Quiet the mind and the soul will speak – Ma Jaya Sati
I’ve wanted to learn the art of meditation. Articles I’ve read extoll the virtues of learning to regulate the mind. It helps reduce stress and ease health issues like depression, anxiety and high blood pressure. Plus, Oprah does it so why wouldn’t I want to give it a try?
I read an article that Harvard researchers found meditation does produce beneficial effects in the brain and in the gut. It can help people with symptoms of IBS, IBD, IRS, IDIOT and TRUMP. Finding inner peace and wellness can take you to a much better place – like checking out of the Roach Motel and into the Ritz-Carlton.
With proper instruction, I could become one with the universe. Focus my chi and enjoy my Chai. I needed to find a place to learn the principles of meditation. There are books and phone apps, but I need to learn by participating. I’m a hands-on learner. I have to see it in action or in this case – nonaction.
I located a yoga/meditation center not far from my home. I couldn’t wait to get into the lotus position, and give my brain a Silkwood shower. They didn’t have any introductory classes, but I was welcome to attend an ongoing session. I figured if it is transcendental; I could just pick it up through osmosis. My mom always told me my head was a sponge – hmm, I hope she meant that in a good way.
I arrived at the center, and was asked to remove my shoes and leave them with a stack of discarded footwear. Already I’m feeling anxiety. I don’t like leaving my personal belongings amongst strangers where I can’t keep on eye on them. Perhaps, I could wear them around my neck or put them on my hands.
This trip into the meditation world was supposed to be an adventure. I had to let go of my worries and hope no one liked my Clarks. The meditation leader greeted me wearing a Buddha t-shirt and a pair of MC Hammer pants. He was crunchy granola, and I was already keeping my distance avoiding a tree hugging embrace.
I entered a dimly lit room with incense burning. A diverse group of individuals were in various postures on the floor. They sat on pillows, leaned on back supports, wrapped themselves in blankets, stretched and maneuvered their legs. I thought I was in a warmup room for Cirque du Soleil.
The session began with everyone closing their eyes as the granola guy softly intoned, “just notice your thoughts and let them go.” I was noticing that I didn’t have a clue how to let anything go and if I wanted to achieve inner silence; he needed to shut up.
It was like walking into a Zumba class and not knowing the routine. I was going left and they were going right. I wasn’t sure when to kick and I was stumbling on everyone’s mantras. There was just my desire to flee the room, grab my lonely shoes and contemplate why I had paid for this nonsense.
I knew I needed a beginner’s explanation of the principles of meditation and how to quiet a very loud, obtrusive, inner voice. No Tibetan chime bowl was going to calm me down unless there was a spiked punch in it.
With some additional research, I did find a yoga studio that was holding a four-week beginners’ meditation class. I guess if you put it out there in the universe it can come flinging back at you. I guess my chakras were in alignment or some metaphysical spirit bought me a lottery ticket.
I excitedly attended my first class. I was ready for the shedding of the shoes and this studio had handy individual cubicles for footwear. Already a step in the right cosmic direction. The instructor, Joann, was a friendly, middle-aged woman who wasn’t wearing a swami outfit. There was no updraft of patchouli – just a pleasant smile.
The room was arranged so each participant had folded blankets and a pillow for support. There were more blankets than a bedding sale at Macy’s. Joann advised the goal was to be comfortable and keep warm. Some people grow cold when in their meditative state. Since I get hot at the slightest temperature increase, I couldn’t imagine needing that many blankets even if I was a Sherpa on a Mount Everest expedition.
The participants settled into their spaces, and our instructor told us of her history with meditation. She had been practicing for many years so we were in experienced hands. She began our orientation with breathing techniques. It’s Lamaze for your mind.
She said we wanted to be “an observer of our thoughts not a participant.” You have to learn to think about not thinking, and I was already thinking about that. We did focused breathing, but I was focusing on everyone else’s breath – from the death rattle behind me to the Darth Vader on my left. I guess you can tell I’m easily distracted.
That was my fear – that I couldn’t concentrate. I asked Joann if there was something else to do besides breathing awareness? There is the general question you can ask yourself to focus – “who am I?” or “who’s distracted?” “who’s annoyed?” etc. I just hoped when she dimmed the lights and everyone relaxed, I wouldn’t be asking “who farted?”
As a starting point, we prepared to meditate for twenty minutes. Joann lit a candle in the middle of the room and said she was turning the lights off. Okay, I’m now going to be in the dark with heavy breathing strangers, and I’m supposed to clear my mind. Oh yeah! That’s going to work just fine.
Joann advised us to relax our faces, our necks and our third eye. Wait…What?? Where is my third eye? My mind was going to some very bizarre places. If I did relax my third eye would it be painful? (Note to self – research location of third eye, and if it needs an exam.)
Only a minute into the meditation and already I was having a conversation in my head. “Breathe, let it Go, who’s distracted?” My mind was swirling with thoughts. I wanted to know what was going on in the dark. I needed a miner’s hat so I could survey the room. I’d make sure the heavy breathing was from meditation only.
Twenty minutes is a long time to be quiet when you’re a novice. After ten minutes my leg was numb, and I had to ease myself out the of the lotus position without falling over. “Who’s sore? “Who’s flushing the toilet on the other side of the wall?” “Who’s snoring?”
“Who smells like onions?” My inquiring mind wanted to know.
I did have several periods of calm, where I lost awareness of my surroundings. I’m not sure if it was a true meditative state, or if I passed out. Either way it was relaxing. I just need practice and that’s why I’m taking the classes.
Next week we are going to learn a new breathing technique where you alternate between nostrils when inhaling. This should be an interesting practice. I can hardly wait to stick my finger up my nose in the dark. I just hope I don’t poke my third eye out.