We’re in an atomised society, but you’re not an atom, you’re a social, interdependent human. So, with the demise of the extended family system, the weakness of the nuclear family system and the rise of the lone individual consumer system, finding community is necessary.
Where’s your group? What’s your group? Who’s got your back when you’re down, out or lonesome? We whittled matters down to one question and asked it to a load of Londoners. One respondent told me that the breakdown of the family system is “actually against natural law as it leaves most people desperate and stressed with feelings of redundancy, unworthiness, detachment at the cost of a feeling of separation rather than attachment” – well put.
The question was the same to each person: “What do you get from your group that you wouldn’t otherwise have in your life?”
Agathe told me about her meditation group:
“Whenever I walk in to ‘our’ room I am enveloped with a feeling of welcoming and acceptance. A feeling that I have a place there, so it’s a sense of belonging…a feeling of support from others. It doesn’t matter how I’m feeling, how I’m meditating, those in the group do not judge me and often they can also relate to me. I know this because we talk openly about things that matter to us and that we wouldn’t talk about so easily to others. What a treasure and comfort it is to be able to talk about who we are, to be able to connect – in an unstable and constantly changing world – to our unmoving and unmovable self in a safe and supported environment. What we have in our group is friendship based on truth and compassion”.
Antonio talked about group psychotherapy:
“We are very interested in each other’s pain, we become kind, loving and compassionate…Without the group I would be less accepting, less tolerant. I’ve learned acceptance and tolerance in my group”.
Alice participates in a variety of groups – addiction recovery, yoga, employment:
“Connection – identification and closeness to people with who I share a common bond and/or interest (the purpose of the group). Group participation takes away a layer of separation between people, and brings those who might not otherwise socialise together under a common purpose or interest. Groups remove the superficial reason for separation – gender, age, race etc. between people.
From this connection stem opportunities for intimacy, the sharing of thoughts, ideas and where appropriate feelings, which, in my experience, reinforce the sense of connection between people… From intimacy stem a whole load of emotions – hope, excitement, sadness, fear, love – all of which ultimately result in a sense of fulfilment – the acknowledgement that I am alive and living”.
Martin talked about his family:
“I feel that being part of my sibling group gives me a support and a feeling of value. Inside the family, because we are totally familiar, there is an awareness of the full capacity of my commitment the group. So, when help is required I am asked only what I am capable of. I feel happy to be of service and have a sense of value because I am useful to great people that matter to me. To me, the family group is a symbiotic relationship that feeds everyone involved and expands the spirit. Groups outside of this can feel contractual and draining, without the end feelings of voluntary service. I imagine the difference between receiving a letter from a friend in need and a letter from the tax office. One group leaves you feeling useful”.
So the key to success could be getting as close to a healthy family dynamic as possible…
Jason: “I’ve been going to men’s groups for the last three years”:
“The feelings I get within them are a mixture of frustration, challenge and at times a sense of deep connection. On the whole, they are something that nurtures my soul, rather than just banter or goal-orientated back slapping.
One is a Ritual Group. Men who come here are looking for deeper or spiritual exploration to see their life anew. Men are part of the group, but somehow go beyond it, going into a deep personal space, which may or may not be shared.
Usually a key function of all these groups is a talking circle. Or more accurately a listening circle. Men take turns to speak without interruptions. The intentions are to be lean of speech, talking from the heart and only saying what is most essential. There is no direct feedback. This would shut down and close off what the speaker is going through.
This is the most important thing we can give to each other, to be heard. Only I am in a position to help myself, and I know more about my problem than any of you. Advice is useless. Empathy is useful.
Sometimes it’s powerful and enough to hear someone talking about their own story instead of talking about mine directly and seeing the parallels to find solutions. Hearing their struggles can sometimes help me find strength in managing my own tribulations.
With women in the group, unconscious power structures come into the dynamic, which is not useful for heart speaking.
