Sunday, 21 March 2010

Meditating on Meditation

Meditation is HARD!!

I went to a meditation class yesterday at the Croydon Buddhist Centre, it was very lovely, though they cleverly and subtly subscribe to that consumerist ploy, you enter and leave through the shop. I'm weak and easily influenced, so I'm now the proud owner of a new bag (with bells on...literally) and a book about meditating on the breath.

Well done me.

I was greeted by Clive and Jane, Clive made me a cuppa and offered me a biscuit, at which point I immediately fell in love. However, in my infinite strength, I managed to decline the offer of a biscuit and opted for green tea....I'm cleansing myself, cleansing...yes.

That was until the halfway teabreak when someone broke out the jammy dodgers. DAMN THEM!! Give me caffeine too!

Myself and another noob were taken into the meditation room (I hesitate to say 'shrine' room as I associate that word with nasty religion, but was a shrine room). There was a lovely golden buddha statue dressed in his saffron robe, and flowers in vases all around him. There was incense burning, and apart from that the room was very plain. A far cry from most Catholic churches you might wander into.

The teacher told us that today we'd be meditating on the mindfulness of breathing. There are different kinds of meditation, some more difficult or less accessible than others. Meditation on breathing is highly accessible because we always have our breath (fingers crossed) and it doesn't require a deep understanding of any buddhist principles. It's a good one for Westerners to use in our hectic and very un-asian lifestyles.

Then she explained to us that there are various ways you can position yourself. They've got these cushions, rectangle ones and squishy round ones, and they have lots of blankets and chairs. Basically you can use any array and combination of these things to arrange yourself in a comfy sitting/kneeling position. As a noob, everyone wanted to help me find my comfy position, I opted for kneeling (I'm a floor-sitter anyway...people in meetings at work find it most disconcerting), and I ended up perched ontop of 2 rectangular cushions, with another in front of me to rest my hands on. All this was ontop of a blanket to protect my feet, and another blanket round my shoulders incase I got cold.

I understood the emphasis on comfort after about half an hour of being sat there!

And so it started, we closed our eyes and started with a body scan, where we directed our attention to various parts of our bodies, starting at the feet and moving to the head, and concentrated on how they felt, the sensation of our clothes/the blanket/the cushions against them. Being a beginner this was difficult, and I found that I had to twitch every body part she was talking about to remind myself where it was and what it felt like. I can see how after a lot of practice you can become aware enough of yourself to (for a start, not have to twitch) feel whether maybe there's something going wrong somewhere. Does this part of me feel normal? No? What's wrong there then?

Then we began the breathing, 4 stages. In all stages you concentrate on the breath and try to tune everything else out. At first, you count after you exhale a breath, one to ten. In the next stage, you count before you inhale. I know I know...surely, counting after you exhale and counting before you inhale is the same thing?? In a way, but there's a subtle difference. By consciously counting before you inhale you're anticipating the next breath, you're not doing that by consciously counting after the exhalation. In the latter, you're finishing, in the former you're beginning.

After that you stop counting altogether and just concentrate on the breathing, then you focus even more specifically on the sensation of the breath as it passes into your body, on the lips, in the mouth and nostrils.

Again, being a first timer I had some trouble. At various points I stopped being able to feel my body and had to stretch my back and or twitch my legs to remind myself what position I was in.

Also, slightly worryingly perhaps, I found myself perpetually leaning to the left! Having to straighten myself up every so often (thank gawd everyone had their eyes closed). Every now again I felt like I was about to wobble forward. Had such a thing occurred, I'm pretty sure that I was so relaxed that my body wouldn't have woken up to respond in time and I'd just have slowly tipped forward, off of my perch onto my face and laid there for a minute...not making a sound. Rather like the felling of a tall solemn oak. If I'd have been lucky it wouldn't have been too noisy and no-one would have noticed.

I also had trouble keeping my brain on one thing, especially with all the madness running around in there at the moment. When I first closed my eyes I felt my eyeballs darting around as if to say 'Whit?? Whit?? What are you dooing?? There are PEOPLE here! Don't close your eyes, that's SOO embarrassing!' Eventually they settled down, but the brain did keep wandering slightly.

I take the piss out of myself and the situation, but I did actually really enjoy the experience. Most people living in the west have hectic lifestyles. Even those of us who like to be a couch potato usually have to get up and go to work/school/university, in order that we earn the right to be a couch potato when we get home. Even perpetual couch potatoes tend to watch telly or read, or play computer games, surf the internet. The point is that even when we're sitting and being quiet, we're not being still and letting our brains be still......ever! That's what was unusual about meditation, being SO still for an hour, letting everything else get on with it and concentrating on yourself for a little while.

It was very nice and I felt relaxed and serene afterwards, perhaps that's why I spent £15 in the shop, it's all that incense, gets to your brain.

By the by, I met someone during the break who's on the comedy course that Oggers went on, and the one that she tends bar for during the showcases. His showcase is next weekend. It's a small world. He said to me 'Did you enjoy it? You didn't find it too scary?'

That struck me. It's true, many people in London would probably walk into a room of people meditating, with their cushions and blankets, dead silence, dead stillness, and they'd think they'd walked in on a cult. They'd turn tail and run for fear of being brainwashed. It's too different, it's not normal.

Let me tell ya something!

Different is ok.


  1. HA! Well good for you. If I tried that, I fear I would be asleep in seconds.

    Then I would get unceremoniously kicked out (after purchasing the appropriate number of items on my way out) for snoring and disturbing everyone else.

  2. I was really concerned that I'd do just that!

    Please don't let me fall asleep, please don't let me fall asleep!! I was a bit hungover too...

    Meditation cures hangovers! Who knew??

  3. Good for you. I've been attempting meditation for years. Meditation is cool - good for the soul.
    I was able convince a class of seventeen year-olds to attempt meditation - fo three minutes.
    Two of my favorite books on zen are THE PEACEFUL WARRIOR and THE RAZOR'S EDGE.