It’s not meditation that I am mocking, but rather all the ballyhoo that surrounds it. I have been meditating for years and really value its effectiveness.
In 1968, I was in London; there was all the hype about The Beatles and Maharishi. I wanted to start meditating and so I followed the Transcendental Meditation technique and decided to give it a one year shot before taking stock, by which time of course, I was hooked.
I was given a three syllable mantra which, it was suggested, was suitable for the person I was. Despite Paul’s coaxing, I have never shared it with anyone or said it out loud so I cannot vouch for its suitability.
Meditation, it is claimed, is about emptying the mind.
Here are some of my experiences: when I first closed my eyes and started on the mantra, I mostly felt as if I had dived deeply inwards. I have no idea how long this feeling lasted because in that state you have no idea of time. When I returned to the surface, it was as if I was in the middle of a small pool and crowded around the edges were banal housekeeping-type thoughts, like “Did I write balsamic vinegar on the shopping list?” or “Is my library book due back yet?”; soap opera-thoughts: fabrications about what happened yesterday and what will happen tomorrow and whether he meant that when he said it or whether he meant something else and what I should have said back (played over and over again) and why she hadn’t been in touch.
My uninvited guest
of rejection and denial
on no more evidence
than an empty mail box
and a silent phone.
Later my extreme M.S sensory discomfort was added to all these thoughts and together they absorbed more and more of the pool until I was standing on dry land once more and the process had to begin again.
Another way meditation worked was that the three syllables would extend so that all I was thinking was, particularly, the final syllable. Despite this rigmarole there were good results. I had always been trying to change my husband for the better, but the meditation changed me, which changed the mix and things between us did improve.
About 18 months after I started meditating, I got involved with Iyengar yoga. Iyengar devotees thought Maharishi looked like a used car salesman and Maharishi followers thought Iyengar yoga was too vigorous so I kept my own counsel. Maharishi had been surprised that, in the West, meditation had produced slower results so he had recommended simple yoga which I had dutifully practised. But, once I started Iyengar yoga I found there was a great difference between putting my head on my knee by bending forward from the shoulder blades and lying along my knee so that I was bending from the hips. (Once, at one Iyengar weekend seminar I could even kiss my ankle bone.) This ability to bend from the hips still stands me in good stead when I need to be brought forward in the wheelchair.
Yoga requires a great deal of watching. Question: how am I standing, with the weight on the ball or on the heel? Have I locked my knees or my elbows enough? Have I dug in between my shoulder blades and relaxed the back of my neck and amoungst “all these multitudinous instructions, don’t forget to breathe”. All these questions had to be answered simultaneously; this led to the practice of what the Buddha mindfulness. Eventually, I was applying the same mindfulness to my meditation and watching the strange performance that went on in my head. Somehow I was outside all the activity, not judging, merely observing. That meant I could never say: “I don’t know what got into me”, because I always did and had to take responsibility for it. Apart from a short spell when I was doing more intensive yoga and not meditating, I have meditated for more than 40 years.
But in September 2008 I suffered a spinal compression fracture and my meditation ground to a halt. I no longer had the initial diving downwards sensation, but I am discovering that I am still practising the mindfulness. As an example, here is what happened one morning: counterpointed on the M.S pain/discomfort there was a monarch caterpillar transforming itself into a J. The room was numinous. At this point a neighbour who suffers from severe brain damage after a bicycle accient turned up. She needed to unload a whole succession of stories about some street kids she had recently encountered. Each of her stories brought associations into my mind from other stories I had heard or from literature particularly Dickens or Dostoevsky. Throughout all this my mind was still registering the light on the walnut tree and the bird feeder. My mind was abuzz. In visual terms, my mind contained innumerable circles with tangents attaching them to still more circles.
In no way could I claim I was emptying my mind. Rather, it would be true to say my mind consisted of layer after layer of activity. So you can see I am not knocking meditation but would you actually say I was achieving meditation?
I know that many schools of thought recommend that we “let go” our emotions as they are the cause of mental pain. I always feel such techniques border too closely on denial or suppression. I prefer to go deeply into an emotion so I can transform it. My way of meditating helps me to achieve this.