In support groups, I am usually challenged on my intentions and thoughts. Men will actually say to my face that they think I am wasting my time, or avoiding important decisions based on what they know of me. Very useful; who in the world actually tells us what we need, due to fear of offence or because they can’t be bothered?
In the support group I currently go to, we initiate each other and de-initiate each other, challenging ourselves on why we are entering or leaving the group, what we offer to it. We have a charge circle, putting out into the open things we feel are uncomfortable about each other, and what they in turn say about us. We take turns to lead and give each other feedback on our leadership. We spend time in nature as a group.
Above all, men’s groups give me a chance to be brotherly towards other men, in a deep and caring way. A form of love which is not idealised or sexualised. Something plain and solid like a shaker chair”.
The Dalai Lama
(no quotation marks, this is me writing, not him) When DL first visited the United States in 1979, he was shocked to hear how much self-loathing was implied in the questions he was asked by his audiences. He attributed the self-hatred to the alienation brought about by the dominance of the nuclear family system, in contrast to the traditional extended family in India and Tibet.
A retreat into a world of one is a safety blanket but the atomization of our culture is shaping our ideas and attitudes about ourselves. How do we habitually see ourselves? Dignified and noble? Or very negatively? From nagging pessimism about our value to the depths of darkness and loathing, my thoughts are often turned against myself.
A disconnection between the internal and external is exposed and hope lies in recognizing and nurturing the internal. This cannot be done alone. Where is your group in 2018?
Urban Dandy Meditation will take place for the first time on Thursday 15th February, 7:30pm in the Library, downstairs at Essex Unitarian Church, 112 Palace Gardens Terrace, Notting Hill Gate, W8 4RT.
Free meditation class for the North Kensington community, learn/practise transcendental meditation, there will be readings of literature and poetry, information, discussion…All faiths/no faith, come as you are, everybody welcome,
For more info please call zero7884182408
The benefits of meditation are being enjoyed by an increasing number of people in the West. But some are put off from trying, or abort their attempts, tormented by painful thoughts and feelings that make sitting still unbearable. It is worth considering how meditation can help people move beyond the pain.
Google Image Fallacy
It is useful to remember that Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, teacher of The Beatles, insisted that any period meditation is a positive thing, cautioning people against judging themselves harshly. When asked “What makes a good meditation?” he replied simply: “When it happens”.
A far cry from Maharishi’s teaching is the idea that the mind should be calm, and that meditation is all about beautiful people sitting on beaches or mountain tops, legs crossed, forefinger and thumb together. This is nowt but a fallacy made popular by the domination of such images on websites and other materials promoting meditation.
The danger of the fallacy is that by applying advertising techniques (beautiful people, an easy route to happiness) to sell meditation as a lifestyle product, much of the real experience goes unmentioned. Meditation is a simple technique, but it is by no means easy. Learning to meditate means exposure to one’s vulnerability. It is to be authentically open to what is, without familiar distractions. In short, meditation is not superficial, nor is it for sissies. The qualities required include grit and determination, and not so much of this…
The technique of transcendental meditation exposes a person to their current state, while enabling them to be slightly removed from it, meaning that it is almost inevitable that discomfort and pain will arise at times.
Sitting there in mental distress might seem like an inelegant defeat, but this is no failure on the part of the meditator, and there should be no criticism of those reporting difficulty in sitting still and attending to their mantra or their breath.
Instead, those who admit their frailties and humanity are worthy of respect, after all they aren’t conforming to what they think they are supposed to be experiencing, but are being real about what is actually happening.
If being with oneself is too much, meditation exposes it, a truth that could have laid dormant for years without being addressed. Pain, agitation and attention deficit open the way for an enquiry: Not an angry ‘What’s wrong with me, why am I not blissed out?’ but ‘What’s going on for me that I feel so much terror? How can I help myself, or reach out for help?’
