I have had chronic pain for most of my life. It is hard to believe that I feel serene these days, as there were many years when I did not think life was worth living with this degree of unrelenting discomfort.
I had been told to meditate in order to help with my physical and emotional distress and tried to begin a practice for years. The problem that I was experiencing was that I could not find a meditation group that was accessible for my needs.
Often, I could not even access the space because of financial limitations (I live off of SSI), fragrance (I have multiple chemical sensitivity) or because I was not allowed to lie down when I meditated (I have severe pain in my spine and am not able to sit for extended periods). If I did access the space, the ableism that I experienced within the group felt so alienating that I would leave. I do not remember how I found out about EBMC, but in 2012, I walked into the East Bay Meditation Center’s Every Body Every Mind Sangha: a practice group for folks with disabilities, chronic illness, and/or limitations that was donation based with no one turned away for lack of funds.
While I had experience with identity-based community as a radical, queer Jew, I had never come out as a person with disabilities nor sought community within this identity. I was astounded: I was surrounded by people that I could relate to, my access needs were met, and I felt held for the first time in years.
I remember going back to the Every Body Every Mind Sangha and hearing Jim Willems speak for the first time. Here was an individual who experienced the degree of chronic pain that I was experiencing, yet he did not seem to be suffering. How was this possible? I could not fathom having that degree of acceptance and peace around my pain.
The East Bay Meditation Center, along with the incredible teachers of the Every Body Every Mind Sangha, patiently taught me the Dharma and how to develop a meditation practice within my abilities. I learned the difference between pain and suffering and use this tool to this day. I learned that I can have a life with a lot of pain and also be truly content.
I do not exaggerate when I say that EBMC saved my life. I do not know what I would have done if I had not been able to access an affordable, justice oriented spiritual community that recognized my needs as a person with disabilities and never said that my access needs were “too much.” I am deeply grateful to the center and everything that it has given me.
Jess Dene Schlesinger
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