People & Living
Singing bowls and aching knees – a first encounter with a meditation studio
Before lockdown, our author had never had to spend so much time with himself. He tried exercising, reading long books, ticking things off his to-do list – and downloaded a meditation app. But what happened when he was guided by a trainer rather than using his smartphone to meditate?
I was pretty sceptical at first when my little brother recommended a meditation app to me a few months ago. He studies philosophy in London and usually doesn’t have a lot of time for esoteric nonsense and hippy-dippy hobbies. ‘Meditating? Sitting cross-legged and chanting “Ommmm”?’ I asked him. ‘Not necessarily,’ he replied.
The app he recommended was developed by Sam Harris. This American philosopher believes that meditation is one of the best ways to find happiness. Mindfulness is the movement’s buzzword. It means consciously experiencing what is happening around you – and not listlessly drifting through your days.
Do I have that little self-control?
Despite my initial doubts and reservations, I downloaded the app. Lockdown had finally given me something that I usually sacrificed in favour of work, university and everyday tasks: time.
For ten minutes a day, the app attempts to introduce you to the realm of meditation. And so I tried meditating for the first time. Here’s how it went: to my amazement, I found myself immediately identifying with most of what was addressed in the digital meditation course. For example, the fact that we do not consciously experience what is happening in the moment because we are remorsefully wallowing in our memories. Or because we are berating ourselves for having missed something or other or for not completing a certain task. Sometimes we are thinking about what is yet to happen – a forthcoming job interview or a project presentation for hard-to-please directors.
Meditation is supposed to help us deal with these thoughts better and to experience the moment more consciously, intensely and honestly. More honestly? I feel like I’m already starting to sound like a chai-tea-sipping backpacker who calls everyone ‘brother’ and heads off to Bali three times a year to ‘find himself’.
I gradually started meditating every day. Never for too long at once. And not always successfully. My thoughts often wandered away from the meditation and the soothing voice coming from my mobile phone speakers. It is unbelievably hard to think about nothing. About nothing at all. And to concentrate solely on your own breathing or the way your body is feeling. Thoughts popped up unchecked and chaotically again and again.
‘This is what happens when the mind is not properly trained,’ says Stefan Faust, a meditation trainer at the Mind In studio in Wiedikon. ‘We are distracted by thoughts and observations, preventing us from experiencing the moment consciously and contentedly.’ I booked my first professional meditation session with Stefan – with cross-legged sitting, singing bowls and candlelight. The works.
Stefan guided me through a one-hour meditation. He explained to me how overstrained our nervous system is by all the stimuli it is bombarded with every second of the day. And by the insane pressures of modern society to perform. ‘It is sad and disturbing how little people actually know themselves,’ he explained.
I found it hard to think about nothing.
Stefan was right. At least as far as I am concerned. This is what I’ve now come to understand. I’m doing my best to consciously experience the moment in my meditation classes. Unlike with the app, I now have someone to accompany me through the meditation. Someone who always manages to bring me back from my clouded thoughts. I feel distinctly calm and content. Not all the time. But every now and then I have small, illustrious a-ha moments. Mini insights into something that seems to be doing me a lot of good.
I try to take in the ‘here and now’ – the backpacker in Bali sends his greetings and whispers: ‘Way to go, brother.’ My own breath, the sounds that fill the room, the soft flickering of the candle. The pain in the back of my knees from sitting cross-legged for an hour. Forget about the project presentation. This is about what really matters. And about me.
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