So I have a very overactive mind. I’m always worrying about things that haven’t even happened yet, calculating the worst possible outcome of things and overanalysing everything I say to others and others say to me. A lot of the time, this leaves me feeling horrendously tense and, simultaneously, drained. Seriously, reading the same three word text and trying to decipher its hidden, usually non-existent, nasty meaning various times throughout the day is exhausting. So I thought there had to be a way to change this.
After some googling, and repeatedly seeing the term “mindfulness” cropping up, I was eventually led to some Buddhist teachings, and the idea of meditation. I thought it couldn’t hurt to try, and there was a Buddhist centre in Manchester which offered lunchtime meditation sessions.
Now, admittedly, I was worried I was going to end up feeling like Julia Roberts when she goes to the Ashram in Eat Pray Love, and everyone’s chanting and reading this book she just hates, and they’re all fasting or silent or scrubbing floors. It turns out, it’s nothing like that. You don’t even sit with your legs crossed saying “ohhhmmmm” over and over. (I mean, you can sit with your legs crossed if you want, but nobody makes you chant or anything.)
Basically, everyone took their shoes off and was led into the Shrine Room. The name may seem intimidating but it’s actually a really nice place. There was a large Buddha, and a picture of Sangharakshita (Founder of Triratna Buddhist Community) at the front of the room, so it’s kind of Shrine-like but not in the creepy way, more in like a “Oh what a lovely place, what a happy Buddha.” kind of way. It really sets a good atmosphere. Most people sit on cushions, but you can sit on a chair if you want. (You’re shown how to sit, but there’s no right or wrong way really and you’re free to move around if you become uncomfortable. Some people even lay down under blankets) The emphasis on sitting instantly made me feel like this was something I could get in to; I’m pretty darn good at sitting doing nothing if I do say so myself.
I don’t want to say too much in case anyone wants to go, I’d like them to have the same new experience I did, but there’s a few things that I learnt in my first session. So firstly, a whole range of people benefit from meditation. Some people looked like they’d come in during their work lunch break, there were a lot more young people than I expected, and also plenty of older men and women. It wasn’t some big, cult-like experience where you come out having an epiphany after chanting to a deity, but the whole ordeal was very relaxing. For a whole hour I was away from my phone, nobody was asking me to do anything, or to pass an opinion on anything, it was just breathing.
Most people think the whole aim of meditation is to clear your mind, but I found the emphasis of this session to be on noticing things, and letting them go. Noticing your breath, noises from the outside, noticing your thoughts and feelings, noticing your mind wondering, and then letting it all go, and bringing yourself back to your breathing. The importance of kindness was also stressed, being kind to yourself in particular. Whenever I noticed tension in my body or mind (apparently my shoulders are hella stressed about something because they just would not drop) I was asked to breath in with kindness and get them to relax.
Overall, I’d recommend guided meditation to anyone. I didn’t come out feeling like a new person with an urge to hunt down the Dalai Lama himself and ask for the meaning of life, but I did feel like for an hour, nothing mattered. For a whole hour, I wasn’t bothered about checking my ex’s Snapchat story, how many likes my latest Instagram post had gotten, or how many new Tinder matches I had. It was a nice break from “real life”.
Most cities have a Buddhist centre (from what I can gather from Google anyway), and even if it doesn’t seem like your scene, I’d recommend giving a meditation class a try to anyone. There’s no yoga, you can wear whatever you want and all you have to do is sit and breathe whilst someone with a calming voice keeps you focused and relaxed. It’s like napping without the guilt of wasting your day. There’s even blankets if you want one.