Learning to Meditate: Notes from a Novice, Part I

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Back in the early 90’s I began studying Tai Chi Chuan and Qi Gong and did so for several years. As a result of these moving meditations, I did pick up the basics of meditative breathing and mindfulness. Over the years I have fallen away from the practice and am on the verge of forgetting the Form altogether. Wanting to regain some of the meditative benefits, I enrolled in an introductory meditation workshop. Maybe I will be more disciplined in sitting meditation rather than a moving one.

The first session was this past Saturday. It took place in a lovely meditation center complete with a chapel and an outdoor garden. The instructor is a certified yoga teacher and spiritual director. The first meeting involved yoga meditation and next week we will explore Christian and Buddhist meditative practices. The workshops will provide an overview of meditation, a smorgasbord of meditation techniques from which the participants will sample.

After introductions by the instructor and students, we engaged in a ten minute meditation, eyes closed, focusing on the inhale and exhale of breath. We were instructed to let intruding thoughts drift by, as if they were boats on a river. However, I struggled with this and quite frankly I actually visualized myself getting on the boat and drifting all the way down the river to the sea. Also, I felt a great deal of tension in my jaw, neck, arms and chest. This was not going to be as easy as I thought; however, I am pleased to say that after a few minutes, I did reach a certain level of calm awareness.

We spent the next segment learning about the Eight-Limbs of Yoga as articulated by a yoga master named Pantanjali. I learned from this that there is a coherent philosophy behind yoga meditation that is not uncommon to western practices of prayer and contemplation.

The next exercise involved a 30 minute composite of techniques, starting with counting breaths, alternating breaths through each nostril, and inhaling with a rolled tongue (“sitali,” or “straw breath”). We were then sent away either to sit in the garden or in the chapel and focus our eyes on an object near us. I went inside the chapel and chose the reflection of colored light from a stained glass window on the wooden floor. I found it difficult to keep my eyes open. They felt heavy as if I were falling asleep and I fought to keep from dozing off. I did notice after a few minutes of observing the light patterns on the floor that the markings of the wood grain seemed to become clearer and actually separate from the floor, creating an almost three-dimensional affect. Our instructor ended this segment with the ringing of a chime which seemed inordinately loud to me.

After taking a short break to partake of snacks of tangerines and almonds brought by the instructor, we reconvened and reviewed what had taken place. The instructor also handed out some articles from yoga journals and we looked over those as well.

For our final meditation exercise of the day, we engaged in 20 minutes of gazing at lit candles in the chapel. The instructor also asked each of us to think of a word or phrase that had meaning to us and to repeat it over and over in our minds as we inhaled and exhaled. At first I tried sitting on a meditation cushion but this put too much strain on my lower back so I moved to a chair. Once again, I had trouble keeping my eyes open and focused on the flame. My guess is that I will be meditating with my eyes shut most of the time.

After this exercise we had a short time of review and were assigned homework. By next week, we are to create our own meditation space, read the articles, and engage in at least 10 minutes of meditation three or four times this week experimenting with the techniques we were taught. Next Saturday’s session will deal with Buddhist meditation and Christian meditation, specifically the “Lectio Divina.”

I left the class feeling physically tired and bit light-headed. Additionally, I have to admit that I was a bit irritable for the rest of the day and today as well. At first I was a bit puzzled by this. I expected to leave feeling calm and serene. Then I recalled with the instructor had said at the start of the class—that the purpose of meditation is not to become more relaxed, although this is a side effect. The main purpose of meditation is to see reality more clearly. It is to remove “the gunk” as she put it, ‘and lift the veil” so we can see our lives with clarity.

I have to admit, in spite of the emotional “gunk” coming to the surface, I am looking forward to this new adventure in meditation.

Text and Image: Lori G. (c) 2008

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10 responses »

  1. Lori, sitting meditation is my favorite form. I love the detailed way you expressed your first experience. Which by the way, is many people’s first time — I know mine was very much like this. In fact, it took me quite some time to really even sit past 10 minutes. Then, one day I sat in deep meditation for 2 hours and wasn’t even aware of the time when I came out of it. I was so shocked when I realized I’d been sitting in deep inner awareness for that long. The benefits are many 😉

  2. This sounds, Lori, like quite an experience. I admire you for doing it. I’ve tried this kind meditation a time or two, but my mind tends to wander. I have to be surrounded my nature to reap any benefits. Let us know how it goes for you in your next session.

    Vi

  3. Hi Lori,

    Interesting notes, I’ll be reading to see how you feel as you continue with the course. My experience with meditation comes from the 60’s when my parents and I learned Transcendental Meditation (TM). We were taught to meditate 20 minutes twice a day using a mantra and found it restful. As a steady practice, we noticed less stress and more patience, “stuff” just didn’t bother us as much. I am beginning to return to it using the prayer of St. Francis, which I read over a few times before I close my eyes and then return to bits as I go along.

  4. What a wonderful course you have found, to practice different forms of meditation.
    I remember my dismay when after having practiced for a little while all these, what I deemed, negative emotions starting pouring to the surface – it was a valuable lesson as, like your instructor says it is about seeing reality. I had expected to be all serenity and bliss – um not quite. Now it is different, now it feels like clicking into the centre. I look forward to hearing more.

  5. Lori, this is really neat. I will say that I have had similar problems when I have tried to meditate. My mind just will not stay still, and when I try to let the errant thoughts drift by, I tend to hang on to them for the ride. The last time I tried meditation was at a church thing, and Pat was with me. He actually fell asleep – I nudged him and he told me that I wasn’t meditating well since I was paying attention to him (and then he snickered at me.)

  6. I have to wonder how deeply one can be led into Christian meditation by an instructor who is not a committed Christ follower? I suppose if its only an introductory course it doesn’t need to go that deep but, hmmm …

  7. Well, Matt, I have to wonder how you can possibly know the state of a person’s soul that you have never met. A tad presumptuous, don’t you think? I pray to God that I never become so arrogant as to think that I cannot possibly learn something about and BUILD BRIDGES with people of other traditions. I find that this is a better way to share the love of Christ. Humility, brother, humility.

  8. Recently I signed up for some art classes and now, upon reading this, I think that I will take the step and sign up for some meditation.

  9. You go, Lori!

    I’ve tried out a few of these forms of meditation. I find it hard to sit on a cushion, too: my legs fall asleep.

    I usually find meditation very relaxing, even if my mind wanders. But then I go back out into the “real” world and that relaxed state gets lost pretty fast. Don’t beat yourself up when your mind wanders: just keep bringing yourself back to the present moment.

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