Beginning meditation with Beverle Deerfoot
Beverle Deerfoot warned me that the beginning meditation class at Diamond Heart yoga and meditation center on Monday would be a little less Tibetan Buddhism-oriented than usual because Spa West was considering bringing a meditation class over and at least one of the decision makers would participate that night. The class seemed religious enough to me, although the mentions of religious figures were rather oblique in the overall scheme of the class.
The 7:30 p.m., every-other-Monday class was attended by four people and Deerfoot. We began by getting comfortable on cushions on the floor or in chairs with beanbag cushions.
“Why meditate?” asked Deerfoot. She went on to list some reasons: improve coping skills, calm down the mind, harness the potential of the mind to transform us in a positive way. She said it serves to create distance between the meditator and his or her thoughts—a space in which to get calm. But ultimately, it helps to turn ourselves into Buddhas, which is to say, help each of us achieve wakefulness. People often think “Buddha” was someone’s name, but tradition has it that someone once asked Siddhartha Gautama (the first Buddha), if he was a god. His reply was something to the effect of “No, but I am awake.” Buddha comes from the Sanskrit “budh,” to awaken.
Meditation is simple, but it’s not easy, Deerfoot said. The idea of the most basic meditation is to focus on the breath, but beginners often find their minds wandering, and thoughts bombard the attempts at focus. Anything from minor aches and pains to imagined future conversations can sidetrack the effort. But the discipline comes from accepting the thoughts as thoughts, dismissing them, and returning the concentration to the breath. Simple, but not easy.
The thing about meditation is, when it’s working, the thoughts that might arrive and stay in your short-term memory in the normal course of events go away—at least for me. I guess that’s why those distracting thoughts don’t seem like “real” thoughts to me, but more like mental tics.
Deerfoot led the class in two 20-minute guided meditations. The first began with the focus on the breath, moving between the sensation of air in our nostrils to the motion of our abdomens rising and falling with each breath. She then asked us to think about our highest aspiration, thinking about how we could achieve it. She then asked us to picture our holy beings—Jesus Christ, Buddha, our mothers—and us approaching the being and asking him/her/it how to achieve our highest aspiration. We were to picture the beings’ acceptance of us, and the answer to our question. We then returned to the breath, and then back to normal consciousness.
We followed the first meditation with a few minutes of stretching and conversation before returning to our seats.
The second mediation was a tonglen mediation. Basically, it’s about receiving good karma by wishing it on someone else. It went a little like this—again, beginner’s level: After concentrating on our breathing, we were to picture someone we knew who was suffering. I began with a buddy who I knew was having problems with depression, but I’d had a disagreement with a respected co-worker, and thoughts of that person kept intruding.
At any rate, Deerfoot guided us through the visualization of taking the other person’s sufferings, compacting them into a tiny, sticky black ball the size of a pea, and then inhaling the pea into ourselves, and exploding it in our rose and diamond hearts with a flash of white light.
We “tonglenned” two people, so I was able to send good karma to both the people who were on my mind. But the benefit isn’t all to the other person.
“Focusing on others’ well being and how to remove their suffering removes the thoughts of our own suffering,” said Deerfoot.