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Monday, February 15, 2016

A day of meditation.

I think I have mentioned a few times that I would like to get certified to teach mindfulness meditation. I think its popularity is approaching critical mass, and it would be a good thing for me to add to my skill set. With that in mind, I have to do two things.

I have to decide on a program to get certified with. This is proving difficult because of where I live. I need to do something online, but I also want something of quality. Of course you also have to add to the mix that I need to be able to afford it. 

The second thing I want do is to take part in as many meditation classes as possible. I have been meditating on and off for almost ten years, but I have done almost no meditation classes - only where they are part of some other class I am already taking, like a yoga class. 

So while I try and decide on problem one, today I started working on problem two. Actually, problem is the wrong word. How about obstacle? Today I did two free meditation classes. 

The first was this morning. It was scheduled from 9 to 10, and was run by a Buddhist center at a book store. I arrived at 8:45 and was greeted at the door of the closed store. I nice older gentleman welcomed me, and started to ask why I was there, I told him I was there for the meditation class. I also said I wasn't sure what I needed to do. 

He explained that if I walked to the back of the store I would see where people were taking off their shoes, and that I could take a cushion (they were already out in a circle) or I could sit in a chair if I chose. He also said that they normally do a 20 minutes silent meditation, followed by walking mediation, then a reading, and another 20 minutes of silent meditation. I walked to the back of the store and did indeed see where my shoes and jacket should go. I then walked toward the circle and was surprised to see people already in meditation. 

I found an empty cushion in the circle, and sat down. I had never used a cushion before - I can sit in full lotus for a long time, and never thought I needed one - but it was really quite nice. It was much easier to keep a correct posture. I was just about the last one to sit, there ended up being 13 of us. I slid into a mindfulness meditation, focusing on my breathing. 

It proved a little difficult, I am thinking it was new surroundings and a new group. I also wasn't sure if this was a "warm up" or the actual first 20 minutes since it wasn't 9 yet.. After an indeterminate amount of time, the woman leading the sit clapped her hands once. Did THAT signify the start of the 20? the end? I wasn't sure. After another indeterminate amount of time she clapped again. Brought her hands together, bowed, and said good morning. Then we all rose, and formed a circle, then turned to the left. 

I had never done walking meditation before, and it took me a few minutes to get into a groove. We walked slowly clock-wise, advancing when the person in front of us advanced. Just as I was getting in the spirit of the circle, it was done. I think it lasted about 5 minutes. A shame, because I was starting to enjoy it. 

I followed everyones lead, and returned to my cushion. We sat in silence for a moment and then the woman leading the group announced that there would be a reading by the student to her right, a young man who I came to learn has been studying Buddhism for some time, he was quite knowledgable. His reading was about the whirlpools in rivers, and that they are formed by some small obstruction in the water. They form and things are drawn into them, and spin through the whirlpool and then move out of them. The whirlpools disappear as they had formed, with no discernible reason. This was used as an allegory for life, and that bad things - or good things - flow into your life like things drawn into a whirlpool. I thought it was a good lesson in both attachment, and being present. It was a really lovely reading, and as someone who would like to teach meditation, I immediately wondered where it had been found. Is there an online resource for readings? The woman leading the group then said that we would take five minutes in silence, but if anyone had any thoughts based on the reading they should feel free to share. a few moments later people started throwing out ideas in what as an outdoor educator I would call popcorn style. They were all pretty simple ideas, until the woman immediately to my right said "so if garbage flows into your whirlpool and brings sadness, that can become depression. How do you keep it from killing you?" The answer from the woman leading the sit answered "by embracing it with loving kindness"

I think this is an incredibly important question, and a dreadful answer. While I am a Buddhist and I do believe you have to embrace the world with loving kindness - and I am not nearly as learned as the woman leading the sit, not even close! - This, in my experience is a dangerous question. Perhaps it was my years on an ambulance, but when someone talks about depression killing you, it needs to be addressed. I think from the Buddhist tradition the answer should be something like, By not holding onto the sadness and depression. Just like the garbage that is drawn into the whirlpool you have to allow it to flow back out, or your whirlpool will be full of garbage. Don't hold onto the depression (or hatred, or anger, or whatever negative emotion you are feeling.) Observe it and move on. And then as a medical practitioner I have to say this requires some follow up after class. Which can be facilitated by something like "lets talk about this one on one when we are done" to insure that the student gets the help they may need.

