Meditating is cool
On Saturday, I drove to a meditation center in Marin, California for a “daylong” — a day of practicing and discussing meditation. I was scared and excited because I had never been to this center or devoted more than thirty minutes to meditation. As you might have guessed from the title, it turned out to be an awesome day.
What have I done?
We gather in a big room with large windows overlooking a perfect day. An administrator goes over some basics, and makes me laugh: “I don’t know why, but the weather is always like this around here. It’s very strange.”
I close my eyes for the first period of silent, sitting meditation. “Oh my god, you’re going to be here for the next seven hours. What have you done. Oh my god.”
I think it’s okay, and kind of cute in an “of course” way, that these are my first thoughts. I keep breathing.
We’re going to do something called walking meditation. I’ve never done this. Will, our teacher, demonstrates. We are supposed to walk back in forth in a short path. He tells us to try to pay attention to the sensations in our legs and feet.
I find a spot on the road and start to walk like I’m a battery-powered human but the batteries are dying. I feel self-conscious.
Will takes questions from the group. How is the practice going? What are you experiencing?
A couple questions are asked. It seems like people keep saying, in different words, “I want meditate right. But I’m feeling distracted or misguided by certain thoughts or feelings. How can I change my experience?”
And Will keeps saying, “You’re doing fine. That’s not detracting from your meditation; that is meditation.”
What is it?
I think there is a popular misconception that when you are meditating, you are supposed to be trying to “clear” you mind. But I’ve never been instructed to clear my mind (whatever that means).
In my experience, meditating is the practice of noticing a single aspect of your physical experience. Frequently, people pay attention to how it feels to breathe in and out. Alternatively, a person can notice a different part of their body, like how their feet feel against the ground. It’s useful to pay attention to a bodily sensation because the body is always part of our experience.
It doesn’t mean it’s the only thing you pay attention to. In fact, it’s definitely not. And that’s good. It’s part of meditating. When you notice that you are thinking about something, you are meditating — you are being aware of the phenomenon in your own mind.
I caught up with my friend Anton at lunch time. His first words for me: “Are you enlightened yet?”
We eat some food at a picnic table in a meadow. I forgot to bring a fork so I eat my salad with my hands.
A bell guides us back to the main hall. I like the way the bell sounds, and that it can reach us from a distance.
We sit for a period of meditation again. There’s a pain between my shoulder blades when I try to sit up straight. I think it might always be there, but most of the time I ignore it.
Discovery. I’ve learned how my body shifts my weight from one foot to the other — when one foot is about to lift, the other lands and takes the weight. Conceptually, I know that’s obvious. But I’m not sure I’ve ever felt the shift like this. It’s fluid and nice. It’s like my feet are playing catch with my weight.
The simplicity of walking and paying close attention to my muscles is bringing back feelings of childhood.
I didn’t hear the bell, so I’m slightly late to return to the main hall. I take off my shoes and put on my socks.
We sit in silence again. I notice that there are well-worn topics that tend to surface when I’m alone with my thoughts — things that annoy me, things that worry me, things that please me. It’s probably worth asking myself why I think about each of these things.
You paraphrased a Buddhist text
It’s the end of the day. People are sharing insights that came to them during the day. One woman remarked, “I notice that when I’m walking around outside, I want to stop and enjoy the beauty. When I experience something pleasurable, I want to hold onto it. But when I experience something painful, I want to get rid of it.”
I think I used to see meditation as a distinct activity. I would grab a pillow, start a timer, and sit in silence for ten minutes. When the timer rang, it was over. I was calmer than I was ten minutes earlier, but I wasn’t meditating anymore.
I don’t think that anymore.
The Care and Maintenance of Your Source of Consciousness
The way I see it, I have some kind of organic computer in my skull that gives rise to the entirety of my experience. No one knows exactly how this mushy mass of electrified tissue works. But learning about meditation feels like someone ripped a page or two from the owner’s manual, and is showing these pages to me.