to escape from them. My experience in the jungle forced me to adapt, change, and use what I learned from my practice in meditation to create new tools to help me explore my internal world and finally become comfortable and at ease with my emotions. 

My hope in returning to San Francisco was to share my experience, show how valuable emotions are in living a happy and balanced life and to present a pathway into achieving that. To help smooth out the rough waters people may encounter, I started developing Consciousness Breath Meditation as a tool to help them along the way. It’s a practical breathing meditation focused on gaining consciousness and balance between the mind, body, external and internal world.

I still practice Vipassana, having completed my 9th retreat in 2018, and plan to continue to do more retreats in the future but I no longer use it to escape my emotions.

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