Two days before our meet up, a negative thought came to mind. Uncertainty. It wasn’t the nervous feeling you get in the pit of your stomach before you speak in front of a large group. I can handle that. That doesn’t bother me much any more. It was this lack of confidence saying “Am I even qualified to be teaching this?”
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” -Marianne Williamson from A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles
Grand Central Station during rush hour is one of the busiest places in New York City. Trains headed in all directions transport people to their destinations. Picking up, dropping off, passing through, rushing home. There is a constant state of motion. Some people have headphones. Some people are texting. Some are deep in a book. All of their attention is anywhere but on the present moment. Aqui, Ahora. We are meeting to find the calm in the eye of the storm.
I made meditation a practice when I was deployed overseas. I would sneak off and sit for 15 minutes, observing my breath to the sunsets and evening prayer songs of the desert. Despite the events of the day, those 15 minutes were energizing. Now my practice is inconsistent. Some days I can’t even focus on a task for more than 20 minutes without getting distracted. Some meditation teacher. What do I want to accomplish by doing this event? What do I want people to leave with? Between scrolling the over stimulation that is Instagram, I jotted down some notes for the upcoming meetup.
We met in the main concourse next to the ticket booth. There was casual conversation and introductions while awaiting friends. The practice began with the statement that by no means would I call myself a meditation coach or a guru of any kind. I dabble in various disciplines of movement and this is just one way of doing things. I am particularly inspired by the Fighting Monkey philosophy of ‘having a teacher with no teacher’. When one can look inward to discover who they are, then they can start a journey to where they want to go. It starts with awareness.
Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Notice how you inhale and exhale. Notice the rhythm and depth, but don’t change anything. Just observe. Bring awareness to your feet and how they root you to the earth. Bring awareness to your ankles, calves, knees, and thighs. What do you notice? How does it feel being in your skin? Are you holding any tension? Don’t change a thing, just take notice. We scanned every area from the ground up. Now check back in on the breath and stay with it. Lets begin to release our tension. Relax your muscles and let your structure support you. Effortless. Breathe. Now open your eyes.
We scanned the body to take a look at ourselves as we were for the moment. Some attention was drawn to relaxation to just allow everyone to get comfortable in the space. After listening to each person’s experience in the circle, we put 2 minutes on the clock to stand in stillness focusing on just our breath. The responses were rather interesting. People found it hard to focus on their breath free of guidance with all the commotion of the terminal. I structured it this way intentionally. As kids we learn by doing, play. Eventually our parents teach us things as well as relatives and professors. We go to school to learn things and year after year it becomes ingrained that we need some outside force if we want to learn. We begin to lose our autonomy. Looking inward forces one to become their own teacher. It is the first step in self reliance.
There is safety in numbers. Its far easier to look strange in the company of others than it is to be the weirdo playing statue in the train station alone. We broke off for a longer, isolated standing meditation. Someone would be near and watching, but you are on your own. I chose a spot right infront of the escalators that was close enough to annoy the distracted commuters, but far enough for them to still walk around me. Eyes closed. Still. I could feel the energy of the room. Have you ever felt the presence of someone standing behind you? Imagine a crowd of them pissed off because you are interrupting their simultaneous candy crush streak, phone call and text conversation with bae. It was a lot harder than I thought.
Each of us scattered across the Main concourse area and stood. You can’t grow as a person by staying in your comfort zone. Doing this exercise posed a number of interesting questions and realizations :
- In the beginning, more criticism could be heard as well as aggressive tidbits of conversation (that may or may not have been directed at us). Each individual only heard the aggression that matched the inner feeling they were having. Mellisa heard more negativity her first time. On her second she cared far less and didn’t hear criticism at all. Dashawn went into the practice with the understanding that he would be criticized. His intention was to sit with that criticism and be comfortable.
- Public stillness brought awareness to the way we view others and our judgements. The practice held a mirror up to Lydia as she recalled times where she would encounter a person doing something out of the ordinary and judge that behavior. The tables turned and now she became the one being judged for acting against the norm.
- Stillness can be a way to find your authentic self. Often we are told not to take up space. We may be told to be someone else in order to please others. Looking inward to find comfort in who you are and what you believe is powerful. Ruby spoke of how, as a woman, she has been conditioned not to take up space, both physically and emotionally. She felt empowered seeing Mellisa unapologetically be still with herself.
- You aren’t in control of other peoples reactions and attitudes. You are in control of what YOU do.
- The word ‘bravery’ resonated with the group. The act of doing something against social norm is brave.
- Lydia noticed a postural shift as she stood longer. She became comfortable with taking up space and as a result she stood up taller and more open. Chris noticed the same phenomenon as his body went from tense to relaxed.
I walked away from the meet up with a greater sense of understanding. Its not about being a guru, more like a guide. A teacher can only teach to the limits of their knowledge. A guide can show you different paths as well as their experiences but ultimately it is your journey. This put my mind at ease. There will be more meet ups of this sort to come.
What has stillness / meditation done for you? Tell us in the comments section below!