I discovered meditation about fifteen years ago. It was not something I expected and it happened like this: I was at a day-long Continuing Education workshop designed for mental health professionals like myself, Counselors, Social Workers and Psychologists. All of us need a certain amount of hours of formal learning every two years to keep current in the field and be re-approved for licensure. I had arrived at the workshop during the final minutes of registration and so my seat was the last one in the last row in the back corner of a crowded conference room. The chair I had gained was the kind college students use often and easily; it was made of metal with a small faux wooden desk.
There is nothing wrong with a mandate to keep current in an often developing field. If the State requirement didn’t exist a professional association would have to invent it. Nevertheless, sitting and listening to others speak for six hours is only one way to learn and not always the best way. The middle-aged back stiffens and begins to ache, the yapped-to mind sags with new information. By the time the lunch break is over one is counting the minutes to freedom.
And so it was on this particular day–the topic was meditation and psychotherapy. The presenters were five male clinicians from my own community mental health agency. Each had a formal meditation practice, each practice had its own Eastern-based philosophy whose ideas and language tended to blend together into concepts like oneness, being present, here and now and “let the breath breathe you,” whatever that means. Two of the presenters were professionals who were in long-term recovery from their own drug abuse. One was HIV positive and credited meditation along with a martial art for keeping him mentally healthy.
Now, I had no doubt that meditation was an excellent thing, and that each of these men had grown and changed in beneficial ways while using meditation. But it wasn’t something I planned to do because it entailed, I thought then, endlessly hearing about chakras and the third eye and words like uttandasana and some version of “Relax, slow down, take a deep breath,” a phrase I had never found useful when I was upset.
So there I was, stuck in a lousy chair, not even able to get up to go to the bathroom unless I pushed past about seven people in equally miserable circumstances, listening to talk about breath and oneness. “Yeah, yeah yeah,” I am saying to myself, “peace of mind, everything is everything, we are one, blah blah blah.” But, in turn, when told to follow breaths or count breaths or whatever else, I obeyed the best I could. I was stuck in that corner, what else was there to do? At the end of each breathing or moving exercise, which each lasted from five to ten minutes, the participants were asked to attend to any difference in the body or mind. Nothing that I could tell. At a quarter to 4:00 we collected our certificates of attendance and were released.
It was then, as I was walking through the parking lot to my car, that something did occur. I noticed I wasn’t tired. I’ll say it again: I noticed I wasn’t tired. My back didn’t hurt. I wasn’t grouchy or overly hungry, my mind wasn’t racing with the angry impossible craving to be that very instant lying on my living room couch. Instead I felt light, energized. “There must be something to this,” I said to myself as I drove out of the parking lot and onto Route 89 with my tires seeming to bounce down the road as if they too had received a surprise infusion of fresh air. That was the day my meditation journey began.