As usual, I forgot to take pictures. The irony never fails. After years in photojournalism and advertising photography, now that I run a meditation center, I nearly always forget to bring a camera!
So, here we were today at Calm Chicago – Six people in the house for a half-day retreat, our first of the summer. We had a full range of experience; a few folks had never tried any meditation at all before or maybe just once or twice. One with six months under his belt. A melange of meditators if you will. Thankfully the day was not too hot and pretty quiet. Perfect. We had one wicked downpour. Cue the soothing rain sounds. Excellent.
In planning I’d been concerned about not throwing people too far into the deep end their first time out. So the day was structured so give participants enough time (hopefully not too much) with their butts on benches but alternating with dynamic forms of meditation as well. A little qigong, some Chinese health exercise involving movement coordinated with breathing) a little walking meditation.
People are routinely amazed at how much effort it takes to just sit still, breath and keep the mind focused on just the body and the breath. Suddenly you feel itchy or terribly sleepy when just a few moments ago everyone was wide awake. What the heck is going on with that? Or the spine hurts. A cramp in the foot. That weird new pain between the shoulder blades. And that’s just the body part. The mind rebels. “What’s this baloney about making the mind heel like a dog? What utter nonsense!” The mind whines like a petulant child. It prattles on producing artifacts of long-lost memories. Things that happened when you were five years old. Analyzing sounds coming up from the street below. Is that a police car or a fire truck? Maybe I should get up and look. And on and on.
But slowly over the course of the four hours, the minds began to fall in line bit by bit. The room grew quieter. Earlier fidgets gave way to soft breathing. The room wasn’t just quiet. It was full of the sounds of practice – that lovely refrain from restive twitching and a rising tide of mindful stillness.
We closed with a little beginning taiji, a good dose of movement to balance out the stillness. And here is where I was most surprised. I figured adding the taiji in after everything else was going to be just too much. But in fact it was just the opposite. (Thanks Scott for saying something to me.)
I was amazed at how much I could throw out there for brand new people to try and discover that it was just fine. It wasn’t too much it was just right. Lesson learned: once again I have to let go of my own notions, concerns, concepts about creating the perfect experience, about what people can do and roll with changing conditions. The great thing was…we just did it and it was really terrific.
And the day ended up being just what I’d wanted for everyone; a chance to have a taste of what Calm Chicago offers, the opportunity to enjoy a real vacation for the body and mind. To open the door for more people to discover what I already know, that meditation in its various forms, from sitting to walking and taiji and qigong is a real antidote to “civilization” and the various woes that seem to come with it. It’s nice to know we have a choice in how we live each day and to be able to share that choice with as many people as possible.
Thanks to all of you today for coming in and practicing together. I hope to see you all again real soon.