I had my first meditation class last Wednesday. As you would expect, we all had to introduce ourselves – name, why we were there and what we were hoping to get out of this four-week course.
The woman sitting next to me told us that she was attending this class because her husband had died a few months ago and she wanted to feel at peace and be strong enough to carry on with her life, without him. She was only about 45. She had tried meditation before, and the only week she had been able to do meditation every morning and every evening, she had managed to experience some kind of happiness. After that, she gradually gave up meditating and she lost the blissful joy she had felt. She wanted to get it back, she said, barely managing to contain her tears.
Then it was my turn. What could I say after such moving words? I explained that my New Year resolution was to try meditation, that I had done a one-day retreat at the beginning of January, and that I now wanted to learn meditation properly. I was so stunned by my neighbour’s words that I forgot to tell everyone what I was hoping to get out of it.
Well, here is the answer: a sense of peace in my everyday life; being able to stay present, no matter what happens; being able to stop the flow of thoughts that stalk my brain every minute of the day and to retreat to the blissfulness of the present, where everything is peaceful and quiet. When I do get to that place, I feel relaxed and content. Contentment is hard to sustain, though... But it seems that an excellent way to stay happy, or joyful, is to meditate regularly.
Last week, I discovered that meditation is nothing extraordinary. It reassured me – I didn’t want to become one of those weird people who see things, or who can suddenly sense things that nobody else can. Now I know I can meditate and remain just as I am. I learned that meditation is only about clearing your head of the whirlwind of thoughts that attack it every second. This can only be achieved by focusing on just one thing. This ‘thing’ varies from person to person. For the first time, I managed to find a 'thing' that works for me. I wish I could say I had come up with it myself, but it was actually the teacher who helped me find it. At one point during his first guided meditation, he said, 'Imagine yourself on top of your head, on top of yourself.' Immediately, I could picture a miniature version of myself sitting in the lotus position in my skull, just behind my eyes. I know it sounds a bit strange, but the fact that I could finally focus on something without it eluding me within three seconds was a miracle. Yes, I had tried some form of meditation on my own, picturing a black screen, or a white screen, or just 'nothing', but I could never sustain this focus. Now, imagining 'myself within myself' provided me with the deepest sense of connection I had ever had.
I've since discovered that this powerful image of me within me, in the lotus position – a posture of total relaxation – is also useful when I'm not meditating. If I ever feel a little tense, or worried, I can just conjure it up and feel calm – or calmer, at least.
This is how I came to choose the blog name 'Lotus Flower' for myself. It has nothing to do with my looks, in case you're wondering. Yes, lotus flowers are a stunning species and their beauty does not cease to amaze me, but calling myself 'Lotus Flower' certainly doesn't mean that my physical traits reflect theirs. The reason why I chose it is because I could hardly call myself 'Lotus Position', and 'Lotus Flower' was the closest rational name to select. Then when I thought about the deep, long roots that connect this beautiful flower to the sandy mud that lies at the bottom of the pond or lake they live in, I realised that this name really was appropriate. That is me, if you think of the flower in terms of character rather than looks. On the surface, I am full of joy, I have a colourful, bubbly personality, but underneath, somewhere deep down, the water is somewhat dark and troubled. However, little by little, my roots are getting longer and longer. They are pushing me away from the murky bottom of the lake of my life and my green leaf is growing wider and wider, providing me with more and more stability.
Dave McNeill, on http://www.sgi-usa.org/publications/world_tribune/b2b/thelotusflower.htm,
said it best:
'The lotus [...] grows in mud, the deeper and muckier the better. Yet it stays pristine. Though mud clings to the leaves of most plants, not so with the lotus. Nothing sticks. [...] Out of the muddy swamp blossoms the pure lotus. Out of our swamp of suffering springs our Buddhahood. Thanks to the mud, the lotus can survive. Thanks to all the problems we have to face, we can reveal the power within us.'
I firmly believe that. It's in the darkest skies that you can see the brightest stars. May meditation help me grow even further away from the shadows.