A curious evening this was. I have long been interested in meditation: the concept of slowing down and creating space in the general maelstrom of one’s head can only be a good thing, and there is plenty of science to be found about the benefits. I have a couple of audio downloads that I attempt to follow now and then, but in truth I often fall asleep, or just forget to do them at all. I need some external force to give me the discipline.
So, to a class. Specifically, this class: http://meditationincheltenham.org.uk/cirecester
I turned up at the Friends Meeting House; a Quaker Centre that I had never before had cause to discover. I followed the sound of hushed voices and was welcomed by a man with enough facial hair to reassure me that I had found the right place. He was friendly and welcoming, offered herbal tea and biscuits, and in I went. All very easy, no one looked as if I needed to explain myself, so I didn’t. I just sat down amid the circle of chairs. There were perhaps 12 in attendance; they seemed a peaceful, gentle crowd. Quite a mix. Several men and women of mature years and careless clothing, the type I would at one stage of my life have referred to as a ‘bunch of beardos’ (but hopefully I am more tolerant now). There were also a couple of younger women who looked as if they had come straight from work, suggesting as I suspected that this kind of malarkey is becoming more mainstream. There was also a young man who seemed very intent on the whole thing; I am speculating wildly, but he looked the sort who might have recently returned from a trip to India ‘finding himself’.
We spent the first 45 minutes with our eyes closed, contemplating our breath. It is curious how difficult it is to do this. I did try, really, but I just kept thinking of all sorts of things. Apparently it is a case of practice. We visualised breathing in the pure white light, and breathing out the foul black smoke that was the former contents of our minds. That was a helpful image.
I later learned (which amused me immensely), that somebody had come in late, and sat down in a fluster, and apparently started unpacking her possessions in anticipation of the Amnesty International Trustee meeting that she had come for – only then to discover she was in a room full of odd looking people with their eyes closed, breathing heavily. She repacked her possessions, tiptoed out, and one can only speculate as to how baffled she must have been.
Once we all reawakened and brought our attention to the room, it became clear I was at some sort of Buddhist workshop. The teacher (a stand in, I was told, not the regular person) was armed with a book entitled ‘Transform Your Life: A Blissful Journey’ by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, from which he proceeded to give a talk about happiness, and the nature thereof. I cannot be sure I was fully awake throughout, his voice was extremely soothing. But I think it was about no person or thing being good or bad in itself, but rather your state of mind influences how you perceive it. Even someone who you find fearsomely irritating is loved and cherished by someone else, so one cannot state categorically that they are a git. A chocolate bun may make you feel happy, but if you had just eaten 68 other buns then that same chocolate bun would not make you happy. So the bun itself is neither good nor bad. So there you go – a little bit of Buddhism according to the Ginger Legend.
We then closed our eyes to reflect further on the nature of happiness (I am sorry to say that enlightenment eluded me, but I did have a kip), before heading off our separate ways with a flyer about the Akanishta Kadampa Buddhist Centre.
All in all – I am not sure this is quite the thing for me, but I do think there is much value in mindfulness and meditation – something to experiment with further for sure. I’d be very interested to hear any recommendations, of classes or downloads or whatever.