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.
Today a woman came to get some coaching on her meditation practice. Maggie has two children, 3 and 6. She also has a horse, which she rides everyday. From earlier conversations, and from the way she walked, I knew she was a horsewoman, someone with a profound relationship with horses. If you have ever been around horses, you know what grooming
is. It's not just brushing the horse's hair. It is a ritual that bonds horse and rider, with elements of a mystical communion.
Maggie said she had read Meditation 24/7
, and had gotten used to the sense that everyday activities she already did were forms of meditation, that she naturally had discovered.
So as a gateway into meditation, I said, "Close your eyes and let yourself be groomed."
When she closed her eyes, almost immediately she dropped into meditation – her breathing slowed, her face and body took on a sense of deep relaxation and pleasure. I could feel waves of pleasure coming off her. This happened within several seconds of closing her eyes.
Two minutes later I asked her to open her eyes and inquired about what she was experiencing. She just looked straight ahead for half a minute, thinking, and then she said, "I don't have words, I'm not used to talking about this," and then she went ahead and described in great detail the way she felt she was being groomed, and the inner glow she was seeing. Commentary
During the session, Maggie had been having clear meditative experiences of the kind that are written about in books – bathing in internal radiance, feeling the energies of life flowing in and around her body, being intimate with the elements (earth, air, fire, water, space), letting luminosity turn into a kind of water of life she could drink to refresh herself. She reported on all this matter-of-factly, and yet her descriptions match the phenomenology of advanced meditators, people who have devoted years to meditation practice and retreats.
In her external life, she is a California girl, a thirty-something woman with two children and a house in the suburbs. She spends all day caring for her children, caring for her horse, and caring for lot of other horses as well. She gives grooming to other beings from the time she gets up in the morning until evening.
In her internal life, all that loving of other people, plus her love of animals, dirt, riding, and sunshine has kept her circuits clear and finely tuned. Like all mommies, she is a bit tired. But that only adds to the sweetness of meditation.
For Maggie, the instinct of grooming is a strong and clear way into meditation: just pay attention to breath, for example, as it flows, the way the air itself seems to groom you. For her this is blissful, the way that listening to birds singing would be enjoyable to a bird lover. Her instinctive sequence today was something like: Grooming, Resting, Hunting, Feeding, Playing. All she had to do was just start paying attention with the sense of giving permission.
She felt at home with grooming – the activity of lovingly touching another being, sensing in them just the way they wanted to be touched, and thus being in an exquisite feedback loop with them. I get the sense that this skill is most developed in her with respect to horses. The big jump was for her to give herself permission to feel life grooming her. You could say this was imagination, but not really. When she started paying attention to the sense of being groomed, she then was paying attention to the background sensations of existing – the motions of breathing, the sense of air and vitality flowing through her – as grooming.
Musicians can do something similar with silence – they can listen to what we call silence, the background audioscape of a room or a space, and be entertained by it. And artists can look at empty space, the space between leaves, the space between chairs, and become absorbed in experiencing nuance.
Mostly what I did here was recognize Maggie's love of caring for other beings through touch, and point out that she could approach meditation as a way of recieving and resting in a mode that is already sacred to her, the way of grooming.
This was one of those sessions that the me of 35 years ago would not have comprehended. The me of early 1970 would not have known how or why I could skip so many steps of explaining and just invite her to pay attention to her own being. The main instruction I gave was, "Close your eyes and let yourself be groomed." How did I know to say that? It was something she taught me in the way she walked in and sat down.