Against the Stream: a little about the book and center

For four years, I’ve meditated on and off at Noah Levine’s Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society and just this week finished Levine’s book Against the Stream: A Buddhist Manual for Spiritual Revolutionaries.

Noah Levine’s punk background and personal experience influences the way he approaches Buddhism. He writes about the history, teaching, and principles of Buddhism with humor and a tough attitude. It is his precisely his punk/tough attitude and humor that draws a particular crowd into his centers and audience to his books. A kind of crowd that may refer to some spiritual practices as “new age hippie bullshit” but still are interested in matters of the soul and the heart.

Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society is one of my favorite places to meditate in Los Angeles. I admire how many of the teachers engage in activism and service and also appreciate that the center offers a variety of groups for people of color, women, the LGBTQ community, and people in recovery. When individuals take what they learn in a spiritual practice and make a commitment to address oppression and transform society, my heart/mind open up just a little bit more.


Restlessness, with its siblings anxiousness, impatience, and intolerence, is also going to occur. Many people like to say that they can’t meditate because it is too hard to sit still. But it is not the stillness that is the problem; it is the energetic impatience and an intolerance for inner movement. During meditation it is common to experience the desire to be doing anything but sitting still. We want to be distracted and entertained; we find facing the mental and physical experiences of the body boring or difficult. As our attention runs after thoughts, ideas, concepts, plans, or memories, every cell in our body seems to be screaming for release from the torture of nonaction and nondistraction.

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Part of the forgiveness and healing process is to create healthy boundaries. We may forgive someone but choose never to interact with that person again. We must not confuse letting go of past injuries with feeling an obligation to let the injurers back into our life. The freedom of forgiveness often includes a firm boundary and loving distance from those who have harmed us. We may likewise need to keep a loving distance from those we have harmed, to keep them from further harm. To that extent, this practice of letting go of the past and making amends for our behavior is more internal work than relational. As my father likes to say, “We can let them back into our heart without ever letting them back into our house.”

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What “sexual misconduct” is is fairly vague in Buddhist scriptures. It comes down to the general rule of not committing adultery and not intentionally causing harm through our sexual energy. The general language says, in effect, Go for it, consenting adults–but be willing to accept the consequences. Enjoy all the pleasure and intimacy that sex brings, but be awake. Remember the truth of impermanence: that you are going to change and your partner is going to change and you are probably not going to like it. Be willing and go into it with your eyes open.

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