Meditation is not what you think. (Jon Kabat-Zinn)You're in a room full of people, at the beginning of a workshop. It's a spacious, inviting place; the windows are covered, but it's warm, cozy. You're chatting with others, who are chatting back while they check phones for messages, make calls, text instructions to children, partners, employees. Many of them tweet, "I am here! I am here!"
The instructor arrives. She smiles, greets people quietly, settles herself on a cushion near the front of the room. "Ten minutes," she says. She sits. The buzz in the room dims a bit, but there's still lots of chatter. She waits and then announces, "Five minutes. That's the time you have. Be prepared." People take their seats. They're still chatting, texting. Then, the announcement: "You have 2 minutes to finish your business. Say what you need to say, send your messages and then, that's it. All personal devices are to be turned off and placed in that room." She points to a door. "That door will be locked for the next six hours. Under no circumstances, will it be opened before the end of the session." Looks of incredulity go around the room. She's kidding, right? No, she's not. You surrender your device, look around and then you notice-there are no clocks in the room.
Welcome to a meditation intensive practice. The teacher explains that, for the duration, you will be practicing a variety of meditation exercises and most of those will be done in silence. You'll be sitting, moving, flat out on the floor, if necessary. What you won't be doing is allowing your awareness to drift out of the room. When it does, your task is to bring it back.You'll be asked to stay present, to bring your full attention to what is happening here, now, without judgment. You'll be delighted, you'll be bored, frustrated and angry. You'll be Here.
The session starts off easily, with the fairly common practice of eating a single grape in full appreciation. You eat that grape as slowly as you can, savouring each bit of flesh and liquid. It's a wonderful experience, but it's gone now and the teacher hasn't called time, yet. You sit. You begin to notice that your butt aches and that leg has gone to sleep and something else hurts, but, damn it, you're meditating and you're not going to move. You rely on tension, not strength and ease, to hold you in place, so the aches and pains get worse. Mercifully, the teacher calls time. You can barely move your legs. She asks you to guess the time and, for some, it seems like an hour. It's been 15 minutes. Five hours and forty-five minutes to go.
"Meditation is not relaxation spelled differently." (Jon Kabat-Zinn)
It's one practice after another, sitting, standing, reclining, eyes open, eyes closed, watching thoughts come and go. You do a moving meditation with your arms raised and it goes on for an eternity. Everything hurts. You take a peek-that elderly woman with the hand tremors sitting in front of you? She moves mindfully, as if there's no tomorrow. She's kicking your butt.
The short break at mid-point is completed in silence; you've now moved into a time of no talk. Several of you ask the teacher to return your devices. She gently but firmly refuses. Some of you leave the room and you don't come back. At the end of the day, you're exhausted, pushed to your limits by doing, well, Nothing. You reclaim your smart phone, madly texting friends about the experience you've just had or what you thought you had. You head home. For the first time in years, you sleep soundly through the night. You're awake all night, unable to settle. You don't know what to think.
Many yoga practitioners believe that they meet their edges on the mat, in intensive asana practice, in the power of feeling the body move. But, what if we, like others forever "doing," are simply finding one more way to feed our need for constant adrenalin rushes? Suppose this continual movement on the mat (with a brief moment of settling into Savasana, where we can cope with stillness if we relate it to a corpse) is more of the same, akin to what is found in the constant chatter of voices, machinery, of movement around us, where we think we'll be cut off from the world if we stop texting or tweeting or posting for a moment? What if our edge actually sits at the fear of being silent and still? Can we rest on the knife edge, balancing in stillness, enjoying the experience? Or will touching that edge cut us to the core?
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