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In 1996, Imperioli married Victoria Chlebowski, a stage designer who had fled her native Ukraine with her mother in 1976 because of anti-Semitism. In college, she studied some philosophy and read a lot of Buddhist books, which she shared with Imperioli. Then about five years ago, the couple began attending Buddhist teachings in New York City, where they live. The first teachings they went to were by Gelek Rinpoche, who has been the teacher of such luminaries as Allen Ginsberg and Phillip Glass. Now Imperioli and his wife go to all of Gelek Rinpoche’s teachings that they can manage, as well as to the teachings of Sogyal Rinpoche and the Dalai Lama. In July, they took Buddhist refuge vows with Garchen Rinpoche.

“I always had a sense that spirituality meant having to work on yourself, rather than just adopting a set of beliefs and following them blindly,” says Imperioli. “And the more I learned about Buddhism, the more I felt that’s really what it is—direct methods of working on yourself, meditation being the first method. It made sense to me that the only way to transform your world was to transform yourself.

Imperioli and his wife have busy careers and three children, yet they’ve made practice a priority by cutting out the superfluous. “We live a low profile life,” Victoria Imperioli explains. “We have our circle of friends but we are very family-oriented. If we go to an event at all, we go to see someone’s play or film. We never really go to parties. You can’t fit in everything.”

“Buddhism has brought a lot of benefit to our family,” says Imperioli. “I see the change in my wife, because it’s easier to see it in someone else. Patience, tolerance, peace of mind—these things have increased in her a lot. When you can see your partner being more patient and being kinder to herself, it inspires you. Those benefits are for the children as well.”

The couple practices meditation in the morning, as well as shortly before bed, and Imperioli says that he doesn’t find it difficult to fit practice into his schedule. The challenge is more procrastination. Sometimes he struggles to bring himself to the cushion or he struggles with runaway thoughts. At those times, he tells himself that it is his conditioned mind and to let it go and just sit. “I don’t find practice ever to be easy, but that’s okay,” he says. “I can’t say that I’m a 100 percent—there are times when I don’t practice. I try to not let that happen too much and I try not to beat myself up about it when it does.”

Meditation has benefited not only Imperioli’s family life, but his work, specifically his concentration as an actor. “When you’re acting or preparing to act,” he says, “you want to focus your attention and block out distractions. It’s not the same thing as meditation but the focus has similarities.”

In an episode of the ABC crime drama Detroit 1-8-7, night has fallen and James Burke is in an apartment, holding his mother and children at gunpoint. Unarmed but wired, Detective Fitch, played by Imperioli, walks into the hostage scene.

“I know what it’s like,” says Fitch, with a whole SWAT team just outside the apartment, hanging on every word through the wire. “You love somebody so much. You don’t know why they caused you so much pain… that pain builds and builds… It’s like you’re a passenger. You’re in a car that’s speeding out of control but then you wake up and it’s you behind the wheel and it’s you who did these things. I did things… I hurt my wife. I hurt my kids. When I think about the things I’ve done, sometimes I really think it’d be easier just to end it… But I got these pictures on my wall. I see my kids—I can’t do it.”

Fitch pulls a photo out of his suit pocket. The smiling faces of Burke, his ex-wife whom he recently pumped full of bullets, and their two children. “These are your kids, James, your beautiful kids.”

Burke points his gun at Fitch. “Don’t come any closer.”

“Give me the gun, James.”

“Stop,” he chokes.

“I’m not gonna stop, James. Give me the gun.” Fitch takes the weapon; James sobs.

“God, forgive me,” says James.

Later that night, Fitch is back at the office with his new partner, Detective Washington, and they’re looking at a white board filled with murder cases. Washington’s voice is soft. “All that stuff you said… is it true?”

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