When a Korean soldier went berserk many years ago, and shot sixteen of his mates, his excuse was that they’d been making a noise when he was meditating.
My children roared with laughter when they read this, and said they knew exactly how it would have happened, remembering all the times I had exploded out of my bedroom when I couldn’t stand their unconscious attention seeking noise every time I went to meditate. (It was the same if I was on the phone to a friend – sure as eggs were eggs, they’d end up squabbling or making some commotion to get my attention again)
I learned to meditate in the palmy days of the Maharishi and his disciples the Beatles. Transcendental Meditation they called it. ‘Transcendental’ being the word that hooked us all in, thinking we’d find bliss in meditation and transcend our normal consciousness… it sounded safe and blissful at the same time… better than drugs…
It wasn’t like that of course… I went to a tatty hippy house, where a motley collection of us tackled the mantra, with lots of hocus pocus about it being specially designed for each one of us, hibiscus flowers, joss sticks and candles setting the scene for the whispering of this magic word.
And so I began, and found for the first few weeks that I fell into a deep sleep each time I meditated, but I felt ok about that, as they’d warned us that we’d catch up on what they called our sleep debt. Now with some experience behind me, I think that the tiredness which came up could have been the life-time’s effort of keeping feelings bottled up – for meditation, as it relaxes us – puts us in touch with our buried feelings. Then that anger started to rise, and I couldn’t handle the children’s noise. But I persevered, and had had so much practice at bottling up my feelings all my life that the meditation didn’t do too much harm. I remember a friend telling me she’d started meditating too: “I thought it was meant to make you feel peaceful, but I feel so angry.”
Some years later serendipity meant that I helped set up a personal growth movement in NZ, run by a talented and inspired couple who had realised what a powerful and sometimes dangerous practise unsupervised meditation can be ( see Korean policeman). They devised a series of courses designed to handle the emotions and buried feelings that meditation brings up in people. I remember at the end of one weekend a psychologist who’d just done the course, saying that people had cleared in a weekend what would have taken seven years in therapy.
One of the important lessons I learned was not to treat meditation lightly. I read some comments the other day from people who said they’d given up meditating, they felt uncomfortable and didn’t enjoy it. I felt sad – because they’d been given a powerful tool and not enough knowledge to use it, a bit like being given a piano and not knowing how to play it.
Meditation was the basis of the courses I did, and on one course, an old woman (she was about sixty, and I was a heedless forty-five) couldn’t settle while we meditated on the first day. As she fidgeted and shifted in her seat, the teacher signalled to me to take her out. We went into a counselling room where she lay on a mattress and I asked a few questions.
She started to tell me about her childhood with the step-mother she hated as much as she felt the woman had hated her. I noticed as she was talking, her right hand was fidgeting, so I suggested that she let it shake as much as it wanted. The hand took over, then her arms, then her whole body, and she shook all the bottled up rage of her childhood out of her body, on and on… when she’d finished, she was gasping with joy at having shifted this huge burden, her eyes were sparkling, she moved quite differently, and went back to meditation calm and happy.
It was a graphic example of how powerful meditation can be, and why some people find it an uncomfortable experience. In all the great religions in which meditation is practised, it’s done with a mentor, precisely because it is a technique which can’t be treated lightly. It has to be done consciously, with awareness. But if we’re on our own, and aware of what meditation can do, we can start to deal with its side-effects.
When we feel fidgety or have some discomfort, it’s possible to look at where this energy block is. Some people become so in touch with their inner self that they can immediately identify what the feeling is, when they first felt it, what it’s about and then let it go.
Another way of dealing with it is to use something called the pain banishing technique which was very popular in the eighties, and even used in some hospitals, but now seems to have fallen into disuse. It can be used on a head-ache,(unless it’s a de-hydrating head-ache, in which case, drinking is the answer) discomfort in the body, or any sort of physical pain. If it doesn’t work then you need to see a doctor. So when I sprained a knee skiing, it contained the pain for three days until I got to a doctor, but when I fell last year and used it on the pain in my arm it didn’t work, because I ‘d broken it and needed immediate treatment.
The pain banishing technique consists of six questions. The person can ask the questions themselves, or they can get someone else to ask them.
Where is it? This needs to be answered in detail. “On my left leg two inches below the knee, on the left hand side….
How big is it? Sometimes it’s enormous. When I scalded my finger-tips, the pain was ten inches out from my fingers …
Has it got a shape? Has it got a colour? Has it got a texture? … like wire wool, steel, rubber?
On a scale of discomfort from one to ten, where would you rate it?
You do this three or four times, by which time the pain has diminished or it’s gone.
It works because the place that was crying out for attention has got the attention… whether it’s a physical pain or an emotional pain. With a child who’s fallen over, I say “Does it really hurt?” ”Yes,” they’ll answer tearfully. “Is it still there?” You can see them thinking at this point, and then they’ll say “No”, and skip off happy.
Any time a person is fidgeting during meditation, something is coming to the surface, and this is why it helps to have a technique to use if a person is meditating without a mentor. Sometimes even talking or reading about it makes a person feel uncomfortable. It brings up in us what we’ve been trying to ignore all our lives, which is why it often feels disturbing. But properly used, meditation does bring – if not transcendent bliss – certainly peace of mind, a calm spirit, and an ability to find a different way of being, instead of fight or flight.
People have written whole books about it, so it’s presumptuous of me to write this inadequate description. But if it helps explain why it isn’t always easy to meditate, it may have been useful to someone.
Food for Threadbare Gourmets
I needed a cake to take to a summer gathering, so made my quick standby, a lemon and olive oil cake – a Spanish recipe from Elizabeth Luard, an English food writer who lived in Spain with her children. Take 175 gms of flour, sugar and olive oil, three eggs, a pinch of salt and the zest and juice of a lemon. I also put in some drops of vanilla in memory of my grandmother who put vanilla in all her cakes! Mix everything together, and tip into a greased lined tin – I use a loaf tin. I then add a thick dredging of sugar on the top to cheer it up, and cook it in a moderate oven for forty five minutes or more, or until cooked.
Food for Thought
‘Do you pray for the senators, Dr Hale? ‘No, I look at the senators and pray for the country.’ Dr Edward Everett Hale 1822-1909 Chaplain of the US Senate