Hello, I’m Neil McKinlay
I have always suspected meditation has something to offer this world. When I find myself struck by the aching beauty or the weighty difficulties of this time we share, a deep-body knowing inevitably affirms that the practice has something important to give this moment. And, again, this has always been the case for me.
When I first learned to meditate as a teenager, in the still hours after a swim coach guided a small group of us through the practice, I remember laying awake feeling some indescribable thing had changed. I remember feeling some kind of possibility or potentiality or fundamental promise had opened up.
This feeling followed me as I started to study and practice in a more formal way. For three decades, I trained within two successive Buddhist communities. Both of these provided opportunities to engage formal curriculum and long retreats. Both were permeated by this continuing sense that all we were doing – everything – was in some way meant to bring benefit to all.
The same was true after my own career as a swim coach ended and I started to teach meditation myself. For more than fifteen years now, I have enjoyed the privilege of leading short- and long-term events online and in-person. I have been able to explore the teachings and practices with small groups in the Pacific Northwest and larger groups around the globe. Through it all, the impression persists: this work offers something of value.
This longstanding sense started to clarify in early 2020, after my involvement with the second group noted above came to a difficult conclusion.
In meditation we learn how to be deeply and simply here – then we let the wisdom of the moment flow into our lives.
While the relief I felt at departing this situation was considerable, the sense of loss was overwhelming. Having little idea how to navigate this, I turned to what was familiar and meditated. I settled into that crushing lostness – which is known as the meditative phase of shamatha or mindfulness. Out of this settling came experiences of insight and understanding – which is known as vipashyana or awareness.
Surprising in this was how directly those experiences of insight spoke to what was happening to me. Surprising was how clearly this suggested a phase of meditation I had not recognized before: one in which the understanding that expresses out of settling is allowed to guide me into my life. Surprising was the fact that, following such guidance, I started to move through that lostness, and find a sense of direction and purpose that today is having a notably affirming effect on people I work with.
Shamatha. Vipashyana. Bringing meditation to life. Where I have long understood – and long described – meditation as consisting of two key phases, now I see and articulate three. And where I have long encouraged people to contemplate two questions in their engagement with meditation – How do we support meditation practice in our lives? How do we see the teachings of meditation in our lives? – I now add a third: How do we let the wisdom we touch in meditation guide our lives?
Because if I’ve learned anything through the past few years, it’s that we do connect with something tender and knowing through practice. And this inner resource exists to guide our lives, exists to be shared through our lives for the benefit of all. Which finally confirms what I’ve suspected for decades. Meditation has something to offer this beautiful and difficult world: the necessarily unique gift waiting inside us, the wonderfully unique gift each of is.
“I have been thinking for days about the most deeply meaningful things I can say about Neil as a teacher and as a principled human being. I think the two words that first come to mind are honesty and integrity. And an ability to hold the space, whether it is with one person or many. His many years of study and immersion have given him the skills to be a very very fine teacher. I treasure my connection with Neil and recommend him often to folks looking for a meditation teacher.
— Babs O’Brien