Justyn Comer was introduced to meditation as a teenager, by an Anglican priest during confirmation training. Before college, he pursued enlightenment from Buddhist monks in the Himalayas.
But he didn’t fully grasp the power of meditation until panic attacks gripped him during his theology studies at Cambridge University.
“I was borderline suicidal,” Comer recounted.
Transcendental Meditation saved him, he said. In 1992, he started studying assorted flavors of meditation, and he has been teaching them since 1999. Two years ago he began leading free 90-minute sessions on Wednesday nights at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Morristown.
On Tuesday, March 20, 2018, Comer returns to St.Peter’s to celebrate publication of his first book, Meditation for Life: How Mind Training Improves Relationships, Career, Health and Happiness (Panoma Press, $20).
His publisher is flying in from England. St. Peter’s Rector Janet Broderick will do a Q & A with the author, books will be for sale, and a little meditating might occur between toasts. Festivities start at 6:30 pm in the church Great Hall. It’s free and all are welcome.
As the book title suggests, meditation “can help with pretty much every aspect of your life,” said Comer, 49.
“You become more aware of thoughts and feelings and patterns. You not only notice them, but you get tools to manage them… You get mental clarity and focus. That all improves, day to day. You get more emotional awareness, balance, an over-all sense of happiness, joy, and gratitude,” he said.
Broderick has become one of Comer’s biggest fans.
“The main thing is that Justyn has compassion and he loves people. He is a good teacher and so he is able to help people trust and relax as they learn that they can transcend their everyday lives,” the minister said.
Comer teaches mindfulness meditation, mantra meditation, compassion techniques and techniques from the Tibetan Buddhism tradition.
His classes at St. Peter’s have “helped hundreds of people feel better and feel happier, and be healthier. My own cardiologist suggested meditation and he was right,” Broderick said.
You don’t have to be a parishioner, or a Christian, to take the classes. Nor is any prior meditation background required.
“Justyn makes meditation ‘not spooky’ — he is down to earth and practical. As he always says, ‘Anyone can meditate! If you can breath, you can meditate!’” Broderick said.
The book continues an intriguing journey for Comer, a Morris Township resident.
Born in New York to a British father and an Australian mother, he was raised in England. From an early age, he was fascinated by the power of religion — for good and evil. After his religious studies at Cambridge, he detoured to Jerry Brown’s 1992 presidential campaign.
Comer still loves the candidate. But the experience “cured me of most of my interest in politics,” he said with a laugh.
Not that there weren’t parallels between politics and theology. “To this day, at least 90 percent of our foreign policy is religion-related or influenced. And virtually no one in government has studied the subject,” Comer observed.
Brown gave some life-changing advice to the then-22-year-old: Forget law school. Technology is the future. Comer learned computer programming at a community college in San Francisco.
He landed on Wall Street, working first as a programmer for Credit Suisse, Blackrock and Deutsche Bank, and then as a management consultant. Retiring in his early 40s, he and two friends established a nonprofit, RWM Education Inc.
“I just decided I wanted to do something else,” Comer said. “My goal is to get meditation into as many hands as possible.”
Meditation often is compared to a pool with shallow and deep ends. Many dip their toe into the shallow end for relaxation, to catch a breath in an increasingly hectic world, Comer said.
A deep dive, properly guided, can help people explore “what is ineffable and indescribable,” he said.
How does that mesh with religious teachings of creation and the afterlife, and his lifelong spiritual quest?
“There is mysticism across all religions,” Comer said. “It all talks about an indescribable experience. The consistency of these descriptions across time and cultures suggests there is some kind of experience available to human beings.
“I would far rather point people to the experience: ‘Here are the tools. Why don’t you go have the experience, and tell me what you think?'”