Our new workshop series began with a bang!
Thanks to everyone who joined in for being so open, sharing and supportive. It was wonderful to spend three hours sharing insights, techniques, tips and ideas about how to sit comfortably and safely; and then how to approach developing and maintaining a meditation practice.
The eleven participants ranged from a first-timer through relative beginners and well-established practitioners to some who’ve been at it for decades and are still trying to work it out. People who have never spoken about their meditation practice shared their experiences, of both their successes and their doubts and mis-steps along the path.
We learned that some people seem to have (relatively) easy access to a meditative state, and others are unsure if they’ve ever been there. Someone shared that her mind is soooo very busy and scattered that she sometimes has to sit for 25-30 minutes just letting it run through all of its distractions before it will finally be still for a little bit. Someone else responded that she sometimes hit the fast forward button so she can zoom through all of that stuff faster! Both agreed that the mind is not easily silenced, and will not be until it’s had its way.
Another suggested that sometimes it’s worth making promises to the mind that after this sitting session, we will turn our full attention to … whatever the mind wants to obsess about at the moment. This is a handy way of dealing with the persistent Fear of Missing Out! Don’t deny it; just make a deal to delay it. I found a similar technique helped me focus when studying: when I encountered other things (than what I was studying) that I wanted to pursue, I’d open another folder on my computer, give it a label, and perhaps a few reminder-type of notes, and then set it aside, satisfied that I wasn’t missing out, but would come back to it later. (One of the great things about dealing with the mind is that it’s so fickle that you rarely have to keep these promises!)
As our discussion unfolded, we encountered that oh so useful cliché: different strokes for different folks. Okay, no one actually said anything so cheesy, but we work shopped the underlying understanding. One person responds very well to aural stimulation, picking up on the background noise that might otherwise be an irritant, and using it as a stepping stone or platform from which to launch into a cosmic silence. Another is able to draw upon a highly visual and tactile guided meditation that she experienced years ago, reconnecting with the imagery and sensations that enabled her to find stillness. Some engage in pranayama, aided by visualising the shapes that the breathing patterns create. Some have well established personal practices, sitting in meditation every morning and evening; while others only sit in groups, whether in their (semi-)regular asana classes or in dedicated meditation workshops.
One of those very exciting yet sometimes annoying a-ha moments (exciting because a-ha, annoying because we’ve had it so many times before, yet still need the reminder) came when the person with the twice-daily practice shared that she doesn’t always feel like it, and mixes it up a bit. Sometimes she begins with a fast-forward dump before sitting silently, and sometimes nothing is going to clear the mind, so she spends the time chanting mantras or doing pranayama.
After discussing these things, and before we actually got around to sitting together in meditation, we ran through a range of sitting postures from sukhasana (simple cross-legged) to padmasana (full lotus) that are conducive to prolonged sitting. Here, again, what works depends upon individual characteristics including flexibility, injuries, strength etc. Arguably, one of the primary objectives of many of the asanas that we practice on the mat is to provide the hip-opening and core strength that will facilitate a stable sitting posture. Sthira sukham asanam. But clearly padmasana is not a prerequisite for a sitting meditation. In fact, various traditions have developed special chairs to help maintain a stable posture, and some people meditate lying down (although here, staying awake is frequently a challenge).
It’s amazing how time flies when you’re having fun (sorry for more clichés!). By the time we got through all of this, we only had time for a couple of short pranayama and chanting sessions, plus a brilliant guided visualization through the chakras (thanks Haylee).
So, the clear take-away message is that we must find what works best for us, as individuals, and then practice, persistently if not (but preferably) consistently. If you need visualization, or a guided meditation, or some musical accompaniment, then do that. Don’t worry about whether it’s right or wrong, or what others think. If you need to sit alone, sit alone. If you sit better with others, find others to sit with. Don’t think you’re doing something wrong if your best mate is a loner, and you need a group – or if a group of your mates sit together, and you cannot join-in.
Well, that was one clear message. Another clear message is that we have a fabulous group of smart, caring, sharing people to work with and learn from. And for that, we are most grateful!
We will gather for the next workshop on Sat Dec 13th at 1:15pm. Topic: Handstand practice.