My idea of meditation consists of a lone old man sitting cross-legged, maybe up on a grassy hill. His mind is blank.
This is not exactly accurate.
I recently read an article about a guy who could meditate anywhere, under any conditions. He would be able to sit outside on the chilliest day of a Maine winter for hours, in only shorts. Because of his meditative state, any temperature would feel ok to him. He could control his mind, and therefore his body, to an incredible degree.
Now, here at the Sanctuary, it is my turn. Every weeknight there is meditation in Buddha Hall from 6-7ish.
The first night a group of ~15 people gathered together in a circle. You can sit on mats, and use pillows or blocks to aid comfort and stability. Our leader came in with a guitar. She explained that we would be doing chanting meditation. This was new! Not a silent, lonely, practice where you are in your own head, but a group chant! She began by having us take some long, deep, cleansing breaths. We were encouraged to allow ourselves to sigh or make noise as we exhaled, and to not be self conscious about it. Next she had us repeat the chant after her. She asked us to really feel how the words came out of our mouths in a delicate, beautiful way. She wanted us to imagine them taking a shape and to concentrate on the movement they possessed. I enjoyed the simplicity of taking the time to just listen to yourself. So many people take language for granted. The only other time I really think about words, and how they feel, is when I read poetry.
We all began to chant, eyes closed, legs crossed. The music and rhythm picked up, our voices rising in unison. Gradually we got slower and softer, some people swaying back and fourth. Afterwards we sat in silence, feeling the residual hum of the chant, visualizing the cells in our bodies vibrating with energy.
We did 5 different chants, some in English, some in Hindi.
Afterwards I had the happy sensation you get after trying something new. One girl, (Guinevere, who works at the tea temple) claimed she felt so warm and happy, she wanted to hug and nuzzle everyone!! Someone else answered, “we’ll, why don’t you?” So everyone got a hug as she pranced around making “eee” and “briiii-briii” snuggle sounds. Rylee and I were strongly reminded of our sister, Kenzie.
Day two meditation was done by the resident astrologist, Victoria. Before I met her, she was described as someone who came straight from Hogwarts. I must say, this proves to be an accurate description. She is a loving and carefree older woman who seems to truly enjoy life. Hers was a “guided meditation.” We laid down on our mats, heads in a circle as close to Victoria as possible. She explained that she would take us to visit the Sun God and Moon Goddess, and see if we could have Venus and Mercury visit us too. Astrologically, you see, it is a busy time. (The next night was a full moon.)
We closed our eyes and she slowed our breathing. We started out standing in a ray of light, feeling it warm our bodies. We felt sand between our toes and heard the crashing ocean waves. We walked along the beach and found a cave. Upon entering, there was a door.
“How big is your door? What is it made of? What does the handle look like?”
After going through the door we were in a vast field. Beside a lone growing tree was man with a walking stick. He was our meditation guide.
At this point we had been meditating for about 15 minutes. (I think.) I was doing terrible. The more I tried to focus on a beach scene, or imagine a door, the more static my brain created. It wanted to do anything BUT focus. I began to wonder if my door was too boring, and if my fellow meditators were being more creative than me. Maybe someone had a glass door, or a sliding screen… Tons of images crowded my mental vision, it was hard to push them away and follow Victoria’s steady voice.
My meditation guide was like a cartoon old man. I’m not sure, but this may signify my slight disbelief that I can actually have a meditation guide in my mind.
I lapsed into sleep. I know this, because I woke myself up with a big snore.
(PARTY FOUL !!!)
I hoped nobody could recognize where the disturbing sound came from.
By now, the meditation had progressed to a point where we were now supposed to be walking with the sun and moon gods, and meeting with Venus. She was handing us a gift or special symbol. I was too busy being embarrassed about myself to listen. We were gradually pulled out of our “meditations.” (I just opened my eyes) Victoria turned on some soft lights, and everyone sat quietly, holding on to the visions they had. Victoria encouraged us to remember the gift from Venus, and for a moment I had a horrible, sinking feeling- what if she asked me what I got, in front of all these serious meditators! (Was this my punishment for falling asleep and snoring?!) Clearly I would have to make something up on the spot- and my brain wasn’t firing too quickly. It was stuck in a hazy fog. Luckily, she didn’t ask anyone. I left thinking about what hard work controlling your mind was.
My third day of meditation was with a very hippy English boy with curly hair and a pierced nipple. This was going to be music based, but the sound system wasn’t agreeing. We proceeded with the natural sounds of the jungle and ocean. Our practice today was a meditation based on the teachings of Osho, an Indian meditation master who became wildly popular with Western-ers. Due to our highly plugged-in lifestyle, it is difficult to walk away from our computer, cell phone, and tv screens, and meditate. He developed new theories and methods to ease into a meditative state.
The first 15 minutes were “shaking.” Yup. You bob your knees, twist your hips, and roll your shoulders. If it felt right, you could raise your hands above your head and act like one of those people on tv being touched by God. This looked and felt as weird as it sounds, but with eyes closed it became more normal. I never quite let go of the fact that I was voluntarily making myself convulse, though.
For the second 15 minutes we “danced.” This was closing our eyes and allowing the body to move however it wanted. There was no wrong movement. You do not think about what you look like, or if you are “doing it right.” I was pretty sore, so a lot of my dancing looked like me stretching my quads and hamstrings… I did pretend to be a willow tree and let my arms sway gracefully sometimes..
The third quarter of our session was simple sitting yoga. I like to fold a pillow in half and sit so my hips are above, legs crossed. You rest your hands on your knees, palms up, pointer and thumb finger touching. I concentrated on breathing in and out. I tried to think of a blank canvas, of nothing. Meditation seems to be one of those slippery things that the more you try, and the harder you grasp for it, the further it slips away. It isn’t something you can dive into, head first, and achieve. The voice inside your head is a little devil’s advocate, who does its best to make you think about anything but quiet. I thought about my dreams from last night. I thought about dinner. I yelled at myself to SHUT UP. I wondered what the voice in Rylee’s head sounded like.
I found the act of thinking itself strange, and that the goings on in my head would never calm down enough to let me sit in peace. In between all of these thoughts I repeated, “breath in: cool and light, breath out: warm and heavy.” All of my crazy, disrupting thoughts would try to cram in together during the pause between breaths, disrupting my mantra. Naughty brain!
The last 15 minutes were the same thing, the same mind battle, but laying down on our mats.
Meditation is very interesting, and surprisingly difficult. Maybe with a lot of practice I could shut down my brain. That isn’t (I found out) the point. It is impossible to think of “nothing.” The object is to concentrate fully on ONE thing. (Like breathing) The chanting meditation gets you to say the same thing over and over, eventually the words come out with no thought process at all. You mind gets bored and leaves. I guess then you have reached a trance-like state of higher achievement and knowledge.
I’ll let you know when I make it.
I clearly will have to do more research on the practice of meditation. It isn’t just for old men sitting alone on a hill. Meditation is so much more!