Day 1, Mindful Meditation Class
I sit on the back row alone; I like sitting alone.
I look around the room. There’re plenty of empty chairs. I put my car keys, pen and papers on the chair next to me; nobody’s going to need that chair.
I glance at the clock on the wall. Two minutes past one.
The instructor moves to the center of the room and introduces himself. He’s a retired psychiatrist with a religious background, but, he cautions, we’re not going to talk about religion in this class. Our focus is the neuroscience of meditation; how can a meditative practice enhance our mental and physical well being?
The instructor continues, in a genial and encouraging tone. We’re going to jump right in he says, and start with a little 3 minute meditation.
Okay, I’m game. I settle into my chair.
“Imagine an hourglass,” he says. “The top is wide, the middle narrow, the bottom widens again. We’re going to start at the top. Notice the wide environment first, everything here in the classroom. That might include the light, your chair, the carpet, the sound of my voice.”
Dutifully, I look around, studying the ceiling, the chairs and blackboard, the two dusty erasers in their tray, the rectangular white movie screen with its long string hanging down, the instructor’s cobalt blue sweater, khaki pants and boots, a black fanny pack and walking stick on the floor in front of me and the usual sea of gray heads that make up our little coterie of retired and elderly students.
The instructor continues: “Now, we’re going down to the narrow center of the hourglass” he says, “narrowing all the way down to the breath. Focusing on the breath, just the breath, be with your breath. Not forcing anything. Just noticing. Noticing how the breath sustains us without our even thinking about it.“
Cradling my hands in my lap, I close my eyes and breath deeply, in, out, in, out. I’m aware of my stomach expanding and contracting as if I were singing. Now I focus on the slight pause between each inhale and exhale. I'm relaxed. I let my shoulders slump. My head nods on my chest. This feels good.
Drifting along in a mindless reverie, I suddenly startle to the interruption of a heavy door opening and closing, followed by the harsh metallic click of a bolt snapping into place. Footsteps. Now I sense movement both behind and to my left.
Geez, what the f@ck?
I open my eyes; a pair of unfamiliar hands are moving my car keys, pen and papers off the chair. For a nano second, I watch the hands and my papers hover mid air.
“Can I sit here?” she asks.
I grab my keys, pen and papers and put them on the floor in front of me. “Yea, sure,” I mumble.
Inside, I’m fuming. Who the hell is this graceless stranger? Why didn't she have enough sense (if not courtesy) to stand quietly in the back of the room until our little meditation was over? And with at least a dozen empty chairs on either side of the room, why did she feel compelled to rouse me out of my meditation so that she could sit in that one particular chair?
I close my eyes and struggle to get back into the zone.
We’re moving down the hourglass again. I’m supposed to notice something else…but what? I try to follow the instructor’s directive, but my concentration is broken. I keep thinking about the intruder to my left.
I’m not only angry; there’s something about her vibe that repels me. I move my chair a few inches to the right and lean as far away from her as possible. Closing my eyes, I try to relax again.
But then it starts: the blowing and coughing, coughing and blowing, followed by even more blowing and coughing.
Inwardly, I watch the word 'septic' march across a neon landscape.
Meanwhile, the instructor, who has wakened us from our little meditative interlude, talks a bit about the inevitability of interruptions to the meditative process. Yea, she’s an interruption all right! Is it my imagination or are other people actually turning around and shooting pointed looks in her direction. Why doesn't she excuse herself and go get a drink of water?
Now the Kleenex comes out again. More nose blowing ensues.
Oh Snap! I've had just about all I can take. I’m ready to start screaming! Quick, I gather up my keys, purse, pen and papers and flee.
Safely alone in the hall, I let out a sigh and whisper, “Sweet Jesus!”
What was that all about, anyway? A message from the universe, perhaps? Did I just fail some kind of cosmic test?
Nah, the universe doesn’t care about little old me. That was just one more graceless human being among the many millions of graceless human beings who have walked the good green earth since time began. No big deal.
Jumping in my car, one of Daddy's phrases comes to mind: ‘raised by wolves.’ Yea, that’s it.
As I pull out of the parking lot, I hear my Daddy's voice echoing across the vast chasm of time. “Ah, Martha, some people are just uncivilized. They’re the ones who were raised by wolves.”
Daddy was right.
Yet still, I wonder, who was that woman and why did she have to sit in THAT chair?