July 26, 2011

Learning to be Still: A First Meditation Class. ~Alexa Maxwell

Photo: Grand Velas Resort

I attended a six hour beginning meditation class one recent Saturday.

As I drove there, I thought, “Six hours?  Can I do this?  What else should I be doing? Maybe I will only stay for half…”  And of course, I was a few minutes late, as is my embarrassing habit. Well, yes, I did check my Facebook and took the time to phone-flirt with my new man before leaving, and I wasn’t sure where to park, and I felt a little awkward walking in late… only about five minutes… but people who are in a meditation class just can’t be weird about tardiness, can they? And they weren’t.

Photo: Ms. Mornington

I take a seat and listened to John, the instructor, talk about meditation and how difficult it is to sit still and focus on the breathing, not only for beginners, but also for people who have been practicing a long time. It is, he says, human nature to have a busy mind. As we make our introductions, I confess to feeling like my accelerator is jammed at 75 in a 35 MPH world. People nod and chuckle.

We begin with a short, ten-minute sit. Ten minutes? Can I sit still that long? I am feeling a little sniffly, probably allergies, but I see no box of tissues. I’ll be okay. I adjust my position on the cushion, keep my eyes soft-focused. Sniff. There’s a tissue hanging from the pants pocket of the lady in front of me. I wonder if I can grab it. No, close your eyes. OK. It’s awfully quiet. Breathe in, breathe out. My mind drifts to thoughts of sex, of my lover’s smooth chocolate skin. I wonder how many people in here are thinking about sex. Is it just me? It can’t be. I read somewhere that men think about sex at least every three minutes. There are quite a few men in here. A couple of them attractive and far too young for me. Focus! Attention on the breath. I didn’t have time for breakfast, what if my stomach growls? It’s awfully quiet! How embarrassing if my stomach growls… ding! Wow, was that the bell? Okay, that wasn’t too bad. My bones hurt.

The group shares thoughts about the meditation, John talks some more, and we have a stretch break. I make some tea. When we reconvene, John announces that we will next do a half-hour. Thirty minutes!  Is he kidding? But we’re beginners!  He cautions us not to have expectations, to be kind to ourselves, acknowledge our busy minds and let the thoughts move through as they will, then refocus on our breaths. Okay.

I settle into my cushion. Thought skitter across my mind; I imagine them like cirrus clouds, and a large hand – God, is that

Photo: Diamond Mountain

you? – flicks them out of my blue mind-sky.  Ahh. I close my eyes, feeling warmth like a sunburst behind my eyelids. Nice. I have brief thoughts of sex again, and I wonder what I’ll have for lunch. Then I tune in, aware of one point of focus in the center of my breath. There’s an ache in my hips, I have a cramp in one foot. I shift again. I find a place of stillness deep inside of me. I’m watching my breath from another dimension, as an unbiased observer.  Ding! Seriously? Was that really half an hour?  Maybe I’m getting the hang of this!

After lunch (at which I eat with those two very young very cute guys!) we settle back in, and John explains a metta, or loving-kindness meditation. He tells us that sometimes using words or thoughts to guide a meditation is helpful. In metta, one wishes first for happiness, peace, love, strength, freedom from suffering, etc.,  for oneself, then those in our lives, and then to all creatures and beings (including, presumably, enemies.) A lively discussion ensues in which one woman claims it is too hard to send these wishes to someone like Hitler. The other instructor explains that Hitler’s actions were caused by his own suffering, so to wish him these things would be to wish the atrocities he committed away. Had he been free from suffering himself, would he have been a better human being? Maybe. It’s a stretch, but I get it.

We sit again, John begins speaking. “May I be happy….”  Wait a minute. Hold it right there, I think, as he goes on with his list of good wishes. It’s easy for me to wish good things for my children, my friends, even virtual strangers. But in a lightbulb moment, I realize it is difficult to wish these things for myself!  A-ha! Therein lies some of my problem. If I cannot truly want – and expect – happiness, love, and peace for myself, how am I ever to achieve it? Is this why I have only attracted men who can’t truly love me?  Is it because I feel I don’t deserve it? After the guided meditation, I bring this up in our discussion. Some people look shocked, others nod in agreement. John says that this is the place to start, and I know he is correct.

Changing one’s thinking patterns is a long and arduous road. It takes self-discipline, which is a trait I don’t have enough of. So I am doing metta meditation every morning now, while my coffee brews. It is a good way to start my day. “May I be happy…” Soon, I hope that I will begin to believe I deserve to be.


Alexa Maxwell is a writer, teacher, traveler and student of yoga. She is a huge fan of elephant journal and is honored to be part of the herd. You can read more at her blog here or wait for her upcoming travel memoir which is a work in progress.

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