As a part of our yoga teacher training, we were required to participate in four meditation sits and write a reflection on the experience. What follows is mine.
Reflections on Meditation
In a book series that I love (The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb), there is a character who has a thought bond with a wolf. It allows him to be in the mind of the wolf for periods of time. In the story, when life has become too hard and he cannot stop himself from worrying over the future and fretting over the past, he goes “with” the wolf. He makes this choice because the wolf operates totally in the moment, hunting, eating, sleeping, bathing, playing, running , being where he is at all times. Over the course of time, as the wolf and man bond evolves, they begin to take on each other’s characteristics, and the wolf begins to think about the past and future, and there is a melancholy to the story, because the reader can see that, while he has gained this human trait, he has lost something wonderful. As humans, becoming like the wolf is very challenging. Our minds race from one thing to another, focusing intently upon what we have done or what we will do, but rarely attending to what is happening in the very second we are in. Like yoga, meditation is one way of encouraging this being in the moment.
For the past four Sundays, I have participated in a yoga sit with several other people. While the session runs for about 45 minutes, it is broken up into 2 meditation periods, each between 10 and 20 minutes. The time between and after is used for discussion of the experience.
The first Sunday, I came to the sit interested, but not at all apprehensive. I practice meditation on my own, though not very regularly, and I view yin yoga as an opportunity to engage in short meditative sessions with each pose. But, I had never engaged in a real meditation sit with others.
As we came into the space, I noticed that there was a calm and sweet vibe in the space. Everyone seemed fairly relaxed, and the two regular practitioners that lead the system were very welcoming. They explained how the session would work and took questions before we began. I arranged myself in sukhasana on a blanket, with another blanket behind my back and my back against the wall. My palms rested nested or cupped on my feet.
The beginning meditation period of that sit wasn’t difficult or uncomfortable to me, but it was quite a thing to see how my mind kept attempting to leave the space, and head into planning the following day (a Monday) at work. I found myself chastising my mind for wandering. During the break, I mentioned this and one of the regulars reminded us that it is fine for the thoughts to come, but we want to watch them rather than engaging them. So, for the second period, I attempted to do this, and it went even better. There was a lightness to my body and almost a feeling of floating that occurred. It was extremely relaxing and lovely, and afterwards I felt simultaneously buoyant and settled.
In the three additional sits, I had mixed experiences. Sometimes, I dropped easily and quickly into the feeling of calm, ease of breath, and patient observation of the mind. Other times, it seemed to be a little elusive. I found myself trying several techniques to focus my thoughts. In the past, I have used mantras (I used a mantra through my last two labors/deliveries of my children and it helped much), so I tried that for some of the sessions. It worked, or it didn’t. I also attempted to focus on my breath entirely. Having read in Jivamukti Yoga the directions to not follow the breath into the body, but to watch it at the entrance and exit, just at the nostrils, I gave that a try. In some sessions, that worked very well (much more than in the past when I tried to watch the breath all the way into the lungs/ribs/belly). In others sessions, not so much. I counted (nope, that didn’t do well for me). I tried eyes open (no) and closed (better). The success or “failure” of each technique, I think, was probably less related to what thing I was trying to do and more to where I was in that time.
In the sits, or in the individual meditation periods, if I had come into the room in a relatively calm frame of mind, not rushed, not in pain, not in a twirl of emotion, it was much easier for me to bring myself to the meditation. In the times where I entered in a hurry, had been having a difficult or particularly emotional day, or was fighting with my body in some way, it was more of a challenge.
Regardless of whether I found the experience easy or difficult, calming or a little annoying, I never ended the sit feeling like I had not gained something from being there. The value of it, even in the very short term of the hours immediately after, is apparent to me. I’ve begun putting 10-15 minute meditations into my work days and finding that, after them, I am much more able to continue on with my day in a calm and positive frame of mind. Even if I’m not sure that I was actually meditating, I feel like after the session I am more able to be kind to others and appreciate them for who they are, instead of being annoyed or frustrated by who or what they are not. This feeling of positive connection seems to me to be a lot of what it’s all about, so overall, I consider it a success.
I don’t know if I will often attend this particular sit, only because the time is not good for me, but I do think that I will look for other opportunities to meditate in the presence of others, because there is something about that that brings a little special something to the experience. And, I’ll definitely continue to meditate on my own, for the benefits that I think it brings to me and those around me in the short-term, and in the pursuit of the larger good.