If meditation takes you to the realisation that you are suffering with mental or emotional dis-ease, it has served you far better than Google’s instant new age hit…
Why? Because the next logical step is to accept that nobody can comprehend, let alone resolve with the rational mind, the depth, intricacy and pain of the human experience, with its intertwined stories, contradictions, training in self-loathing and the multiple powerful societal, cultural and familial influences on our fragile nervous systems.
So don’t try to solve the puzzle of your pain and confusion. Instead give up, let go, at least for a few minutes.
And then you can go full circle, because meditation is less an activity, more a practice of letting go of what the human being does not need and coming to the true self: peaceful and complete…quite a sea change. With consistent practice come multiple benefits, and a healthier experience of life with all its subtle joys, lessening the chances of emotional terrors.
Peace and wholeness are the truth of the human being, and meditation can put us more directly in touch with this reality. But it isn’t an easy journey, and nobody should say that it is.
By Tom Charles
“Any behavior that is associated with craving and temporary relief, and with long-term negative consequences, that a person is not able to give up” – How Dr Gabor Maté defines addiction
If addiction is seeking the external search to fill the void within, then meditation is in stark contrast, suggesting an inward turn to know one’s true self. And that is why it helps with recovery from addictions.
Meditation is a safe, slow way to open up to the subtle energies. No sudden conversion or dramatic re-arrangement of lifestyle is required, just a place to sit for a few minutes. Unlike addictive behaviour, meditation involves being with what is, rather than seeking to escape it. It is no wonder that meditation contributes to addiction recovery, and is enshrined in Step 11 of the Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12 Steps.
Once you stop being what you are not, you recover what you always were. You cannot recover what you never had…
Meditation is a technique that can allow the addict to come to know their true selves.
Meditation is widely viewed as attractive, but can be seen as esoteric, new age, for ‘them’ and not for me. Do an image search of the word ‘meditation’ and this is what you get, a fantasy:
Meditation and mindfulness are increasingly spoken about as useful tools for living. But practice of meditation is a totally different thing from understanding meditation intellectually. While theory, research and debate may be enjoyable, it is practice that marks out a path to profound change.
The beauty of meditation is its simplicity. All you need is a chair. Perhaps your thighs are supple then you don’t even need a chair and can meditate cross-legged on the floor.
The important thing is to be alert, with a straight back. Meditation is not passive because the meditator is alert to what is. The breath, the body, existence…
Add in a mantra – a word in a language that is not your mother tongue, so it has no prior associations, repeat it inwardly – and you are set.
The simplicity of the practice is vital. It means the meditator can return to the mantra and re-focus on their breathing – centre themselves – whenever they notice they have strayed.
Meditation is not a sport, it is not something to be ‘good’ at. It is sitting and calming the mind. Once calm, the mind is less stuck in its usual routine and is freer. Profound realisations can come. Sometimes they don’t. Often, pleasurable thoughts and memories come, one’s innocence rises.
There is no point in predicting an outcome to the regular practice of meditation, but it is safe to say a light-heartedness emerges.
In a world in which we look to experts to run the complicated affairs of state, business, politics and economics, it can be easy to conclude that we have no control. We can fill this space with attachments to the things we feel we can control: work, perhaps; relationships; children; pleasure.
But this can create attachments to which we have to cling. And, somehow, we know that this clinging quality is not quite right for us, that life is not supposed to be lived in such a clench-fisted manner.
This is where the chair can be useful. Meditation practice can bring balance. So, when we see the aggressive attitude of another person, we know that they are suffering. They cease to be a threat to us. When a new government is formed, we know they are just people making mistakes. We are all just people sharing a space.
While it may be inescapable that we have to go to school or work and compete with others, meditation allows us to experience our true nature, tapping in to the stillness, the deep ocean under the turbulence of the waves.
It is then possible to refresh our normal lives and our daily activities with this, as we know it is always available.
We don’t need to chase this peace, and it is not something benevolently offered from above. It’s ours and it’s free.
