My day of meditation

the-beatles-in-indiaI spent my entire Sunday trying to meditate. Not in my bedroom or in a park. but in a room full of barefoot strangers, in an old house near Baker Street. Allow me to explain.

As  a typical Gen Y gal I have the attention span of a fish, tuna, sashimi, God sushi is good, I really need to go back to Stick’n’Sushi, wait, where was I? Like most of my life, I first got the idea from Jerry Seinfeld. We’re not friends or anything but whenever I hear him on a podcast it really is as if he’s speaking to me directly. Often he’ll talk about how he’s into TM – transcendental meditation, a type of meditation that he’s been doing since the seventies and attributes to clearing up his acne and helping him to live a reasonably stress-free and pimping life. Now if you know anything about Jerry you’ll know he’s far from a new age guy, which made me think if I love his sense of humour, then maybe I’ll love what he loves too, like cars, coffee and…. meditation.

So there I was, with Seinfeld as my inspiration, I walked up to the house off Baker Street (right next door to Jo Malone’s head office – a good sign I thought) and reluctantly rang the door bell. As soon as the door opened I was hit with the strong scent of incense and subsequently a wall of panic. ‘Oh not it’s a cult, quick, run, ABORT! Nope, too late,’ I thought, as a seemingly normal looking man greeted me inside and asked me my name. He ushered me into the sitting room where a group of strangers sat awkwardly. The girl sitting next to a table asked me if I wanted tea in a thick European accent, her high neck jumper and super-long hair signifying all the cliches of a cult. I declined the tea.

Despite the stench of incense, the building was incredible. The highest ceilings I’ve ever seen and crystal chandeliers in each room. One by one people floated into the room and apprehensively took a seat. One old lady started talking out loud to no one in particular ‘beautiful smell of incense isn’t it?’ Which I pretty interpreted as ‘steer clear of me I’m a crazy hippie lady.’  A girl close to my age then walked in. She was wearing floral nike sneaker wedges which made us automatic friends in my mind. If I stick with her we can at least escape together if we need to, I thought. Maybe we’ll bond over the experience and become friends and she’ll let me borrow her sneakers. Good plan.

Soon the normal man began to usher us into a large dark room with red curtains and what looked like some kind of alter. People began to take their seat on the school chairs that were laid out in a circle.  I made a beeline to sit next to my new floral sneaker friend. For a minute I had a mild panic that maybe I’d accidentally walked into an AA meeting, but then realised I was just being silly and this is why I need to chill the fuck out and meditate. And so it began.

The normal looking man introduced himself as Alan and explained that we were there for a 5 hour meditation workshop run by the Dhyana Centre, which was part of London’s Theologian Society. Alan spoke eloquently about the theory behind meditation, and how it is less about switching your mind off and more about transcending to a deeper more focused level of thought. Ironically while he was telling us about the history of meditation and the different types we would practice that day, I tuned out. My mind drifting off to the room itself. I wondered how old it was. At least 100 years I thought, maybe even more. That means at least one person has probably died here. I wonder where happened? Maybe right in this very room… arghh!

Image by Stevie Dance
Image by Stevie Dance

Before I had time to properly freak out it was onto the series of meditation. First deep breathing, then breathing while focusing on our chakras, deep breathing and focusing a mother figure, then while listening to a mantra. Each were surprisingly different and I responded better to others. The mantra was my favourite.

As we were breathing silently, listening to a tape recording of a mantra I felt my heart begin to beat fast, I started to feel hot and I wanted to cough. Panic set in of being that girl that coughs while everyone is meditating silently, my stomach feeling the nostalgic twist of trying to mask my cough during senior exams because a cowardly anonymous person let out a ‘ssshhh’ while I was mid coughing attack. Thinking fast I put my hand on my heart and stopped thinking about my breathing, which subsequently slowed my heart rate down. After that, my body and mind were much more relaxed and I found it much easier to meditate. Telling Alan about my experience, he said this was a positive sign that my heart chakra (still not sure what that means exactly), had begun to open.

Chakra’s aside, Alan had a range of intelligent things to say and steered well away from cult or religious narratives. My biggest take away of the experience is the ‘meditation is like the puppy’ example. Much like puppies, your mind will always wander, and so you need to train it; take the time to put a leash on it and train it to stay by your side. So when meditating, you need to focus on your breathing and when you feel your mind wandering, bring it back to focus on your breathing. It can be hard, but with practice, it will become easier. I don’t know if the same can be said about the incense.

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