This profile was last updated in 2013
Against the Stream Nashville is a Buddhist meditation sangha that strives to create and sustain a healthy, accountable, wise, and compassionate community for practitioners from all walks of life. The group welcomes people from all racial, sexual, social, economic, and religious backgrounds to meditate together and familiarize themselves with Buddhist teachings. Against the Stream is unique amongst Nashville Buddhist groups in that its core mission promotes social action. David Smith, the Center’s leader, believes that it is important to cultivate Buddhist practice both on and off the cushion through engagement with the community. Deeply committed to social justice and making Buddhism accessible to all people, Against the Stream Nashville is involved with volunteer projects such as counseling inmates at local prisons, feeding the homeless, and assisting those in recovery centers. Smith hopes to break down cultural barriers that may intimidate newcomers from exploring Buddhism. “We believe the teachings of the Buddha should be available to everyone, precisely because they are helpful to everyone,” he said. “Regardless of your religious inclinations or sexual orientation, we welcome everyone to come and try it out for themselves. We reach out to those in recovery and those who don’t feel welcome in their personal backgrounds.” Against the Stream Nashville does not charge for classes or require a membership fee, and no one is turned away for lack of funds. Smith firmly believes in creating an informal, casual, and relaxed place for practitioners to meditate together. “People feel very comfortable here because we create a laid-back setting,” he said. “We don’t really have any rules.”
Activities & Schedule
Sessions are held at Against the Stream on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday nights. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday meetings serve as part of the Refuge Recovery program, which is specifically offered for recovering drug addicts and alcoholics. The foundational basis for the practice is that all individuals have the power and potential to free themselves from suffering that binds them to, and causes, addiction of any kind. The Refuge Recovery program, a systematic approach to training the heart and mnd to respond to life’s challenges with non-harming and understanding, serves as a path that allows devotees to cultivate awakening. The four major components of the Refuge Recovery Program consist of practice, process, principle, and power. On Sunday nights at Against the Stream, Dave Smith leads a weekly dharma talk, meditation, and question-and-answer session. Against the Stream Nashville does not coordinate any collaborative projects with other Buddhist groups in Nashville, yet Smith says that he is often in contact and communication with other meditation teachers in the surrounding area. “We do collaborate and have meetings once in a while,” he said, “but for the most part, we’re all trying to build our own communities first and foremost. By no means is there any sort of competition between the different groups.”
The Los Angeles Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society was founded in 2008 by Noah Levine. In 2009, Against the Stream moved to a center in Santa Monica. Today, over 12 weekly classes are offered and sitting groups serve over 250 people. Special class series, facilitator trainings, and advanced practitoner studies are offered as well. Levine encouraged Dave Smith to carry the Buddhist practice to Nashville, and Against the Stream Nashville was founded in 2011.
Dave Smith, guiding teacher at Against the Stream Nashville, has practiced mindfulness meditation practice since 1993. Smith’s personal association with Buddhism as a religious practice varies daily. “Depending on what day of the week or attitude I have at the time, whether I identify as a Buddhist often changes,” he said. “I’m really a dharmist rather than a ‘Buddhist,’ because I study and practice the direct, historical teachings of the Buddha.” Introduced to Buddhism in his late teens, Smith was immediately attracted and interested in the teachings of Theravada Buddhism. He continued to study and practice the Theravada way at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. Smith proceeded to study with teachers Joseph Goldstein and Michele McDonald, but he identified mostly closely with teacher Noah Levine. According to Smith, they share a similar background, both being associated with the Punk Rock generation and struggling with substance abuse in younger years. “I think we would have been friends as teenagers,” Smith said. He was initially drawn to Levine’s training program at Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society in Los Angeles because it offered a unique form of Buddhist practice. “Most people associate Buddhism in the United States with affluence and college-educated, privileged white people. We wanted to break that and put Buddhism on the street level, encouraging everyone that they could do this.” Smith was also drawn to Against the Stream’s commitment to community outreach and social justice. Before he moved to Nashville and established the Center in 2010, Smith participated in the Mind Body Awareness Project, a secular organization which offers mindfulness intervention training in jails, prisons, youth detention centers, and other treatment recovery programs. Smith’s previous experience working with recovering teens and convicts inspired him to pursue social work in Nashville as well. The Refuge Recovery Program at Against the Stream Nashville serves as a resource for those struggling with substance abuse who desire to implement Buddhist ideas into their spiritual practice and recovery process. Smith utilizes a wide range of mindfulness techniques and emotional intelligence exercises to assist people in their individual practice. Individual practice sessions for people who are seeking to develop mindfulness are available for people in the Nashville community. Each practice session lasts 45 minutes and includes guided mindfulness instructions and specific practices tailored to meet the needs of each individual. Smith’s goal for each session is to allow the practitioner to cultivate tools that reduce anxiety, depression, and stress. One of Smith’s long term goals for Against the Stream Nashville is to establish a volunteer program in which people can teach mindfulness in Nashville jails and prisons. “Community outreach is so important to us,” Smith said, “and we want to share Buddhist meditation with those who may not have access to it.”
Against the Stream Nashville’s email list is composed of about 500 people. According to Smith, about 350 to 400 people attend classes per month. On average, about 30 people attend each meditation session. The majority of the Against the Stream community is Euro-American, and there is a balance between men and women, spanning across a wide range of ages. Smith says that the center attracts people in their early twenties as well as middle-aged practitioners. A large sector of the community is composed of people in recovery for drug and alcohol abuse. According to Smith, some people from Christian religious backgrounds attend sessions at Against the Stream, but many identify themselves as agnostics, atheists, and Buddhists. Smith said, “We get a lot of people who are Christians in recovery who want to use Buddhist techniques and practices for their recovery process.” When asked about the growth of Buddhism and increased interest in meditation in middle Tennessee, Smith said, “People are getting strung out on culture. They’re getting strung out on debt and digital media, and people begin to realize that worldliness doesn’t lend itself to the life that they thought it would. I think Buddhism offers something very different than our culture offers – which says that there’s external happiness, and we should go out and get it. Our culture tells us if you get the right job, get the right relationship, go to the right school, get plenty of ‘things,’ then you will find happiness externally. Buddhism, however, says the opposite.” Smith believes that Buddhism’s indifference to consumerism and materialism lends itself to be a very cleansing and peaceful practice for people, especially those seeking to liberate themselves from suffering as a result of drug and alcohol abuse. Buddhism challenges practitioners to seek happiness from within; internally searching for qualities that promote happiness will promote long term contentment.