Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Day 143 - Meditation

I have never learned how to meditate. Although I learned about the benefits of meditation throughout my life, learning the practice and art of deep concentration and reflection wasn’t a point of interest until recently. Following my trip to a Buddhist temple several months ago, I found myself in awe of the warmth, compassion, and wisdom that emanated from the people of the Buddhist faith. During that visit, the near universal display of understanding by those in attendance was unlike anything I had ever seen. Through their practice they reach a sort of harmony with the world around them, and each of them credited the practice of meditation as a contributing force in reaching that degree of self-actualization. Deeply affected by the experience, I decided taking time to experience meditation for the first time was something I needed to make time for during my “I have never...” year. As a result, I began research on Buddhist meditation classes, and set aside time this fall to follow through with the experience.

With the days passing quickly as of late, my plans to attend a meditation class came upon me faster than I had expected. In fact, I was caught by surprise when I looked at my calendar and realized the event was scheduled for tonight. That stated, the realization was welcomed and actually sparked a healthy amount of anticipation, which guided me through the day quickly. In turn, I made a brief stop home after work this evening before heading downtown to find the location of the meditation session, The Madison Diamond Way Buddhist Center.

 Following the directions listed on the Diamond Way website, I found my way to King Street and began searching for the building that housed the Buddhist center. A passing glance down the block of storefronts, restaurants, taverns, and entertainment venues initially made me question the accuracy of the address I had for the location. I didn’t see anything indicating a Buddhist center was on the block, and the concentration of buildings made it nearly impossible that such a place could be tucked away and obscured among the historic brick and stone buildings. Although confused at first, I decided to walk down the block and review the addresses on the buildings. Eventually, that effort guided me toward the capitol building where on the right side of the street I saw a small red door resting between a bar and a restaurant. A quick check of the number above the door revealed it to be the address I was looking for, but all outward appearances made the door look like an entrance to second story apartments over the street level businesses.

Found it!
I stood before the door briefly, my uncertainty causing me to look over the nearby buildings once more in case I had missed something obvious. Ultimately determining the door before me was the only one with the correct address hanging over it, I gave it one last look before taking a few steps closer. “Well, this must be it,” I said to myself as I reached for the doorknob and gave it a turn. I was almost surprised to find the door was unlocked as I pulled it open and took a tentative step inside. Immediately before me stairs lined with worn grey carpet climbed up to a small platform flanked by two doors. Fearing I was intruding on the living space of some downtown residents, I looked at the walls around me for some sign of a Buddhist center in the building. Eventually, my eyes met a plain black sign at the top of the stairs that listed four businesses in small white lettering followed by unit numbers. Among them was the Diamond Way Buddhist Center followed by the number 302.

Relieved at the sight of something indicating I was in the correct location, I began climbing the stairs until I met unit 302 on the corresponding floor. Recognizing I was somewhat early for the meditation session, I wasn’t surprised to find the unit was locked when I first arrived. Luckily, I only had to wait a few minutes before I heard someone enter the building and climb the stairs beneath me. Moments later, a young woman with long, dark curly hair rounded the steps to the third floor and greeted me with a warm smile. She welcomed me as she moved to unlock the door to the Buddhist center, waving me in as she quickly set down a handful of items and moved about the small three room building lined with Buddhist symbolism, photographs, and literature. Although small, the space was open and nearly free of furniture. In the main room a large red rug, a few shelves, and a bookcase were the only items occupying space off of the walls. It was clear the space was meant to hold larger groups of people than one would expect, and that the floor served as the main gathering space for those visiting the location.

The meditation space
After a few moments of preparing the three rooms of the center, the woman came back to my location in the main room of the unit and formally introduced herself as Madeline. She asked me a few questions about what brought me to the center, which prompted me to explain my journey, my interest in meditation, and my previous experience with Buddhism at the Deer Park Buddhist temple. In response, Madeline took time to explain the differences between the Buddhist philosophies practiced at the Deer Park temple and the Diamond Way center. Her explanation was deep and insightful, which provided a solid foundation for what to expect from my forthcoming experience meditating with her and her group.

