Meditation Class Put a Chill on the Monkey Mind

Meditation Class Put a Chill on the Monkey Mind
Photo by Sophia Dembling

It got some press over the weekend, so Sunday's free meditation lesson at the Trammel and Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art was overflowing. Instructor Jacqueline Cordahi, from the Kadampa Meditation Center in Arlington was startled by the crowd and had to send for extra chairs.

Guess word is out about the wonders meditation can perform for mind and body. Plus, it's something to do indoors.

I'd arrived early enough to nab one of 10 meditation cushions in the front gallery. Behind me, chairs filled with a diverse crowd, from college kids to 60-plus, men and women. We faced a two-way display case that looked out at the galleries' spacious atrium and sky bridge (which, by the way, is hung with paper cranes right now and glorious to see). Although we could see people looking at the objet on display, the reflection on their side prevented them from seeing us, which gave the gallery an appropriately other-worldly feel. We can see them, they can't see us.

I was nervous about the hour-long class, fearful that if I tried to meditate too long, my monkey mind would escape my skull and go rogue all over the museum. Happily the first meditation was no more than about five minutes. Jacqueline led us in slowly and in stages.

First she had us notice our breath. Then the sensation on the tip of our noses, of air flowing in and out. Then we imagined negativity, in the form of black smoke, leaving us on our exhales, and white light entering us on our inhales. From time to time, as we sat silently following instructions, Jacqueline gently reminded us, "You may find your thoughts have wandered. Bring them back."

Except for the fact that my foot fell asleep almost immediately, requiring surreptitious fidgeting, I held my own. When I opened my eyes again I was floating on alpha waves, and that's when the dharma lesson started.

Jacqueline was both self-deprecating and confident in her manner, choosing her words with obvious care, then letting them drift soft as butterflies into our minds. She read sometimes from a CD called Meditations for a Kind Heart, and from the book Transform Your Life. We concluded the hour with another five-minute meditation on kindness that progressed the same way but with different visualizations.

If I tried to explain the lesson, about giving up "self-cherishing" and acknowledging the humanity of others, it would sound clunky and foolish. But afterward, my friend and I strolled through the galleries and talked about who we'd sent kindness out to and what it meant.

If it weren't 147 billion degrees outside, I would have liked to sit by the Buddha statue at the museum entrance to discuss it further, or maybe just contemplate the fountain. Instead we got in my car and went home.

Today, I'm not sure how I feel about the person I'd sent kindness to. But that's OK. Meditation is a practice, a discipline, I'll have to go back and keep trying.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Om and all that.

Meditation classes at the Trammell and Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art are held every Sunday, from 2 to 3 p.m.

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