I was about to meditate. There was a beginners’ meditation class three blocks away at the 14th Street Y. Seemed wrong to not check it out. Low risk, potential high reward. Non-zero story value. Might even learn something.
It was held in Room 403. Not in the gym. In the preschool. Not great.
I looked inside. I saw a circle of about twenty folding chairs. Sitting in most of the chairs were very old women, chatting. Whatever filter was operating was not subtle.
It said, you are not the target.
Welcome to Meditators Anonymous. My name is Zvi. Hi, Zvi.
I asked if I was in the right room, hoping I wasn’t. I was. Despite lowered expectations, I sat down.
They passed around a petition to keep the class going after its one month engagement. This was class two. Impressive customer loyalty. Was a there there after all?
Several minutes late, the circle was complete. Me. One instructor. One Asian man. One Amy Poehler lookalike. Twenty-two very senior female citizens.
We were told meditation was us getting to know ourselves. Accepting our own friend request on Facebook. I tried not to make too much of a face. I tried not to make too little of a face. Would have been a lie. People deserve honest feedback.
We went around, said our names and mentioned something that warmed our hearts this past week. To get to know each other. I noticed I was confused. What did that have to do with meditation?
Some mentioned small niceties. Most mentioned babies. They especially loved fathers with babies, doing heroic things like pushing strollers or carrying the baby.
Here’s to you, baby carrying father. Here’s to you.
My son Gideon had been born the previous Thursday. So I won.
I like victory. Big fan. Passed the test just like all the rest. But never really understood the reasons why I took it in the first place.
We were told to sit comfortably in our folding chairs. Not a beginner task.
We were told to sit up fully straight, in a relaxed position. Some people can do that.
We were told to keep our eyes open, aiming six feet ahead on the floor, to take our practice into the world. We were told to relax our shoulders, and put our hands on our thighs. Can do.
Focus on the breath, either at the belly, chest or nose. If we have thoughts, label that thinking and come back to the breath. She mentioned things we might be distracted by. They were distracting. I got briefly hungry. I came back to the breath.
That was it. The whole instruction. The meditation itself lasted maybe ten minutes. There were people fidgeting. The instructor eyed her watch. I had thoughts. Many were meta. Is that common? Perhaps common but not discussed. I came back to the breath. We finished.
The instructor went over ‘the practice’ again, asking us to name the steps. Like this was a classroom. It was. So, fair? Still infantilizing. Disrespectful of my time. This wasn’t complicated. Sit up straight, hands on thighs, look down six feet, focus on breath, bring focus back.
That was “the practice.” It had an exotic-sounding name.
Teacher said we keep our eyes open and sit in chairs so we don’t fall asleep. Must. Be. Nice. I envy those who fall asleep that easily. I am not enlightened.
I also wonder if that means that if you don’t fall asleep, you should lie down. Tempting!
Teacher took questions. Students pointed out focusing is hard. She agreed. They asked if it stops being hard. She said it doesn’t.
Teacher concluded with a call to ‘daily practice.’ If you had two minutes, that was all right. Two minutes will change your life!
I know why I’m meditating. I’ve talked, theorized, modeled, gotten recommendations, read the review post, read the comments, read the other post, done better theorizing and modeling, and read the book up to where I couldn’t tell if it was talking nonsense anymore. Stage Four. Reading further would only distract. Beginner mind. So far so legit. Exceeds expectations. Tentatively recommended, could tell you why. Some day.
This class made no such attempt. No goals. No explanations. You make friends with yourself, on two minutes a day? No there there. Epic fail.
So why were these old ladies meditating? What kept them coming back, even signing a petition? Wasn’t point you only need to come once? Was this an excuse to share warm father and baby anecdotes? Why else would they want the class to continue? Why else were so many of them there so early?
I hope that’s it. I wish them well. They seemed nice.