I had been meditating by myself for about a year when I decided to try group meditation. Here’s what happened…
I was in a class with seven women and one man. Once meditation began, I felt anxious sitting among a group of strangers with my eyes closed, and I struggled to focus on my breath. After persevering for a half hour, we stopped and discussed our experiences.
Next, the teacher led us into a loving kindness meditation. We extended loving kindness to a person close to us and moved outward to the world. Then the teacher stopped speaking, and we sat in stillness.
A few moments into the silence, the man stood up, went to the door, opened it and walked out.
The sounds of his departure were magnified due to the high ceilings and quiet in the room. His chair scraped the floor, his footsteps thudded, the door’s hinges creaked, a metal and wood sign fell to the floor and then—finally—the door closed. I felt as though my entire body had been attacked by sound.
Why is he abandoning us?
Did we do something to offend him?
I can’t believe he just walked out!
These thoughts raced through my mind in the ensuing silence, and then I noticed an ache behind my heart. My mind sought reasons for his leaving, while at the same time the dull pain behind my heart demanded attention.
A few minutes later I heard a door open in the hallway and then the door to the classroom opened and closed. The man returned to his seat.
In reality, I was never abandoned. A man I did not know stood up, and most likely used the restroom.
My face turned red.
Though no one else knew about my crazy mind loop, I was shocked at what my mind had manufactured. I went from thinking that I had offended a person I had never spoken to with my silence in a meditation class, to being abandoned, to an aching heart in the span of seconds, because a stranger needed a bathroom break.
My ego had acted like a two-year-old who craved any kind of attention she could get. Once I lost the focus of my breath in the group meditation, my ego swept in to take over. It wanted to be the center of the drama. It dredged up people-pleasing and victim thought habits and convinced me that I had been abandoned.
The ego is the primary voice that speaks to me in my head. It thinks of itself as I. It wants to define me and be the center of attention. Yet, most often it reacts to situations with fear.
The ego is usually the loudest voice in my head, yet it makes terrible decisions.
Tuning out the ego and instead listening to a deeper voice has been one of the benefits of meditation. For example, it helps me discern whether my actions are true to myself or taken to please someone else.
Social situations have always been difficult for me to navigate. As it turns out, even sitting in a room with strangers in silence can dredge up fear. Connection to my breath has helped me to relax the ego and be open to more possibilities in each moment. If I look deeper into what the ego is basing fear on, then I realize that—like the man standing up to use the bathroom—I may interpret a person’s look or a brief comment as personal disapproval when, in fact, it has nothing to do with me.
Meditation, whether practiced alone or with a group, has allowed me to move beyond my ego and become more intentional in my life. So although my ego may react to a man leaving the room, I can look deeper and realize that I’m okay.
Everything is going to be alright.
Author: Cynthia Wrightsman
Apprentice Editor: Lois Person / Editor: Toby Israel
Image: Author’s Own // sral_66/Flickr