It changed my life
By: Ragnar Skogheim
I grew up in a Christian society but even as a child it seemed I would never get satisfying answers to my philosophical questions about how and why we are here, which is why I resorted to atheism for my whole life. Yet at the same time, even though I was an atheist, I have always been attracted to spiritual and religious places, objects, theories and practices. I even took lecture series on Christianity and Islam during my time at university, and I read books on eastern philosophy and Buddhism in my free time.
A few traumatic situations arose during my youth, and soon I discovered alcohol and drugs to be a way to deal with the suffering I experienced, and my addictions developed to the point that I was smoking or drinking something every single day. There came a point in a particularly dark period of my life where I felt absolutely hopeless and even the alcohol didn’t make me feel better anymore, and I looked up at the stars and found myself asking: “Is this all there is for me in life? Is there nothing more than smoking, drinking and chasing women? There must be something beyond all this. Suppose I try something completely different than what I’ve been doing.”
Somehow I intuitively knew that I needed some form of spiritual practice in my life. The thought of being born, living my life and dying without any meaning or purpose beyond chasing pleasure in the material world simply became too depressing for me. So I figured I would have to give it a try and see if practising a religion would bring me the sense of purpose and meaning that I lacked. I found that Buddhism appealed most to me based on the books that I read. I started reading more books, listening to Dhamma talks, learning to meditate, and cultivating an attitude of compassion and willingness to help others. I quickly realized that the practice of compassion and meditation was giving me great benefits and many aspects of my life started to be positively influenced by my new way of life.
As I learned more and more about Buddhism I eventually came across the 5 Noble Precepts, and I was intrigued by the 5th precept which is “to undertake the training to abstain from drugs and alcohol”. The Buddha recommended these five precepts as a recipe for a wholesome life, so I started to reflect on my addictions and to look for a way out of them. But it was a very long process. For about a year I struggled with the notion that the Buddha recommended us to be sober, so I kept on analysing it and meditating on it. One day I finally saw through the illusion and the substances simply did not give me any joy anymore, and I knew I had to get sober in order to progress on the spiritual path, so I tried cutting down on my drinking and smoking and see how it would affect my meditation.
At this point I had my first meditation experience that seemed to go deeper than before. It was nothing spectacular, no visions of divine beings or past lives, but there was a moment of intense calm and clarity and white light which changed everything. I had never experienced my mind in that state of stillness before. I was sober when it happened, and this is probably why it made such a deep impression on me. I did not need these substances in order to calm the storms in my mind. The mind would calm down if I practiced enough and followed the Buddha’s teachings.
This is when I decided that I needed to get more serious and find a teacher. When you learn to meditate online and from reading books, the first advice that the good resources give is always: “find a teacher”. I was listening to Dhamma talks given by a lot of different monks, so I figured I would visit a monastery to see if they could help me along the way. I was very surprised to find out that there actually is a monastery here in Norway, so I wrote them an email and arranged to visit them for a few days.
The peace that the monks were emanating was something that I had never seen in people before. I was intrigued, and convinced that a life of meditation does good things to people. I was very inspired by the fact that the monks were able to be so peaceful and mindful yet they were completely sober and lived a very simple life without the need for entertainment. I asked them various questions and they helped me with my doubts about sobriety. Eventually I met Ajahn Kalyano and he offered to be my teacher, and with his help I managed to get a better grasp on my meditation practice and how to progress further.
I continued to visit the monastery and after a while I felt I was ready and I requested to take the 5 Precepts. I realized that I needed to make the step to become sober in order to improve my meditation practice. The monks arranged a little ceremony and I took refuge in the Triple Gem and I took the precepts. Because I did it together with the guidance of the monks, it felt like a much more serious commitment and it seemed that I was therefore less likely to break my commitment. It took about two months of sobriety to realize the severity of my addiction problems and I was struggling to keep going, so I also started visiting local support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and now I have been sober for 1,5 years.
My life has changed completely after I started practising Buddhism and meditation and it has only changed for the better. Three years after I began my practice, I am now sober, much calmer, happier, more peaceful and generous than I ever was, and in many ways I have become a different and better person. To have a teacher to help me along this journey has been so valuable that I cannot put it into words. This is where I have personally experienced the incredible value that the monastery has for people who want to become a better version of themselves. Seeing the monks living their wholesome way inspired me so much and gave me the strength to make the changes needed in my own life, and having a teacher who can help you to see things more clearly and get rid of the doubts is indispensable in this process. I also felt that I was welcomed with open arms by the community of supporters, and it was such a wonderful experience to meet like minded people who were so kind to me when I was new to the whole thing.
I want to express my gratitude to my teacher, the resident monks and the wonderful community of supporters who keep this monastery going, because I wouldn’t have been the man I am today without you.