Shortly after this exchange - which took seconds but stayed in my head for hours - the woman leading the sit said, Do we have tea? which meant we were done. I was a little upset, I really wanted the second 20 minutes of meditation. I joined a small subset of the group for tea, and then as I was leaving, I was putting on my shoes and mentioned to someone how nice it was to meditate with a  group, and a woman to my right pronounced "the best group!" - which struck me as odd. Pride is great, but in Buddhism, attachment isn't.

I enjoyed this meditation group, but I prefer a little more secular meditation, with a little more instruction or guidance. This was serious Buddhist meditation, and I prefer a more simple, mindfulness meditation.

about 4 hours later I found myself in a dimly lit yoga studio, for a second free meditation. I had taken a few yoga classes here, and I knew the woman who runs the class, if only a little. I thought this might give me a different perspective and I was right.

I was walked into the studio, and shown where all the yoga props were - I was told I could choose a mat (the floor was cold) a bolster, pillow or any combination. In the back of the studio I was told there were meditation cushions - called a zafu - I used a combination of a yoga mat, a blanket and a zafu to make myself a small spot opposite the teacher (in retrospect I inadvertently sat almost directly opposite both of the leaders of the my meditation classes) I looked at the spot the teacher, or leader of this sit had created. A yoga mat with a single yoga block. At the head of her mat she had a book, a tibetan singing bowl, a timer, and a couple of small figures and talismans, all on a metal tray. In the back of the studio was a small Buddhist shrine. The room slowly filled - 8 in total - and everyone took a space on yoga mats with a couple of props of their choice. Andrea, the woman leading the sit, clearly knew most everyone in the room.

She told us that since it was valentines day she had a reading for us on the subject of self love. She explained that we would do a 20 minute guided meditation, followed by a 20 minute silent meditation, and we began.

She interwove the the reading with guided meditation, and it was really quite lovely. She paid a lot of attention to guiding us to remove tension from our bodies. To find a natural seated position. To find spots that were tight, and relax them, all the while teaching that to love and embrace the world we needed to love and embrace ourselves.

At the end of the guided meditation she told us to move around, shake out the tightness, and in a few moments we would start the silent meditation. She said that if we chose to we could lie down, cover ourselves with a yoga blanket - which everyone in the studio did with the exception of myself. She also said to be careful not to fall asleep, I toyed with the idea of making  joke about 'snoring will not be tolerated', but decided against it. Several minutes later I am sure the woman next to me was asleep.

She brought us out of the meditation with a gentle strike of her tibetan singing bowl, and then instructed us to gently move our bodies, and bring circulation back to our hands and feet. Then to work our way to sitting - I already was. We were told to have a nice day and departed with a  Namaste.

It was a lovely day with close to two hours of meditation in two very different surroundings. I thought it was interesting that the meditation in the Yoga class had more of the trappings of Buddhism than the meditation lead by a Buddhist. A couple of times Andrea had to pause her reading because of a cell phone vibrating in the other room - which really upset me, the intrusion of the digital world into a quiet space - I think I heard one phone receive a notification in the book store. We really need to be better about making that separation. I envision teaching meditation outdoors, so the sounds we can hear are natural, not the sounds of people and machinery. I enjoyed Andreas class more, as I felt it was closer to the way I would like to teach it. But it may have also been that I knew the surroundings and to a degree the instructor. The morning session was fine, and the people very kind, but the meditation was a little stern - and the leader of that sit loses points with me for her non answer to a serious question.

It definitely helped my practice, and I will continue to go to both when possible. But of course, the next two sundays I am out of town teaching WFA's. I would have liked to have taken pictures for instagram, but didn't feel it was right. Stay tuned for more on this meditation path. A decision on a school is coming soon. and thanks to both groups for being so welcoming. 

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