The first day of my sustainable urban agriculture class at the University of the District of Columbia, I climbed the stairs from the metro, disoriented and feeling nervous about finding the correct building and the correct classroom and being on time to class. As I reached ground level and walked nervously to the corner toward the school, I was handed a flyer. As someone who works in downtown DC, I am constantly harassed by homeless people, stopped by canvassers and given assorted flyers and coupons for things I very rarely care about. As I walk to work, as I walk for coffee, as I walk to find lunch, as I walk to appointments, as I walk to the gym, as I walk to events, as I walk to the metro to head home, I am stopped and asked to listen to whoever’s spiel and donate money to such and such cause or shop at such and such a place. Most days, I try to keep my head down and hope no one talks to me as I walk by (as mean as that may sound). But on this particular day, I was feeling vulnerable and my hard city exterior was lifted and I took the flyer.
My good and true and very wise-beyond-his-years friend Clay (whom I met on that second study abroad trip to the Bahamas that I was so afraid to go on) has suggested for quite a while that I try meditation. He and I agree that we are very much alike (perhaps with the exception of the wise-beyond-his-years part) and those similarities include overthinking WAY too much and working way too hard. Meditation has really helped him to calm down and center himself and he thinks it could help me calm down my neuroses as well.
I work in the entertainment industry, at a public relations firm that publicizes and promotes movies. You won’t hear me mention it much because I like to keep a firm separation between work and life, though that is not always possible in a job that is by no means solely nine to five. It is nine to six plus evenings and weekends and early mornings and holidays, so you can see why I value my free time. Anyway, over the summer, I was lucky enough to spend about 24 hours with actor Jason Segel. I’ve met several famous people, and most of them aren’t worth writing home about. People are people, and they’re not always good or nice or fun to be around. I can assure you with absolute confidence, Jason is all of these things. He is the only “talent” I have had so far that was not only nice to me, but genuinely was interested in who I was as a person and what I want out of life. He overheard me say that I had a boyfriend, then asked me all sorts of questions and gave me all sorts of good advice about men and relationships. For example, he told me that he has figured out in his life that men do not know anything about relationships until they are in their thirties. He said until then, they don’t realize that anyone outside of themselves exist. They make terrible partners because they haven’t figured out yet that women are the ones who do the real work in relationships – they plan, they nurture, they care – and if you don’t do things to make them happy, like go out to their friend’s dinner party on your day off and get to know all their friends even if you would so much rather be in your bed, then the relationship is never going to work and YOU are going to be less happy. He said the key to a happy life is to keep the person that you love happy. This wise and pleasant older brother figure that came into my life for one day also practices meditation and recommended it highly to me.
So there I was, anxiously trying to figure out where to go for my class, when I was handed a flyer. And on that flyer was information about a free meditation workshop at the Cleveland Park Library. I marked it in my calendar, and that’s where I went after work this evening. Okay, first I went and had a glass of wine in honor of two coworkers who are moving on to bigger and better things, but after that I headed to the library. I have heard such praise over meditation and I am on this path of trying to be happier and healthier, so this flyer came at the exact right time. The workshop was on “The Inner Awakening” and offered by students of Sri Chinmoy.
Like yoga, there are many different types of meditation. As a complete and total beginner, I have not even begun to scratch the surface and don’t know much about the differences. However, I can tell you that the two women leading the workshop said that many types focus on the mind, whereas this type focuses more on the heart and its teachings say that you should trust your heart, because though your mind can be muddled and confused, your heart is never confused.
We started the class by introducing ourselves and why we came to the class. I told everyone that I was there because I was hoping to learn to cope with stress and anxiety because I have a highly stressful and busy job and I’m going through a breakup. I think those must both be pretty typical reasons to try meditation, because everyone warmly shook their heads in understanding. Automatically, I felt like I belonged there. Other people were there to cope with chronic pain, high anxiety and occupational stress. DC is a stressful city, so that didn’t surprise me.
Next, we moved on to a couple of basic meditation exercises. First, we were instructed to take several deep breaths and focus on making sure our stomachs moved out when we inhaled and in when we exhaled. Then, we were to imagine we were breathing in positive things like peace and power and out negative things like restlessness. We were told that practicing meditation has actually been linked to clearer skin and a longer life because most people forget how to breathe properly and don’t take in enough oxygen at a time. I can’t say if there is a scientific basis to that or not, but hey, healthier skin could be a surprising bonus.
The next exercise began when one of the teachers lit a candle, and we were to stare at it, watching to tip of the flame as it jumped and danced in place. Then she put on some soft flute music and instructed us to close our eyes, visualizing the sun and feeling its warmth. We were to feel that heat and energy come down through our heads, onto our shoulders, through our hearts, down through our legs, knees, ankles and feet. We were to allow it to pulsate through us and strengthen and energize us. This exercise lasted five or so minutes.
When we finished this exercise, we were asked how we felt. I had almost fallen asleep, and somewhat felt the energy run through me, but found my focus had really stuck to the anxiety in my heart. I am not at a particularly good place mentally right now, especially with the loss of my relationship with Rich among other stressors in my life, so this made sense to me. The teacher individually assessed us based on how we felt, and for me, she said she thought I was probably the type of person who holds back my emotions, especially in relationships, out of fear of being hurt. This really touched me because I really find that to be true recently, and it’s something that has surprised me. I went through a really terrible breakup a few years ago that left me completely lost and devastated and barely able to sleep or get out of bed for months. Rich was the first person I let get close to me since then, but even so, I felt like I somewhat held back from him. In many ways, our relationship was more like a close friendship. We got along extremely well and had amazing times together, but it did always feel like there was a little something missing and I was never quite sure I could fully rely on him and rely on the relationship. I wanted to. I loved him and trusted him, but maybe not wholeheartedly. I don’t think by any means it was solely my fault, but I do think I held back because of past experiences and because of that, I need to do some work on me. Maybe we would have made it if I had been able to open up more. But unlike him, I wasn’t ready to stop trying. To me, just because it was a slow-growing relationship, didn’t mean it wasn’t worthwhile. Next time, I hope I can open up more and do so more quickly. Maybe this is something meditation can help me with. Love isn’t going to magically appear. Neither is happiness. If I don’t put myself out there and open my heart to the world, I will miss out on so many beautiful things in life. Obviously, I don’t want that, so here I am, ready to try.
Overall, my first experience with meditation wasn’t out of this world amazing. However, it was positive enough that my interest is piqued, and I think it is something that could help reduce stress and anxiety, which I am truly in need of. I am going to start trying to get up 10 or 15 minutes earlier in the morning so I can sit in peace before rushing off to start my day. Admittedly, I am not a morning person so may need to make this a nighttime activity if Morning Audrey doesn’t cooperate. Either way, fingers crossed I will start to see some positive changes!