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This is Week 5 of 5 in Shana Lebowitz's #zensperiment series. Catch up on Week 0 (why she's learning to meditate), Week 1 (meditating in real life), Week 2 (challenges of meditation), Week 3 (meditating in groups), and Week 4 (finding a community).
The Osho Padma Meditation Center is really a tiny apartment owned by an even tinier woman in New York City's West Village. I showed up there one drizzly evening last week for a lesson in Kundalini meditation, a style that involves a lot of shaking and dancing to help let go of tensions. Ten minutes after walking in the door, I was standing next to a shirtless, panting man jerking my arms wildly through the air and thinking about the last topic I'll write about for the #zensperiment: learning about myself by stepping out of my comfort zone.Illustration by Bob Al-Greene
For the past 39 days I've been doing a quieter, less choreographed version of Kundalini meditation. The #zensperiment has been all about pushing boundaries and trying something new every day, whether it's sitting down and facing my own thoughts, or writing about them in a public space. Kundalini meditation is focused on knowing yourself, finding out who you really are, and in a way, so is the #zensperiment. Those 10 minutes a day of not talking, not thinking, but just breathing, have been more enlightening than I could have imagined.
Satya Priya gave us the instructions: 15 minutes of shaking to music (“feel the energy rise up from the ground”), 15 minutes of dancing to the music, 15 minutes of seated meditation on cushions, and 15 minutes of meditation lying down on the floor, all with the eyes closed. She talked about using Kundalini meditation as a way to get to know yourself, one of the hardest achievements in life.
The music came on, filling the room with eerie vibrations of bells and chimes. Every so often I'd open an eye, half expecting to see the group circling around me holding spears above their heads. At one point I peeked to see the blonde, regular-looking fellow next to me shirtless, panting and groaning as though running the most difficult marathon of his life. I swore that if he removed one more article of clothing or raised his voice so much as one decibel, I'd bolt and never return.
I was mad at myself. For coming to this stupid class that seemed like a cult initiation; for clearly not getting as much out of the experience as the gentleman next to me; for opening my eyes when they were supposed to be closed; and now for using up all the time that was supposed to be peaceful with self-deprecating thoughts.
In the second, calmer half of the session, I thought about what Priya had mentioned about getting to know yourself. I was sure that in getting to know myself tonight I'd discovered Kundalini meditation was, sadly, not for me. It was too hard not to laugh out of sheer ridiculousness, too tempting to cry out of fear. Still, I felt a little satisfied. I wanted to text the whole world: “OMG almost died u will nvr guess wat I just went thru.”
Lately I've been thinking about whether I want to continue meditating even after the #zensperiment is over, and the answer is definitely yes. Even if I have to force myself to sit or lie down every morning - with no email, no phone calls, no fidgeting - it's almost always rewarding to watch the passage of thoughts through my own mind. For a few moments I see myself as though from another person's perspective, looking at the worries, the fears, and the passions that make up this person's daily experience.
Really, though, I think it's a sense of mindfulness that I'm going to take away from this journey. Lately when I notice my anxious thoughts starting to spiral out of control, I'll tell myself to stop, and to just let go. It's an almost physical sensation of literally letting that anxiety slip out of my body and realizing that whatever I'm worrying about probably doesn't matter all that much.
There's a whole world beyond me, a world I'm likely to miss if I spend too much time trapped in my own head. Sometimes just focusing on a tree at the end of the block or the sound of cars whizzing by can remind me that I'm not the only one here. Getting to know myself has been not only a process of self-exploration, but also a process of learning to abandon myself, at least once in a while.
Lying on the floor of the Osho Padma Meditation Center, I knew that I'd just spent a little too much time with myself in a space that was a little too intimidating. Still, I was glad I'd come, if not for the purposes of peacefulness then for the wild story I'd take away.
When the hour was up, Priya took my hand in both of hers and said she hoped to see me again. “Of course,” I told her. Because it's possible she will.
Thanks to those who've joined me on this journey - I hope you've learned something. Keep following me @ShanaDLebowitz for thoughts on mindfulness, meditation, and just plain life.
Have you tried any new meditation practices this month? Let us know in the comments below or get in touch with the author @ShanaDLebowitz.