Monday, September 16, 2013
As I mentioned in one of the posts about the residency/retreat, guided meditation was offered at the Center for those interested.
I was first introduced to meditation in 1970 via TM, Transcendental Meditation. At the time, TM charged a fee to initiate people into the practice and I guess they still do. That struck me as fundamentally wrong and, since I was a student with no income, an insurmountable obstacle. The recruiter at the university where we were enrolled who was trying to get me and my boyfriend (the future Rat Bastard) to sign up assured us that it was only a 'donation' and not required so we made our appointment and showed up with the requisite flower and handkerchief. It became immediately apparent that the 'donation' was, in fact, required but rather than endure the bad press that would be sure to follow on campus and to spare us all the embarrassment (perhaps), they did in fact initiate us that evening.
I eventually paid off my $75 fee a little at a time to the guy that recruited us but I have no idea if the money was ever credited to me.
A few years later, I was living and going to school in Chicago and after coming into contact with Ananda Marga (a different story), was introduced to yoga and once again to meditation, a gift freely given.
I returned to Houston and several years later I was going through a very rough patch in my life (jettisoning the Rat Bastard) and was hanging around some TM people who suggested that I get reinitiated to help me smooth out the transition. They all seemed so serene and together so I made the appointment with the same guy who did the first initiation nearly five years earlier and showed up on time with my flower and handkerchief and waited and waited and waited. He was over an hour late, had forgotten the appointment, and was unapologetic about it.
When he asked me if I remembered my mantra, I had to tell him no although I did remember the one I had received from Ananda Marga (this was the mid-70s and Ananda Marga had not made it to Houston). Even though he had it written down in his notebook, he would not tell me what it was and instead told me that I would have to pay again to be reinitiated.
Needless to say, I walked out and never looked back and made my way through the troubled time on my own.
I never developed a daily practice of meditation although I would do so now and then when life got stressful or I needed to reenergize. However, being at the beautiful Chapin Mill Center with their beautiful Zendo, I showed up that first morning for the guided meditation.
Most of us, I think, showed up that first morning, and Waymon gave a short talk about Buddhism and Eryl gave us a short instruction in the sitting, posture, breathing of the meditation they were going to lead us in. It was very carefully presented without any sort of religious connotation as they were careful not to alienate persons with religious beliefs.
We did a short 10 minute meditation, focusing on and counting our breaths, 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 and then backwards back to 1, eyes open but cast downward as Eryl explained that this was a waking meditation and the light on our retinas would help keep us awake. We wanted to meditate, not sleep.
They described the goal meditation as returning to pure awareness which is our original state, to turn off the active mind and just be. Of course, the active mind can be very insistent that you pay attention to it so when thoughts would intrude you just recognize it and then let it go, when you lose count you simply start over at 1.
After our first 10 minute seated meditation, we did a 5 minute walking meditation, and then another 10 minute meditation. The next day, and every day after that, we engaged in a 20 minute seated, a 5 minute walking, and another 20 minute seated meditation. The second day they both also gave short talks about meditation and Buddhism.
The third day I did not participate. I had not been sleeping well and thought, when the alarm went off, that I would sleep in that hour. Which I didn't. Sleep, that it. Eventually I got up and went to breakfast. I probably would have felt better rested if I had gone to meditation instead of just being wakeful in the bed.
One of our group is a Buddhist and she was asking them about Zen Buddhism practices and so on subsequent days, they employed a wood tool and a bell to start the meditation, we would bow to each other after each of the meditations, and they ended the last one with chanting the Four Vows. By mid week, more than half our group was still participating.
One morning towards the end of our week there, towards the end of the last meditation of the morning, Eryl and Waymon uncovered the drum and bell that were on either side of the Buddha on the platform.
Eryl struck the bell three or four times and the sound waves were physical. I could feel them wash over me. Waymon joined in with the drum and they both started chanting. Unlike the Four Vows, I could only pick out a word or two but I wasn't really trying to understand what they were chanting, and they were both doing different chants, but was rather just enjoying the bell, the drum, and the tonal qualities of their voices, the physical sensations of the sound. It was an amazing experience. I stopped counting my breaths and just listened.
I'd like to say I returned a changed person and have been meditating every morning since my return, but, I'm not and I haven't.
But, who knows. I have one of those round thick cushions at the city house. I'll have to fetch it home.