My personal outlook on life has been informed by Buddhist teachings. I got into Buddhism about a year after my father committed suicide. Life hasn't been easy. I have had many traumas, losing my father was one of them that occurred in my young adulthood. I was spiritually unprepared to meet the trauma of that loss. My early Catholic training as a child to adolesence did not leave me with a way to put my father's death in some perpective peacefully. According to the RCC, my dad was bound for eternal damnation and ex-communicated from the RCC for committing suicide. There was no ceremony. My father hadn't practiced as a Catholic for most of his life and when he died it was very sad. I was bereft of a way to help myself and help him. For a year, I was in shock. I wasn't able to cry or grieve him. I headed to the Theosophical Library and started to investigate other spiritual paths. I attended my first Buddhist teaching on the Four Noble Truths. The First Noble Truth is that life is suffering. There is suffering in birth, suffering in childhood, suffering in adolescence and young adulthood, suffering in sickness and suffering in death. I could relate to that. The year before my father died I had a life threatening illness and nearly died myself. I could see that this teaching was true for my father too. The next Noble Truth is cause of suffering is not seeing that everything we cling to, our bodies, our lives, our loved ones, is impermanent. I knew from my loss the truth of impermanence. The Third Noble Truth is the truth of the cessation of suffering. Here I was raised in a system that emphasized eternalism--either eternal hell or eternal heaven, and it intrigued me that there was a possibility of an end to suffering as I knew it then. That enlightenment is possible, even in this very life, and that a man named Prince Gautama Siddhartha, the Shakyamuni Buddha had realized this 2500 years ago. The Fourth Noble Truth is the Truth of the Path that leads to the cessation of suffering. The is the truth of the path of meditation. I attended my first Buddhist meditation retreat. It was very strict. Ten days of silence. Sitting meditation for one hour, watching the breath and body sensations, walking for one hour, noticing the touch of the foot on the ground, sounds, smells, sights and thoughts passing through. No eye contact with anyone there. I didn't know a soul. A hundred of us sat together in this hall overlooking the rushing river in a deep forest green. I was going out of my mind. I couldn't sit still for a second. During the sitting meditation my mind wandered continuously. I'd be stuck on some popular song or running every movie I had ever seen or being completely distracted by the pain in my knees, in my back, in my neck, in my shoulders. I hated it. I felt like I was in boot camp. Even the meals were no source of entertainment. They were held in silence. There was even an eating meditation, this kind of microscopically slow eating of noticing, the smell of the food, the colors of the food, lifting the fork to the mouth, tasting, chewing, swallowing. Intending to take another bite, lifting, placing the food in the mouth, etc etc etc. What I wanted to do was what I customarily did, which was check out, space out, talk. Anything but notice what was going on inside of me. Then something really intense happened. The teacher announced that two people on the staff at the retreat land had just been killed in an auto accident. The community was in turmoil and could not support our retreat. The community was going to burn the bodies of the dead and their belongings on the retreat land. The structure of the retreat had to go on without the teachers so that they could attend to the funeral. We were all on our own to sit, walk, eat, sleep and not look at or talk to each other. The final instruction was to notice the breath, since we never know when we will have our last. I broke like a dam. All the grief I hadn't felt for my father's death flooded me. I cried and cried and cried. I could not help myself. My eyes were closed, snot was running down my face, and when I was finally able to open my swollen eyes when the bell rang there was a pile of kleenex in front of me and I had no way of knowing who had done me the kindness of offering the tissues. For three days, the funeral went on. I sat, and walked, and ate in silence, all the time returning my mind to the breath. Across the river the community sat in meditation, over a huge bonfire. I smelled human flesh burning for the first time. Something was happening to me but I wasn't fully aware of it. My heart had opened and my mind was at peace. I sat from five am to nine pm alternately sitting and walking, eyes to the ground, internal, and when I got back to my tent at night I sat longer. Sometimes till 12 or 1, I think. I had dreams of Anandamayima visiting me. (At the time, I didn't know Anandamayima was real. She actually lived and taught in India at the river Ganges. She appeared to me in a dream and I asked what is your name and what does it mean? She told me her name meant 'mother of great bliss'. Many years later I was to go on a pilgrimage to India and sit in the place where she taught. Anandamayima died the year of my first retreat. She was a woman in her sixties. In my dream she appeared in a youthful form. It was many years later that I would see her picture in a book on Hindu saints and recognize her as my dream image.) At the end of the tenth day, we broke silence, and I felt as though I was so open that I didn't even have any skin. What had become clear to me during the retreat was the truth of the cause of suffering, impermanence, and the peace that comes from not clinging, not wishing things to be other than how they are. At that point, I met my wife. learned that in Buddhism, not even hell is permanent. It was a great relief to me that there was something I could do to help my father. I learned practices that I engage in that would help my father in the afterlife. I sponsored yogi's in long term retreats to do those practices until I could learn them myself. I had a touch of an experience of the Third Noble Truth of the cessation of suffering and it had come to me from the path of meditation--the Fourth Noble Truth. It was 1982. That's the first story of how I started to study Buddhist meditation. I did not consider myself a Buddhist until five years later. Please tell your story. How has your life been touched by your path of spiritual or religious practice? If you don't follow a religion, then how has your life experience taught you a way to manage life events in a way that helps you find peace and happiness?