Meditation rewarded me with “nothing” at the end of a traumatic day Saturday.
I was at a conference involving brain injuries when I noticed on the day-long schedule that mindfulness meditation would be “discussed” for survivors and their caregivers at Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia, PA. Unable to talk my loved one into “taking” a “seat,” I went alone, and was surprised to see so many of the newly acquired friends I had just made while attending previous workshops earlier in the day. We had immediately bonded. Our presence here was aimed at helping those with traumatic brain injuries (TBI). It seemed that the calm and the rest that meditation provides was the perfect reward to those of us who look after others.
The speaker, a young woman with a PhD, told us the definition of mindfulness, stressing that it was “non-judgemental” and simply requires one to focus on their breath. The new approach I learned was to actually feel the breath while it spreads to the stomach, a hefty inhalation that requires a mighty deep breath to expand and “push out” the mid section. You can’t really think other thoughts while focusing on the bellowing of the belly as it inflates and deflates within. And even if a thought seeps in, one could gently “nudge” it away, or allow yourself to “mind fully” follow the thread of that thought. We meditated briefly and were to practice again, when a question and answer session developed that nearly threatened to disrupt the peace I felt was just starting to manifest.
“What do you do if you think of something really important while meditating?” a young man in the audience asked. “You write it down,” the instructor said. Later, she added that “you write it down mind fully,“ adding that “awareness“ in the moment was a chief goal of mindfulness.
This led to disagreements with a few of the “expert” meditators in the group, who indicated that such an action was close to heresy.
“You don’t do that with TM,” one fellow said. He later told me he had spent $500 in the ’70s to learn transcendental meditation, and its purpose was to “block out” thoughts. I don’t know why he spent all that money. I guess it was worth it to follow in the footsteps of the Beatles when meditation first swept into our nation’s consciousness back then. I learned it — meditation — for free. Never had to pay a penny for a mantra.
What about the path of Buddhism, another soft-spoken guy quietly asked . He added that thoughts were to be set aside while the meditation seeks the “void” within.
“You mention nothing about compassion,” the Zen practitioner added. “Does mindfulness encompass this?’ he posed.
The woman quickly showed why she had earned a PhD, explaining that there was only so much one could discuss in a 45-minute presentation, and that she wanted the great majority of us to actually “practice“ meditation, and not talk about it. That satisfied me, a novice in this debate. All I wanted to do was surrender to the moment and touch that “nothingness” that calms my very soul.
And so I did. We all did.
I got energized and left the conference less traumatic than when I had arrived. Meditation will do that to you sometimes. Better than a couple of glasses of red wine to cap off your day.