At some point in life, most people become more aware of others’ thoughts, feelings and how they respond to us as an individual, and most acutely we become more aware of our own state of mind. For me, this has come in my mid 30’s and I have found it fascinating to delve into what makes us happy and how we can create positivity around us. So, for this entry I explore an introduction to meditation.
Bearing my previous reasons in mind, I was very fortunate to enter my trial session when the teacher was exploring the ‘Power of the Mind’ with the class. With little knowledge of how meditation classes were conducted and how we’d interact, I didn’t anticipate that we’d be sat in lines with our teacher at the front. This actually served as an ideal way for us to absorb the lesson and our surrounding felt suitably peaceful. After settling into our seats, our teacher arrived punctually and we began.
Awareness and Focus
Our teacher opened up the class by briefing us on what to expect from the hour-long session and then began to ease us into the process. He was, as you’d expect, relaxed and measured in the way that he spoke and took his time to communicate a point as opposed to filling every gap with words for the sake of saying something. This way of speaking also opened us up to his reminders to become more aware of our breathing patterns – the sound and feel of it and the details of the sounds surrounding us. I was a surprised that we were eventually encouraged to focus in on all individual sounds, even the sounds of the cars outside the building. I had thought that we would be encouraged to block them out as they are associated with some of the stresses of our lives. Mindful website (2018) points out that meditative practice can put a different perspective to any sound we hear, even sounds we previously found to be irritating or distracting. The individualised tuning in to various sounds helped us to concentrate more fully whilst we regularly returned to the sound of our own breathing as our centre point. The Buddhist Centre: Buddhism for Today (2019) relays that this practice helps to bring us back to the present moment and the richness that it brings, as well as providing a good antidote for restlessness and anxiety.
When our teacher spoke more directly of the power of the mind, his comments on the power of our own perspective were clear and uplifting. He made the wonderfully ironic statement that the realisation of happiness coming from within is actually a joyous thing in itself, and this struck a chord with me. Now, many of us love the ethos of happiness coming from within, many of us might stick the words on a wall at work or post it on our social media page but the practical working of it is somewhat different. Our teacher was clear to highlight the difficulty in making this work, despite its truth. He talked about it being a work in progress for which we should not beat ourselves up over when we do falter. When we see traits or actions of another person and we tell ourselves that we would love to be like that, we should set that as our goal and progress towards it whilst being accepting of any mistakes we make along the way. The important part is to strive to gradually create new, positive habits that allow us to become the person that we want to be.
The beauty in a session like this is that each individual is likely to take away something different to the next person. The middle section of our lesson contained some thought-provoking points that were particularly poignant to me. The core elements lay within our emotional responses towards other people and the process of how these emotional responses occur. When becoming frustrated with someone, we may become angry and act in a way that makes us additionally frustrated. This could be arguing back, shouting, insulting, or actions of a similar nature. Therefore, when facing a similar situation again in the future, the discomfort of the situation can make us want to fall back on a familiar, ‘comfortable’ feeling – this could well be a feeling of anger and a resulting response of familiar negativity. Once we’ve done this a few times we have already formed a habit which appears to be the norm for us, regardless of whether or not that response is constructive to anyone. Whilst I’m sure that many of us can hold our hands up and say we’ve done this, I will wholeheartedly admit that I’m guilty of this. However, rather than feel ashamed for past actions, such was the atmosphere of the session, I instead felt happy for realising my errors and was looking forward to starting a journey to form new, more positive habits.
Attached to this section – once we’d revisited some meditative breathing practice – was our common categorisation of people we meet and know. We often simplistically put people into three distinct groupings: ‘like’, ‘don’t like’ and ‘not sure’. When we draw these lines in our own mind we quite often build and imprint our own emotions on these people. In terms of the ‘don’t like’ category, we can greatly reduce our own mood simply by seeing someone for whom we have negative emotions. What happens is that we can see a face, remember an argument or a disagreement, mix in the frustration we felt during that past moment, add in other things that we may have heard about that person and assume the worst of that person in the moment. We can create all of this in a brief moment without a single thing occurring between the two of you. From there your own happiness decreases and the way in which you interact with others can also vary drastically for the worse. That person, an external source, cannot control your own happiness from within and it is only you who is the master of this. The teacher’s reference back to our own development and this being a gradual process was a timely reminder for us to consider and led us into the final part.
To conclude our session we had some in-group conversations centred around the previous sections and I would love to share a couple of the experiences that I heard but will respect the privacy of their stories as they are not here to give their consent. All I will say is that their experiences brought fantastically different angles to enforce the covered topics and brought a smile to our faces whilst very neatly wrapping up our time together. It also somehow felt fitting that the ‘learners’ were bringing such a warm and reflective end to the session after a significant series of teachings in this short period. This is something that is open to each of us if we expose ourselves to such an experience.
I very much enjoyed my trial of meditation through the Kadampa Meditation Centre Sheffield https://www.facebook.com/meditateinsheffield/
…and, if your would like to try out a session near you then The Guardian website has a handy list of meditation centres at https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2011/jan/22/meditation-centres-uk
Or, failing that, try a simple Google search focusing on the town or city nearest to you.
The Buddhist Centre: Buddhism for Today (2019). The Mindfulness of Breathing. Accessed September 2019 at https://thebuddhistcentre.com/text/mindfulness-breathing
The Guardian (2019). Meditation Centres Around the UK. Accessed September 2019 at https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2011/jan/22/meditation-centres-uk
Kadampa Meditation Centre Sheffield (2019). https://www.facebook.com/meditateinsheffield/
Stahl, B. (September 13th 2018). Turning Sounds into a Meditation Practice. Mindful. Accessed September 2019 at https://www.mindful.org/even-loud-sounds-meditation-practice/