(stock photo image: Thai Buddha statue)
I took a meditation class last night, a program offered at a local arts center. It was my first real experience with meditation, beyond the yoga classes I’ve taken and the 5 minute mindfulness exercises I’ve done here and there over the years.
It was not at all what I expected.
The man leading the meditation was my first surprise. He looked like a computer programmer or something – not a meditation guru. He wearing khakis and a button down shirt, no beads and robes. He was playing music which I was certain would be too loud when we got going, and he tucked himself up on his mat and was sitting there, his eyes closed, when we were setting up.
The other women in the room – there was four of us in total – were wearing regular street clothes, jeans even. One of the women was chewing gum and was clearly wound up with stress, talking too loudly and stridently for the space about how stressful everything’s been. Another complained about the smell of the incense that the leader had brought, and said, I’m sorry, but I can’t do smells.
Within moments of walking into the room, I wanted to leave and go home, to take my $10 and run. It was the end of a really long day for me, and I was tired – and convinced the class was a waste of time.
But there’s a part of me that has been to the place where meditation takes you before. Usually at the end of a hot yoga class, when I lay in shavasana, the sweat and exercise stealing all my thoughts away, where all I can do is lie in stillness and breathe. Or during a run, when my thoughts have seemed to melt away and there’s only me, my breathing, and the road. And this is the part of me that knows that meditation is really, really good for me and worth trying.
I’ve used lots of excuses before about why I haven’t actually tried it, though. Even yesterday I was telling a friend, I would LOVE to meditate, but I just can’t find the time.
I was right there, in a meditation class 10 minutes from my house, and I had actually created the time…
… yet there I was, telling myself it was going to be a waste of my time.
Frankly, the idea of sitting in a room with nothing to DO but work with your mind terrifies me. No movement, no yoga, just me and my monkey mind that jumps all over and creates stories and judges and makes me feel like I have to do things perfectly.
But. I was there, and I paid my $10, and I really wanted to at least TRY it.
So I did.
To my surprise, when I closed my eyes, I couldn’t see the others. I didn’t hear gum chewing. The leader’s quiet voice penetrated through the music, which not only wasn’t too loud, but drowned out some of the street noise outside. It took me some time to really find my breath – sometimes I feel claustrophobic when I focus on breathing, like I’m doing it wrong or something – but I did find it.
One of the images he used was to imagine a chalkboard in front of you with a word on it, and when you breathe out, pretend you’re erasing the word. This was really good, I could do it without issue. I actually pictured a whiteboard – those are much more prevalent in corporate America and easier to visualize. And I kind of expected to have deep words on my whiteboard. Stress, or pain, or suffering, or something.
But the words that appeared on MY whiteboard in my head?
In the moment, I kind of looked at them and thought, huh. Not deep at all. But I breathed them out anyway. It was curious to note them. (In hindsight, I wonder if my mind was making up stuff to try and make me laugh, like kid who who isn’t comfortable in class will do.)
That part was good. I had a good amount of time where I was relaxed, and my mind wasn’t really impinging, and I could breathe and find stillness. But then. I struggled. I had moments where I thought, Oh my god, how much longer of this do I have? and I kept trying to breathe that thought out. I imagined patting my brain and saying, It’s okay, mind. Just rest. Rest. You can rest. I’ll use you later, I promise.
It worked for a few moments, then I’d feel some pain in my hips and back and wonder what time it was and when we’d be done.
And then I’d focus on my breath again, and the whole cycle would start over.
At the end, though, when the leader told us to open our eyes, I was surprised to see that it took me a few minutes to come back into myself. I didn’t want to move or talk, I felt the same sense of quiet and stillness I feel in the early mornings when I write in my journal.
So maybe there’s something to this meditation stuff.
And maybe I need to keep doing it.