Monday, August 6, 2012
July Mission: Meditation
For our July Mission, we visited the Pure Mind Center in University City, and meditated. This was our first experience with this kind of a group session under the guidance of an authentic teacher of the art of meditation.
Meditation has always appealed to me. I like the idea of reaching an altered state of mind by sheer willpower. The "temple" we visited was a small storefront-like building in a tiny strip mall. We arrived early in order to get some pointers from the facilitator there, a man who practices Buddhism and teaches others about the techniques of mediation.
Sitting on the floor with legs crossed, backs straight, and body relaxed, we listened to this guy with a classic Asian accent explain to us in simple terms some techniques of mediation. He also started to explain the concept of Self, and how I look at a cup of coffee differently from everyone else, even though the cup of coffee is always the same. I couldn't help but think of Bruce Lee's oft-quoted example of water into a cup (not at all the same thing other than it being someone with an Asian accent explaining something with deep meaning). I loved this part of of our trip. I felt like we were being let in on a really great secret. One that has meaning and could literally change our minds and our lives. I was ready to do this mediation thing if it was even remotely close to being what this guy described. Turns out, it wasn't. Not yet at least.
I hated the mediation. It's true, and it's sad but my experience was bad, almost intolerable. It was hot, my body and especially my back ached, at one point I was laboring to breathe, and the 30 minute session dragged on forever. If there is a degree of mind/body fitness in which meditation is practical and useful, I am as far away from it as you can get.
So, mediation is hard, which I think is what amazed me the most. I think that my preconceived notions about mediation really hurt me here. I was looking for a great experience and ended up in agony. You may think I'm exaggerating or being a baby, and you may be right about the baby part. BUT, now that I know it's hard, and that practice really means acclimating your mind AND body, now I want to do it. I was looking at instant rewards at first but now I see that it will take some real dedication to get there. That's why I've decided to take this month's mission further, and meditate for at least 10 minutes each day in August. My goal is to see some real progress in my technique and mind-state. Now knowing how hard it is, I want to give this a fair chance to impact me and I believe a month should accomplish this. At the very least I should see some type of improvement.
In the end this was a really meaningful mission that will hopefully lead to a different or even better state of mind. I have always been interested in training my mind but didn't know how to go about it. I want to give meditation a real shot because I think the rewards could be something incredible.
I have been reading up a little on Buddhism and meditative practices, and it’s safe to say that I’m a bit enamored with what some call ‘pragmatic Buddhism’. This is an emphasis on the practical application of Buddhist concepts and meditation as opposed to an unqualified adherence to the religious and cultural roots of eastern Buddhism in all of its doctrinal minutia.
We chose the Pure Mind Center (www.puremindcenter.org) because it had weekly hours (Wednesdays 5:00 pm – 6:00 pm). It is a store-front on a busy street, but the noise from traffic and the next-door television that pierced the quiet mattered very little since meditation, we learned, is more discipline than relaxation. We were welcomed to come a half-hour early to speak with the session guide, or ‘master’, as I like to call him. That 30 minute block was great. We were given simple instructions on many subjects ranging from how to correctly place our ass on the cushions (it’s ass-ience), to how to make our mind a ‘mirror’ to reflect the world in awareness while allowing thoughts and feelings to pass on. The Taiwanese master was very kind and smiley, and spoke intelligently in a highly flavored accent. We found out later that he is a cardiologist, and he and his wife are volunteers at this center that is funded by donors in the community.
Meditation started with moving mediation, which was basically stretching and limbering up…a sped-up version of yoga. Then we sat on our cushions, and the master went to the back of the room and tapped on a hollow wood block three times to commence silent meditation. We sat facing the statue of Buddha with our eyes pointed toward the floor at a 45 degree angle. We did this for 30 minutes.
The ‘ting’ of the bell signaling the close of the session was a beautiful sound. We bowed to the statue of the Buddha as a "gesture of respect for the Teacher’s teachings”, and we bowed to our master and each other "as a gesture of respect to the spirit of Buddha [“enlightenment”]" in him and each other. Our joints and muscles were sore, and we were sweating. It was no joke. It was work. But I can’t tell you the last time I forced my mind to be ‘still’without going to sleep. To be awake but not rushing somewhere, nor living in the future or past, is a strange feeling, and probably that was the most agonizing part. I’m a bit horrified to think about how I sum up my life by some god-forsaken notion of pure activity being a virtue. I realize a lack of mental activity is death, but a placid and unfrenzied awareness without the addictive ‘pacing’of the mind is scarce in my mode of being.
I will do this again. I have to. It was a strange reclamation of self by a momentary forfeiture of passion. It reminds me of the words by Karl Jaspers, “If I will not put up with my solitude, if I will not overcome it again and again, I choose either a chaotic ego dissolution or a fixation in forms and tracks without selfhood.”