Mindfulness starts at the door. I strode in and thumped my zafu on the ground and dropped down, turning my attention to the orange clad monk. He wasn’t impressed, and through the medium of his middle aged female translator, he was able to tell me at length how unimpressed he was.
I had been in two minds about going. Meditation takes discipline and needs to be incorporated into your life over a period. This particular monk had just returned from Burma and a demanding meditation regime, which had included three hour stretches of meditative practice. He had high standards.
The Thai temple incorporates sitting, standing, and walking meditation. Standing and walking meditation allows the blood to flow and reduces discomfort. This permits meditation for long periods as practitioners move between the two; working even for new initiates, such as myself.
The earlier lack of mindfulness on my part spurred the monk into action. We were directed through walking meditation, instructed when to step, breath, turn, each motion had to be measured and controlled in order to meet with his approval.
White and gold, the temple presents an odd contrast with the surrounding Wimbledon suburbia, and yet it oddly seems perfectly fitting with the inactive calm of the English suburbs. Much is said of the power of meditation to provide tangible benefits, in terms of reducing stress and increasing focus. Problem is when you are engaged in it, it’s difficult to really gage what impact meditation is really having on your life.
Certainly, in my experience, emerging from meditation has an immediate effect on perception. Colours seem brighter, air fresher, the sun more crisp, benefits of the sort that come from a heightened sensory awareness. I found that meditation over the course of a year made my connection with the senses more profound. Meditation for me is about turning my focus away from inward dialogue to engage with the external world.
I was heavily involved in PhD study when I first began meditating. I enjoyed dimming internal discourse and removing the blockages that can prevent from engaging in the world. The workload would sometimes make me feel as though I was interacting with the world through a cloud of thoughts, pressures and considerations. Through practicing meditation, I was able to dissipate that cloud and return to a neutral state.
I had been told that through diligent meditation the mind becomes clearer and you can increase your focus. It can emphasize particular attributes as the clutter is removed, sharpening memory or logic. I can’t vouch for this, but I certainly felt reset and generally experience an uplift after each practice.
Meditation doesn’t so much teach you to clear your mind, as to not hold on to thoughts; not let them take form in your mind. It is fascinating to experience what bubbles from the subconscious over long periods of mediation. It can be almost self administered psychiatry. I noticed that the process didn’t finish at the temple, long forgotten memories returning to me throughout the day. It can be a strange process of introspection.
The monk brought the class to a close after two hours, apparently satisfied with my progress, but chastening me as I left. “Mindfulness doesn’t begin with the practice, it begins at the gate.” Still a lot to learn clearly. The unmindful stomp around with a head full of worries, much better to be free and present, perhaps better to be a monk.