Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Power of Meditation: Voices of Students (Part One)

I teach many groups of meditation students but they’re usually drop-in classes. People come and go, and there’s often not a lot of interaction outside of class. It’s hard to know whether they are practicing at all in their daily lives, and even harder to gauge the effects that meditation might be having outside the classroom or yoga studio.

I’m currently teaching meditation in a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training, which is quite a different experience. Developing a daily meditation practice has been part of the students’ homework. With guided meditations during our group sessions, assigned readings from my book You Are Buddha, regular check-ins, and a short writing assignment, it has been amazing to see how meditation is opening the trainees’ hearts and minds.

Often, students who come to a Yoga Teacher Training already have a strong physical practice of yoga, but they might have little or no previous experience with meditation. Meditating in a sustained way for several weeks, for as little as 10 minutes a day, has been a life-altering experience for many of them.

One of the major themes that has emerged clearly is how meditation puts us in touch with our vulnerability, our soft spot, what Chogyam Trungpa called the “genuine heart of sadness.” It’s the source of our innate tenderness and compassion, which normally lies hidden and shielded beneath the tough, carefully crafted persona we project to the outside world. Meditation slowly peels away our outer shield and leaves us feeling more exposed but more honest about who we really are.

One student after another has approached me during the past several weeks to share that they have found themselves crying during or after meditation. Sometimes just talking about this experience brings them to tears while we’re talking. Each time, they look at me with surprise and a smile when I tell them: “That’s fantastic.” “You’re doing really great.” Through meditation, they are getting in touch with something that wants to be seen, wants to be felt — something that might have been stuck for years in the shadows, waiting for its chance to be acknowledged.

Another theme that emerges when you work with students over time in this way is that “life happens,” in all its glory and wretchedness. People lose their jobs or get promoted. They get sick or get better. Loved ones pass away unexpectedly, and babies are born. Disagreements happen, or they get resolved. Breakthroughs happen. Breakdowns happen. And students start to see how meditation practice can help sustain them through all the ups and downs.

Through the peaks and valleys of tears, laughter, boredom, and the stresses of everyday life, these students have kept showing up for their practice and it keeps unfolding for them, in new and unexpected ways. To witness the work they are doing is humbling and beautiful.

Understanding why we show up to meditate — knowing our own motivation, and what we are hoping to get (or give up) through practice — is key. I asked each of the students to write their own personal answer to the question: “Why meditate?”

Over the next 11 days or so, I will be showcasing the voices — one per day — of human beings who are learning to meditate, and expressing their reasons for meditating, in their own words. I hope their voices inspire and amaze you as much as they do me. A deep bow of appreciation to all the students — and future teachers — who shared their experiences so far.

STUDENT 1:  “Breaking down walls…”

I often grasp on to ideas, feelings, actions, things, events and everything in-between, which in turn end up doing me more harm then good. This, however, I did not discover until I began my meditation practice. I always thought I was the type of person that could easily let things go… I was wrong.

Although it had seemed to me I had freed my mind of many things, in reality I had only been covering them up with lots of other things. To put it simply, my meditation practice at the beginning was one big avalanche of thoughts, and feelings that I didn’t know I still had.

I am the type of person that doesn’t like to show anything but my happy side; I don’t think other people need to see anything else. I like this aspect of my personality; I love being able to share my happiness with other people. However, what then happens is that I compartmentalize the not-so-great things in my life. Instead of dealing with them, I push the thoughts aside and continue chugging on… this I have since come to realize is NOT letting go. In fact it is quite the opposite. I am essentially enabling myself to hold on to these feelings by continually pushing them to the side and not dealing with them.

Through my meditation practice however I have begun to break down this wall, I have begun to let myself deal with my own shit (excuse my French). It has been a very eye-opening experience, one that has only just begun. This is why I meditate, to let my shit go and to discover how to deal with what is to come. I meditate to revitalize, recharge, and let myself be me. Not just the happy, out-going me, but everything else too.

Meditation has helped me to practice what I preach: ”Life is too short.” I truly, whole-heartedly need to be grateful for each and everyday, explore the world, move to new places, try new foods, be good to my body. I am very grateful that meditation has brought up these topics, even though there has been a lot of crying and confusion involved. I really do feel like I am getting somewhere. Is it enlightenment? Most likely no, but it has helped me to be more light. To not be so scared about the future and to not hold on to the past.


Dennis Hunter is a writer, yogi and meditation teacher living in New York City. He is the author of You Are Buddha: A Guide to Becoming What You Are. He is a co-founder of Warrior Flow™ with his husband Adrian Molina.

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