Short Stories of What Individual Sessions are Like
Meditation being what it is, most of what goes on is silent and internal, and therefore challenging to describe. Over the years I have learned to read clues about what is happening in the silence – changes in facial expression, breathing, pulse (as seen at the wrist or throat), posture, and even if I have my eyes closed I can sense something – changes in the energy fields around us.
When Tears Come
A 60-year old woman came by for a session. She was extremely dignified, and I had the feeling she had lived a rich life. We sat down, and I invited her to pay attention to her breath.
What I said was something like, "Let's do a breath meditation. Let's close our eyes and simply give thanks for the gift of breath."
After a couple of minutes, she opened her eyes and shook her head and said, "I'm sorry, my mind was wandering."
I asked, "Where was your mind wandering?"
She said, "Oh, I was just thinking and thinking."
I asked, "What were you thinking about?"
She said, "My grandchildren."
I said, "It's OK to think of your grandchildren."
She asked, "But aren't you supposed to concentrate during meditation?" As she said this, she scowled a little.
I replied, "What were you thinking about your grandchildren?"
"I was just loving them so much. I visited them last week, they live a thousand miles away," she said. I did not ask for any details, but from her tone I sensed she was missing them and wanted to be closer to them.
I said, "So let's trace what just happened. We started out giving thanks for the breath of life, and then your heart naturally went to loving your grandchildren. You switched to a love meditation. You were focused on love and on the connection between your heart and the hearts of everyone you love. That's what women do. That's what mothers and grandmothers do."
She looked at me with interest and you could see the wheels turning behind her eyes. Lots of thoughts going on there.
Finally she said, "But that's not what the other meditation teachers say."
I leaned back and said, "You're right. That's true, it's not what the other teachers say."
And I made a little shrug of my shoulders as if to say, "If you want to leave now, you can."
I just shut up there and let the silence expand, to give her space to make her own decision about whether to believe me or not.
You could almost hear dozens of shoulds and anti-life rules saying, " . . . . but but but."
She looked out the window, then looked at me and said, "Hmmmph."
Then she leaned forward and took a deep breath, a sigh.
This was now about ten minutes into our first session.
We did a longer meditation, about five minutes.
Then she started weeping – as we sat there, eyes closed, tears were streaming down her face.
She opened her eyes and said, "This is meditation?"
I said, "Yes, for women it is. Almost all women cry during meditation, often for months or half a year, or even a whole lifetime. It's love."
She said, "But my heart is aching."
I said, "Hearts ache." I said this slowly, from within my own aching heart.
"Allow the ache to call your attention, to be in the center of the heart."
We closed our eyes again for another five-minute meditation, and then she opened her eyes and just looked out at the garden. Time sort of stopped. It was a classic California afternoon, brilliant sunshine illumination the lawn and trees outside. The woman was utterly still, glowing quietly, absorbed in rapture. Minutes went by. Five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes, almost twenty minutes. A palpable sense of peace was emanating from her. I felt honored to be in her presence, really.
Then she roused herself and said, "I am sorry, I must have drifted off. I forgot to do the meditation."
I said, "Oh, that's Ok," and didn't make a big deal that she had just been in samadhi, the pure mind, pure silence realm so desired by meditators.
She really was at a decision point – she could take a sword and cut herself off from her instincts . . . or not. There is a reason I call my work Instinctive Meditation. Why define meditation as making war on life?
But she decided to go with what she was experiencing, even though it contradicted everything she had heard about meditation. Her gateway was through heartache – letting her heart break open into gushing with love. Meditation gave her a safe space to rest in herself and just feel.
Traditional meditation teachings would butcher this woman if she internalized them. And lead her into attempting a war on the self. I didn't say anything about her being in samadhi – it would have been creepy, to comment upon something so sacred. Just let her get used to it, own it. But I did walk her to her car to make sure she was properly oriented to her surroundings before she drove off.
Notice that she apologized at least twice – first for thinking and then for not thinking. Both these apologies were transitional moments or doorways, which if entered, take you into a different world. If you are a meditator seeking to deepen your practice, or a meditation teacher, train yourself to notice your apologies and any sense of inadequacy. This is not an obstacle, as you can see here. Very often, it is not what we think of as our strong points that are the gateways into the inner world – it's what we feel are our weaknesses.