Meditation was introduced to me by a former roommate who practiced it at the kitchen table while staring into a candle. I walked in on him one day and interrupted him out of his “trance.” “Oh, I’m sorry,” I declared as I put my groceries away. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.” He was not angry or annoyed with me. We spoke a bit about the practice and I became curious. That week I went online and discovered there was a Monday night sitting group, just downtown. I decided to check it out. During this time, I was searching for something more spiritually enriching and sustaining, but I did not know what that could be, so I was open to everything.
Upon entering the room, there was a place to remove my shoes, so I gladly took mine off and walked into a very quiet space where the lights were dim and people were already sitting in the lotus position with their eyes closed. The room was small and appeared to be the nursery of the church. Chairs were spread about, but most people were sitting on pillows. The main person sat in the front of the room cross-legged and peaceful with a pillow beneath him, beads around his neck and a singing bowl before him. I found my place quickly, grabbed a pillow and took the position. The most interesting thing to me at the time, was how natural the lotus position appears. Just seeing people sitting this way with slight smiles upon their faces, with their eyes closed in silence, seemed like the most natural thing I’d ever seen human being do. I wondered why meditation was never practiced in my own religion. This whole experience was the most sacred thing I’d ever walked into. It was so incredibly still and it simply felt right.
There are many ways to meditate, and I walked into the room without a clue as to what I was supposed to do while I sat there. This was a half hour sitting. I crossed my legs, closed my eyes and laid my arms along my legs. Within ten minutes my feet were falling asleep and my mind was a whirlwind of thoughts. I wondered how long it was going to take me to be like those other people who sat completely still without fidgeting. This was not as easy as it looked, but it still felt “right” and I continued going to that sitting. Throughout the next few years, I went to Buddhist temples on Thursday evenings for sittings, and read about meditation practices. I spent time sitting at beaches on the Bay, where I lived, each morning and eventually found myself sitting quietly at home, on buses and on BART more often than not. My mind was slowing down, and even during meditation moments when it was busy, I learned to watch my thoughts rather than identify with them, or to get caught up into them.
In treatment, we meditated almost every evening and I really looked forward to that time of stillness. It brought me into a centered space of simply being aware of what was happening for me. If anger was part of my experience, I didn’t judge it. Instead I would allow it to flow through me, or to stir within me. Sometimes, like this morning, no emotions came up for me, but I found myself having a difficult time sitting still. My body wants to do other things than sit there quietly. My mind tells me that I should be writing, or outside running. Without judgment of the inner stirring, I sit for twenty minutes at a time and simply get a glimpse into my own inner happenings.
Prayer is a practice I’ve been doing since I can remember. Meditation is something I learned as a young adult. Both are incredibly powerful practices. During one practice, I am offering my own voice to my higher power. During the meditation practice, I am becoming acquainted with my inner dialogue. I get a glance into my emotions, my thoughts and my body. This is so important – to be acquainted with myself; to understand what is moving around and what stirs within me. It is good to center myself inside my body so that I can go out and greet the world in a stance of awareness. Many times we begin the day in a rush and don’t have a chance to gather ourselves and to enter into our day with an intention to remain centered. Other people’s energies take over our peace of mind. The busyness of work overwhelms our being. Unexpected occurrences throw us off, but beginning our day with a quiet sitting eradicates the experience of getting sucked into the chaos. I wish I would have a learned this as a child. I always wondered how people could remain at peace with so much going on in the world.
Breathing is another thing I must remind myself to do. I tend to take shallow breaths and to rush through my life. This last year, I’ve been paying more attention to my breathing. When I feel overwhelmed, instead of react right away, I try to breathe in and out to slow myself down. When I pay attention to my breath, everything outside of me becomes less disturbing. As I am writing this, I’m hearing a child screaming and crying, so I’m practicing that breathing thing, and it immediately takes my mind off of the annoyed feeling I’m having and brings me right back to center.
I used to be very curious about people who walked around so centered, joyful and undisturbed. Now I understand that they must have mediated. They were acquainted with themselves enough to remain in alignment with who they were, on a very deep level. Prayer is an offering to something outside of yourself, while meditation is an offering unto yourself.
Well, that kid is still crying and throwing a bit of a temper tantrum, but I am finding myself smiling. I’m so glad I took the time to meditate this morning and to center myself in my body. Each day brings up new emotions, new experiences and unexpected details. Meditation keeps me centered and in a place of constant serenity. I highly recommend it for anyone who hasn’t tried it.