Meditation intimidates me. Yoga teacher training comes with a requirement to develop a daily meditation practice. Sitting still when so many of the world’s problems require direct attention seems like a distraction. The paradox that a person could provide world peace and not take 15 minutes in a day to be peaceful should resonate.
My first class came with a stinging review, “You. Must. Teach. Meditation. What is the point of it all if you don’t?”
We all need a teacher in this life. That is, somebody we have chosen to guide us. Someone to tug us down a path that we choose. Our steps may not match theirs, but they are in front clearing obstacles. We may know our teacher or we may only sense them. Either way, we walk this path with our own abilities and at our own pace. I responded in the way I knew, “How?”
Her response was, “You already know. It is inside you.” And then my homework was to return to the next class and conduct a five-minute, guided meditation.
For the entire month, I grappled with this assignment.
Reflecting on my teaching and on my life’s experiences, my mind landed on the first ‘formal’ meditation I attended. When I was younger and a high school teacher, a parent of a student invited a few of us to the beach. She wanted to share so that we could share with our students. We gathered and sat in a circle beside the ocean.
We sat and closed our eyes. Letting the outward posture reflect the inner alertness, she instructed us to quiet our thoughts. She told us thoughts would come and, like the waves, we could let them continue to rush around us without changing our own intentions.
Focus on the breath. The mind wanders because that’s what it is made to do. Set the attention on the sensation of the air coming in and flowing out of the body. The wind blew so strong the lungs couldn’t help but be full of fresh air.
We stayed still for a very long time. I could hear my cohorts sitting next to me chatting while we were supposed to be still, but something happened to me. My awareness left my body. When we closed, I felt calm and unaffected. When we left, my friends were both stunned – HOW did you do that? Were you asleep while sitting up? I couldn’t respond except that I was recalling a skill that I didn’t know I learned in my childhood.
But what is the point? Why train the mind to do things it isn’t made to do? I was still a non-believer.
Meditation heals the body from the emotional stress brought on by everyday life. Jon Kabat-Zinn and Esther Giller work on two halves of this same argument – Giller on the physiology and Kabat-Zinn on the recovery. Giller describes the connection between emotional and anatomical experience of stress. She writes, “The key to understanding traumatic events is that it refers to extreme stress that overwhelms a person’s ability to cope.”
The monks practice the poses not because it is good exercise (it is), but to quiet the mind. It allows the body to be still and not cause distraction to the mind. Through meditation can we heal from the past trauma and move forward to a greater realization of our true self.