by Jim Regan, IMCW Board of Directors
“Tara Brach. Isn’t she IMCW?”
“IM-what-what?” I asked, befuddled by the unfamiliar acronym.
“Insight Meditation Community of Washington,” the workshop facilitator said. It was the summer of 2003, and I was participating in a weeklong workshop near Warrenton, Virginia. The week before the workshop I had accidentally discovered on-line, and ordered, Tara’s Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha. I eagerly started reading the book before bed the first night of the workshop.
The next morning I shared a quote from Radical Acceptance with the group. That’s when the facilitator told me she thought Tara was with IMCW. I immediately found confirmation on the book jacket, and was delighted to discover that Tara taught only a few miles from my home. The following Wednesday I sat with about two hundred other seekers of inner peace for my first guided meditation and dharma talk from Tara.
I believe we have an essential contribution to continue making to the maturation of human wellbeing, happiness, and cooperation, and to the evolution of religion in society. I will take a special interest in our journey to become increasingly mindful in our embracing and learning from differences.\
At 49 years old, this was not my first encounter with meditation – but it’s the first one that “stuck.” Throughout my adult life I had sought relief from my aching self-judgment. I had tried Re-evaluation Co-counseling, therapy, Adult Children of Alcoholics, inner child work, men’s support groups, and dozens of self-help books, and the distractions of activism and work. Meditation popped up here and there on my journey, though I never started a regular practice.
The first and biggest gift I found in IMCW was self-compassion. I felt it in Tara’s tone and demeanor; I felt it in the spirit of the sangha; and I felt it in the Buddha’s words “You can search the whole world over and never find anyone as deserving of your love as yourself.” It was so freeing to hear that the “trance of unworthiness” that had weighed so heavily on my heart was a universal feature of human experience and not my private, perverse invention. It was an enormous relief to touch moments of loving presence, to hear that there was nothing wrong with me for getting lost in my thoughts, and to experience that there is a path that can bring me back to loving awareness again and again and again. Over time, I also came to trust the surprising and liberating lesson that coming into my body, with an allowing and caring attention, was the doorway to healing my mind.
I became a regular participant in Wednesday night classes and gradually went from daylong to weekend retreats and ultimately a weeklong silent retreat. The dharma and the sangha sustained me through two wrenching transitions, first of separation and divorce, then of my son’s successful battle with cancer. Life was still hard and my mind was not suddenly free from suffering, but for the first time I had confidence that, more and more with practice, I could be with life as it is.
I also got very involved in IMCW’s Diversity Committee, out of a long-held interest in diversity and equality, especially in faith-based organizations. The committee struggled with how to introduce the diversity conversation within IMCW in a way that was aligned with the dharma, responsive to the urgency of those who felt marginalized, and respectful of all. It was a rich and challenging journey that lasted from about 2004 to 2006, when I needed to step back and focus on other matters in my life. By that time I had been fortunate to meet and know various members of the IMCW board and several teachers – connections that led to my being invited to join the board a few months ago.
I am grateful that my life path has led to IMCW and the dharma. I still sometimes look back at my life through a harsh lens, judging myself for this “failure” or that disappointment. But each twist and turn led me here, and my love of this gift, my life, is growing deeper all the time. Raised Catholic in a suburb of Seattle, I developed a deep interest in religion and social justice. In college I explored other theologies and then became an atheist. After dropping out of college I was an activist during my young adult years, and entered a difficult marriage where I became the father of a boy with developmental disabilities. I eventually went back to school and got a degree in Behavioral and Social Studies (including a survey of world religions that introduced me to Buddhism), re-embraced religion through the considerably wide doors of Unitarian-Universalism, and got a master’s degree in Organization Development. Then I found IMCW, and (quite apart from IMCW) met and married my partner, Missy, a deep-hearted woman who often now shares IMCW classes and workshops with me.
Besides leading me to IMCW and my marriage, these tributaries of my life have carried me to several other places relevant to my service on the IMCW board. I am an Organization Development consultant, which means I help people wake up to the possibilities of working together more mindfully and collaboratively to get important work done. As a member of All Souls Church, Unitarian, in Washington, DC, I am fortunate to experience a diverse urban spiritual community with a wide range of ministries and a vibrant commitment to social justice. And as the father of a young adult with autism, I am blessed with daily opportunities to learn about the dignity and talents of people with disabilities, and about the fears and prejudices I carry.
As I start my term on the IMCW board, I am taking another turn in my journey with IMCW and my practice. For the past several years I have been a grateful member of the “podcast sangha,” listening to Tara’s talks (eyes open!) on my drive to work. Last spring, I started reconnecting with the sangha in other ways. I took one of Hugh Byrne’s six-week deepening practice class series at the IMCW Center for Mindful Living, and I started attending his Sunday class there. My wife and I have attended four daylongs in the past few months. My meditation practice has become more-nearly daily, more of a joy, a delicious blessing I give myself.
I am eager to contribute what I can to fostering the long-lasting health of IMCW as an institution. I believe we have an essential contribution to continue making to the maturation of human wellbeing, happiness, and cooperation, and to the evolution of religion in society. I will take a special interest in our journey to become increasingly mindful in our embracing and learning from differences. I believe mindfulness makes diversity and inclusion possible, and, conversely, diversity and inclusion are essential for mindfulness to have the impact our world needs.
Jim Regan began serving on IMCW's Board of Directors in the fall of 2013. We'd like to welcome him to the board, and thank him for his service.