Monday, 3 January 2011

Starting small

Last night I went along to a kirtan workshop which was followed by (what was described as) an open meditation class. I have been to the kirtan classes at this studio before, though not for a little while, but my efforts with meditation have up until now been limited to segments of ashtanga workshops or retreats. 
I had some doubts about going along for this class as it talked of bringing a notebook to set our intentions for the year, and the full write-up suggested to me that I might end up digging up some emotions I have been trying to avoid. Silly me, of course, in that any emotions I have been "trying to avoid" have already come to my attention, but that's another story. I love (love love) kirtan but have had some emotional responses to it in the past, and I suppose the truth is I was feeling a little too vulnerable for the full force of this at the moment. So I realised - what better time to face up to it?
I hadn't booked after calling in the afternoon to be told there was no need, but arrived (late) to discover that the room was already over capacity (it takes 35 people, they had already allowed 41 in) and there were three others waiting (and another lady arrived just after me). I tried to hide my disappointment but the manager was upstairs seeing what she could negotiate, and happily came down 5 minutes later saying it was OK, we were all rather than having "too many" people there, we ended up with a fabulously well-attended roomful of like-minded souls ready to welcome in the new year :)
The bolsters and blankets were set up in a double horseshoe in the room facing the lovely teacher leading the chant (with harmonium and drummer standing by) with several rows of people behind on each side, and those on chairs lining each wall, but as I love to be surrounded by sound I was happy to spot a free space right in the middle of the second row and tip-toed in just as the first chant was about to begin. And of course I had nothing to fear... 
The sound was incredible, on a usual Saturday class there are around 12 people, so with 4 times that many I couldn't hear my own (admittedly horse) voice; I was not a drop in the ocean, I was the ocean. And the experience was incredible too - and indescribable. Thoughts rose to the surface; vivid memories of walking with a former love in his home-town, instead of banishing the painful memory I allowed it to surface, I let it sit there, I let it rise up and float free. I felt my heart swell, I cracked it wide open. I made space for those I want to send loving energy to. I set my intention to send healing energy to the person in my life who needs it the most. I felt love. And then when the kirtan was over, the meditation class began (and my fear...). But again, there was nothing to fear; the teacher talked a little about our posture, about meditation techniques. He explained a meditation technique as "the car you drive to the temple - but you still have to get out of the car and enter the temple". He told us that we would be meditating with the mantra om namah shivaya. 

He continued to speak for a little while after telling us to begin, and I found myself wishing he would stop talking so that I could really focus. He stopped talking. I repeated the mantra. I had an enormous coughing fit and had to take a drink of water, conscious of the disturbance to those around me. I put the bottle down, immediately regretting not drinking more and convinced that the tickle in my throat was so bad that I was going to throw up. I repeated the mantra. I noticed that people around me were beginning to fidget. I felt pride that I was sitting completely still. I repeated the mantra. I started to wonder how long this was going on for. Maybe I could sneak a look at the clock - but it was behind me. I repeated the mantra. I found some stillness and let the mantra slip away. My mind wandered, I brought back the mantra. I wondered again if we would be doing this for half the class and something else for the second half - we weren't really just going to sit for 45 minutes uninterrupted were we? I repeated the mantra. I wondered what sort of value for money it is to pay £12 for a class where you sit in silence? I repeated the mantra. I noticed the fidgeting around me again. I felt proud (again) for staying still. And then it was over.
And that was the whole class! I actually sat for 45 minutes - UNBELIEVABLE!! Considering my previous attempts have hit a maximum of about 10-15 minutes, this was quite a big difference. And when he suggested that we take a few moments to reflect on our experience, my overriding feeling was this: I sat and judged other people. "Listen to them fiddling and fidgeting while I sit here nice and still." Not exactly a great emotion (hello ego!) but at least I recognised that I was doing it. But as I walked out of the class and took the hour-long journey home, I felt still and calm with a clear head. Reading my very most favourite book on the way home (Awakening the Buddha Within by Lama Surya Das - which I started reading again over Christmas) certainly helped keep my mind focussed, and getting up to practice this morning I still felt calm and centred - and practice today was deliciously focused. All of which made me realise that meditation is something I really really need to find the time for in my daily life. My plan? To cut down the (enormous) amount of time I spend online, and replace it with this much healthier activity. And over post-yoga breakfast today a plan was made to start attending monthly meditation workshops, which should give me the support and motivation to start sitting regularly. 
So happy New Year everyone, here's to a calm and balanced 2011, whatever your intentions may be! :)


  1. This is inspiring! I've been trying to pencil in a spot of meditation every morning (at least 20 minutes), but I manage to do it about once to twice a week at best. Have been procrastinating on checking out meditation workshops (after all, it's just sitting still and breathing, why do I need to go somewhere to do it??), but it sounds like having a group dynamic and a teacher to guide you helps somewhat. Hmm, you've got me thinking....

  2. I love your account of the meditation session. LOL. Gosh that sounds familiar!!
    You'll have to take me along to the kirtan sometime.
    Miss you guys, got a pang at the mention of breakfast :)

  3. I need to post about my intentions! Non-grasping, sitting and BALANCE!

    We miss you Susan :) (gona email you now!) xxx

  4. Danielle - it might be worth a try. For me I think it was the fact that I couldn't just get up and do something else that kept me sitting for all that time. I'm interested to be taught some different techniques too, and I definitely get a lot out of the group dynamic :)

    Susan - yeah let's go chanting! And we miss you too!
    Jen we're on to a good start with our class plan. I sat this morning (thank you moonday) though got up too late for the half an hour I had planned, but still managed 15 minutes. Better than nowt and now my house smells deliciously of nag champa!