As we spoke, more people began trickling into the building, each greeting the two of us with the same degree of warmth and openness I experienced during my visit to the Deer Park temple. Eventually, the room filled to little more than a dozen people, which prompted Madeline to wrap up our conversation and continue with her preparations for the meditation. Understanding, I thanked her for taking the time to give me some background on the center and the meditation experience before striking up some conversation with some of the other people in the room. I chatted with some folks for a few minutes until Madeline returned to the group and announced the meditation was ready to begin.

In response to her words, members of the group immediately began grabbing nearby pads and small round beanbags to use as cushions on the floor. With people sitting down around me, I moved to the closest beanbag cushion positioned near the back of the red rug resting at the center of the room. I promptly took a seat on the cushion and faced the front of the room where a few members of the group prepared for the meditation to begin. At first, a young blonde woman sat before the group and gave some perspective on her interpretation of Buddhist teachings. Through a beautiful Russian accent she spoke about Buddhism in the modern world and the application of Buddhist concepts to find meaning and enlightenment. Thankfully, she acknowledged the varied group of people before her, taking time to explain the concepts in finer detail for me and some of the newer members of the Diamond Way group. To me, her presentation of her perspective on Buddhism was a great way to start the session. It gave insight on the practice and on the purpose of meditation, which provided the perfect transition for the remaining portion of the day’s event.

Some artwork hanging in the center
Following the presentation, another woman near the front of the group explained she would be guiding us through the meditation. She briefly explained the intent was not praise the Lama that would be referenced in meditation as a form of God, but rather to seek his level of enlightenment through the practice of focus and reflection. With that, she asked everyone to close their eyes, and began speaking softly in detailed visual descriptions of place of light, peace, and tranquility. As she spoke I did my best to concentrate on visualization of each new detail she provided. Eventually, I began to feel that point of concentration began to consume the majority of the space in my mind. While I wasn’t completely free of other thoughts, my mind felt emptier than usual, which permitted me to distance myself from the routine thoughts, concerns, and experiences that occupy my thoughts on any given day.

I remained aware of my physical location and of the happenings on the street below as we continued, but I was sinking into a daydream like state with each passing minute. Even as the group around me moved into periodic chants, my concentration remained unbroken. Eventually, I began feeling like I was somewhere between sleeping and awake. I was present, but the words and chants of those around me fell away. That state carried me through the rest of the meditation where I remained locked in my abstract state until I heard a voice speak. “That brings us to the end of our meditation,” the woman leading the group said in a voice that rang as clear as a bell to me. In response, my eyes snapped open as if I had suddenly been awoken from a deep sleep.

It took me a moment to recalibrate my senses as I came to, which made the immediate impact of my first experience with meditation obviously clear. During that time I was able to carve out a pocket of free thought free from the weight of the routine thoughts I carry from one day to the next. I was able to concentrate solely on being, and in that I found a state of relaxation normally only found in states of unconsciousness. I was more aware yet I was less present. It was strange, but it was an incredible experience. Although I know it was only the tip of the iceberg, the experience gave me a deeper understanding of the harmony Buddhists seem so capable of achieving. There was balance in my first experience with meditation, and that feeling was incredibly meaningful.

Following my first experience with meditation, I can now say I understand why so many people engage in the practice and why so many tout its benefits in health and happiness. Of course, I know I am very far away from understanding the full power of meditation from one experience, and I know I would need a lot of practice to become truly versed in the practice. That stated, I also know my first experience with meditation was a powerful one. The feeling it created was unique and was something I would happy to have more of in my life. While I know the rest of my “I have never...” year will make it challenging to make meditation a routine going forward, I’m hopeful I revisit the experience in the future. There is little doubt making meditation a part of my life would have long lasting benefits and make me a happier person, and with so much good in my life, that piece of the puzzle would fit nicely.

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