If I could impart one bit of wisdom to my three children as they move forward into adulthood, it would be to establish a regular meditation practice. In this chaotic universe, meditation can help us achieve inner peace, a more balanced perspective and increase mental clarity – something we could all use. I also believe that meditation can provide us with a portal to our intuition, an essential part of our human psyche that can help us find our own unique path in today’s device driven, harried world.
About ten years ago, I decided to take my commitment to meditation to a somewhat higher level. On a cold February night I ventured through the doors of Godstow (today this it is DNKL – Tibetan Buddhist Center for Universal Peace), an idyllic Buddhist retreat nestled in the hills of Redding, Connecticut. I quickly became hooked. Every Monday night became my night to meditate and everyone in my family knew it. Before too many weeks had passed I suspect they all looked forward to it as I would return home in a decidedly more chill mood.
The group that converged on those Monday nights was pretty consistent and somewhat eclectic: a lifelong IBMer, a clinical psychologist and a former rocker were as eager to find their bliss, as was the veteran yoga teacher. Most of us would congregate in the kitchen, pour ourselves a mug of tea and chat a little before entering the meditation room. A sanctuary of sorts, a large open room with rich hardwood floors and a high ceiling with wooden beams. Each person took a blanket and pillow that had been neatly stacked from the previous session and found their spot on the floor. In the winter months, a warm fire glowed in the wood stove; candles and incense set the mood to “go within.” When our teacher, the Venerable Phunstock entered the room we would stand, face him, place our hands in prayer position at the breastbone and slightly bow in his direction. Phunstock would then lead us in a series of Tibetan prayer rituals.
Quite honestly, a newcomer might feel a little awkward trying to figure out what to do and when to do it; you’re bowing, then you’re kneeling, you’re up, then you’re down. I thought it best to stake out a spot at the back of the room for my first couple of classes until I got the hang of things.
Phunstock was a relatively young monk in his mid-thirties and dressed in a traditional red Tibetan robe. His guided meditation took about an hour and a half, beginning with the preliminaries, which consisted of focusing on the breath, silently counting each inhale up to twenty one, then repeating. We would then visualize a ball of white light floating in front of our third eye (that would be the space between our two physical eyes), visualizing the light move up to the crown of the head and then descending down into the heart center. A brief break for discussion would follow before completing the meditation.
I definitely had trouble seeing that white ball of light. I’d get it, and then it would be gone. And my mind would wander constantly. I was sure there had to be a right and a wrong way to do this, and in my need to do this “right,” I was sure I was doing it wrong. But something compelled me to keep coming back. And in time I found myself relaxing into the process. Stress eased and I gradually began to experience a calmness and clarity of thought that followed me into my hectic life. There were a few fleeting moments when I felt myself fall into the “gap” – the silent space between thoughts where no thoughts exist.
Sadly my Monday meditations would come to end. I must admit, it would be great to get back to a guided meditation class someday – maybe when my last child goes off to college this fall. However the habit of meditation is one I have held onto and I will never give it up; it deepens my awareness, connects me to the deepest part of myself and enables me to view my life from a new vantage point.
For anyone who is curious about meditating, has tried and failed or is looking for a guided mediation, I highly recommend these free online meditations from UCLA.