Ventures into "om"

Mondays are not the most popular day of the week; another 5 days of work, another 5 days of class, more waking up early and less staying up late. But Shambhala Meditation Centre of Toronto offers a way to stop dreading Monday, with one-hour meditation sessions meant to relax and promote “mindfulness-awareness” in your life, or just to get you through the week. The center’s practices are based off of traditional Tibetan Buddhist tradition and belief. After speed-walking down 15 city blocks in the damp heat, I could use something to help me relax.

The hallway leads to an 8 seat “practice” room where I am one-on-one with Helmfried, one of many community members cum volunteers, who eases me into meditation. The room is peaceful enough; unadorned white walls, save for a blown-up image of water, and various elements set up against the side wall, such as a piece of drift wood and sand with a mirror reflecting the entrance (feng shui, anyone?)

Still, after my jaunt to get here and realization that an air-conditioned subway ride would have taken much less time and sweat, I am finding it hard to settle on the square red cushion and ease my legs into a relaxed crossed position. Helmfried asks questions to gain an understanding of why I’m here, he wants to accommodate my visit. I just want some peace of mind and rest from the stress in my life, I explain. Don’t we all.

He explains that I need to focus on my breathing, but not to try and manipulate it. Oh, and to clear my mind. Easier said than done. For the entire 10 minutes of complete silence as Helmfried spaces out, I fidget, fret, adjust my numb left leg, scratch my fingers where my rings have irritated the skin, and think about everything I am here for, all to the jingle of my recently acquired bangles. How was anyone supposed to sit completely still for any allotted period of time and not think about anything?

I know I’m doing the meditation thing wrong, so I ask my guru what he would suggest. “Don’t force anything; it doesn’t have to turn into a battle within yourself if you don’t want it to be.” I wish I could say that I had a revelation and something subconsciously clicked, but all I felt was a bead of sweat pass from my hairline to my eyebrow.

It’s time to move onto the next level and enter into the main meditation area.

The next room is spacious, and air-conditioned, windows open to let in a well-received breeze. Over 20 people sit cross-legged on their own red mats and square red pillows (I later learn that red is an auspicious color in Buddhism), eyes closed or semi-open, staring into nothingness. Joining them, I again feel the frustration I experienced earlier and, as a result, find it increasingly hard to focus on not focusing.

I stare straight ahead at the simple but captivating altar, two flames dance and I find myself slowly entranced in their play. My thoughts lead away from the room and wander to everything that I was just 5 minutes ago taught to subdue; “recognize the thoughts, realize you are thinking them, and then put them away for now”. I remember good times in India, the freedom and joy of traveling solo, the people I had left behind, my new waitressing gig that was slowly eating away at my soul, the bit of weight I had put on recently, my lack of funds, my anxiety that I would never make it as a journalist in this world… and so on. My throat chocked up.

When people think negatively, they often repress the thoughts, unbeknownst or otherwise. We don’t let the thought soak in, but rather let it attack us often and sporadically, chipping away at our confidence and happiness. To distract our minds, the t.v. is turned on or the phone is picked up or the runners are laced up. In that quiet room, surrounded by people and the rain pattering on the hot pavement outside, I began to slow down and question my irrational thoughts. Just like that. It began with a simple question in my own mind ‘why are you close to tears about your own thoughts?’ The process of questioning and understanding began.

My reaction to the session was seemingly different from the other members. “Meditation is more than just closing your eyes and relaxing. It’s learning to deal with discomfort,” explains Paul, one of the volunteer organizers for tonight. I can attest to that, as many newbies would, since the lack of distraction forces you to deal with all the crazy thoughts in that brain. One of the newer members, Kitty, disagrees “for me, it’s a way to relax and to forget about worries.” The only problem she encounters is a physical one, as her lower back often becomes sore during the session. We both want to take our experiences during meditation into everyday life, hopefully approaching future situations with a new “shanty” attitude.

Whether you like trying new things, experiencing something different, or need some help with the stress in your mind, let meditation put a little “om” in your life.

Open meditation sessions every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday 7-8 p.m. free, donation encouraged.

670 Bloor Street West, 3rd Flr.



Arun said...

gee I just love the way you effortlessly write about different topics in your blog... and hey ya moved back to Canada?

Suresh said...

I chanced upon your blog. u write great. I would love read more and talk to you.
where Bollywood never sleeps !