Tom for UDL
|By Tom Charles and Marta Delgado
“No matter how turbulent life becomes, there always exists an underlying stillness that is available to everybody. Meditation simply leads us to it”.That is the simple and enticing message on the home page of the School of Meditation website.Similarly, an excellent radio programme on meditation used the phrase Don’t just do something, sit there to advise people on how to use meditation to cope with busy, overwhelming lives.
Following up these leads, there are ample podcasts and articles extolling the multiple benefits of meditation. Some of these sources focus on the small, subtler effects, while others emphasise the potential for spiritual enlightenment and self realisation.
Your two authors, both healthily sceptical new meditators, had a brainstorming session and come up with a few thoughts of our own. We found it useful to try to capture the impact of meditating while the concepts and practice were still fresh, before the benefits had become internalised and part of our normal lives. We found plenty of common experiences, thoughts and feelings.
Meditation has helped stop the cycle of repeated, anxious thoughts. While both of us believed that meditation somehow involved thinking deeply in the contemplation of existential dilemmas, we found that the opposite was true; the act of meditating is simply letting go and just being. The results may be more profound, but the physical act couldn’t be simpler: just sit in a chair.
As repetitive, anxious, multi-tasking thoughts have reduced there has been a sharp increase in mindfulness and focus. Our thoughts have been calmer and sharper, finding their natural time and space, rather than having to fit in to the proscribed regimen of a to-do list. Like us, many people report feel lighter and more energised as a result of meditation.
Meditation also creates space for more pleasant, creative thoughts and there is a spike in idle, happy day dreaming, which has been allocated more space to operate.
Doing nothing is anathema for busy people and at first sitting for just five minutes was excruciating. Doesn’t sitting and doing nothing constitute avoidance bordering on the irresponsible? On the contrary, meditation allows you to acknowledge thoughts and feelings, then let them go, depriving them of their power to dominate you.
There is then less focus on how things should be and acceptance of how things actually are.
The real fruits of meditation come when you re-engage with the world again in the hours and days after meditating with more perspective and with a renewed sense of bravery and willingness to engage with life.
One of the biggest positives we discussed was that our empathy has increased. This is turned outwards to others; the calm that has replaced over-thinking allows us to better judge the moods and needs of other people, freed from viewing them only in the context of our own concerns. Empathy is also turned inwards and the sensitivity shown to others is replicated in the renewed sensitivity we can show ourselves as our awareness of our own inner world increases.
So what happens when you meditate? At first the chattering in your head continues. Veteran meditators of many decades report that the chattering never completely goes, but with practise it dissipates. Often, incessant chatter in the first few minutes of meditation is replaced by calm, deep meditation over the subsequent minutes. If you are unable to meditate because of overwhelming stress or unstoppable chat in your head, experts advise you to just give up and try again later.
We found our scepticism had been based on false assumptions. Was there something religious about meditation? Was it religion for the non-religious? While all religions promote the practise of meditation, there is also plenty of evidence rooted in science about its benefits. One of the participants on the four week meditation course was a GP who had been advised to research stillness and mindfulness in order to best advise her patients.
Our scepticism defeated, our open-mindedness could be rewarded. Meditation is free and always with you. It has the multiple small and subtle benefits we have described, which combine to create profound changes. There is also a physical aspect to meditation; stillness is a pleasant feeling, relaxing and slowing; you emerge refreshed. When meditating with others, the experience is enhanced. Does the intensity increase because you know other people are there? Or is there something more mystical at work? We remain too sceptical to make a judgement on that one just yet.
At the School of Meditation on Holland Park Avenue, regular open evenings and short courses are available. There are other local meditation centres, in Shepherds Bush, Kensal Rise, Queens Park and others all easily findable on the internet.
The Holland Park School is in a building with a distinct sense of peace and a long history rooted in centuries old Indian tradition; the school can be contacted here, with a wealth of information available in its publications or from arranging a visit, which we strongly recommend…
First published at The Source Mag