When I was in my mid-20’s I had the life-changing opportunity to experience my first meditation workshop. It was a well-organized, straight-forward, fascinating experience that fundamentally changed my view of how to deal with the world around me.
First of all, what the heck IS meditation? The Merriam-Webster dictionary offers the following synonyms for meditate: chew over, cogitate, consider, contemplate, debate, deliberate, entertain, eye, kick around, mull (over), perpend, ponder, pore (over), question, revolve, ruminate, study, think (about or over), turn, weigh, wrestle (with).
Yep, all of the above.
I first explored meditation through guided meditation cassette tapes I purchased at a Renaissance Faire in Woodstock, Vermont while in High School. I found I enjoyed the introspection and, since the tapes were focused on physical relaxation and release, I benefited from taking the time to unwind, focus on my body and physical existence, and to simply exist. I continued practicing guided meditation using those tapes and others into college. I even led guided meditations periodically for fellow students in the dorm in order to release tension, to center, and to focus.
Therefore, when a close friend mentioned she was attending a workshop for “meditation and energy work” and asked if I would go with her, I eagerly said yes. My friend was beginning a process of exploring energy work and we often talked about meditation and other forms of healing, self-exploration, and self-discovery. This was during the mid 1990s, so “energy work” was a pretty new concept in the midwestern part of the U.S.
The workshop had two parts: 1. Meditation techniques and approaches; and 2. Energy work concepts and application. While I was not really interested in the energy work portions of the workshop other than as an open-minded observer, I was eager to learn as much as I could about meditation. The instructor was a guy in his 40’s who had studied with a number of people I had never heard of. He looked like a regular guy - balding, wearing khakis and a polo shirt. To me he was “Mr. Mellow”.
Mr. Mellow changed my life.
Mr. Mellow started his session by saying that any technique or approach to meditation needs to have room to expand and grow at a pace that he referred to as taking baby steps. He said we would do the following: start with just sitting quietly, then move on to “meditating” for just a few minutes, then, as we opened up and experienced meditative moments, we would learn to “go with the flow” and allow those moments to expand and increase as they integrated into our physical, mental, and emotional consciousnesses.
Yeah, no problem - what he said.
To start, he had us find a comfortable place and position to sit. This could be in a chair, on the floor, against a wall, wherever we were comfortable. I, of course, being an aspiring Buddha, chose to sit cross-legged on the carpeted floor. Once we were physically situated and comfortable he told us that our goal for the day was to: “Allow your mind and heart to wander. Just breathe and exist. As each thought or feeling comes to you, acknowledge it, witness it, say ‘hello, I see you’ or ‘hello, I feel you’ and then let it flow by you. As you do this, your thoughts and feelings will, eventually, become quieter and less overwhelming.”
That was it. Simple, right?
He had us close our eyes and then he rang a small bell. I proceeded to breathe awkwardly, realized I was no longer sure HOW to breathe correctly, worried about how I looked while sitting there, and then he rang the bell again. It had been two minutes and I was so focused on remembering how to breathe and how I looked I had pretty much no other thoughts. He had us stand up and walk in a circle around the room. I quickly realized that, while I did not fall asleep, my left foot was trying to. Two minutes of walking around the room my foot stopped prickling with pins and needles, and we all sat back down.
We repeated this process again, and again, and again...
Each time I was able to more easily get physically comfortable. Each time my breathing became more relaxed and natural with less effort. Each time I got better at witnessing thoughts and experiencing feelings, acknowledge them, and let them flow past. Each time the two minutes seemed shorter and shorter but somehow more satisfying and relaxing.
Each time, it turned out, Mr. Mellow had added a minute without telling us. It was not a trick, it was baby steps.
Those baby steps toward acknowledgment and flow have served me well throughout my life. They helped me learn how to explore and develop my own personal approaches to dealing with stress, being present, and being in the flow. Through this exploration and development I have discovered and created some useful images and concepts that serve me well.
One visualization I use in more extreme experiences is: I put on a bright yellow raincoat that lets me feel the flow of chaos all around me and allows me to be safe from it and to watch it wash over and around me. The yellow raincoat is also buoyant. From within my buoyant bright yellow raincoat I can safely be an observer to the flow of chaos and protected from potentially being washed away, overwhelmed, or drowned. I can then take the time I need to find a safe place mentally or emotionally to deal with everything around me.
The second approach is more immersive and is the one I have come to use most frequently: I see myself as a screen in a pipeline. There is a rushing flow of thoughts and feelings all around and through me. I, the screen, accumulate “stuff” that gets stuck. However, I have the wonderful ability to either take a look at what is stuck there or to turn over and allow the flow to wash through me and take it away. When being a screen, I am able to be part of the flow, and to participate in it instead of being separate and detached.
This second approach helps me feel empowered to decide what I am dealing with, when I am dealing with each thing, and what I can let go. There is always some concern and even fear that something vital is going to pass by that I cannot re-claim. However, if that something really needs my attention, I have found that it lingers at the side, swirling in its eddy, separating itself out, trying to draw my focus. I can then turn to it when I feel comfortable, on my terms, say hello, welcome it in, and allow it to become part of my focus.
Applying and using these images has been cathartic, freeing, and empowering.
I encourage you, baby step by baby step, to explore meditation (or whatever you want to call it) and give yourself a chance to feel more centered, in control, and resilient.