Friday nights have certainly changed… I remember the days when I would be raving until the early hours in some mid-riff bearing outfit. However, this Friday I swapped house music for the twanging of a sitar, as I found myself sitting with my eyes closed in a small room in Leamington Town Hall, along with a load of other people, listening to the slightly grating twangs whilst someone made mysterious movements behind my back. We had entered the ‘chakra clearing’ workshop of an hour long meditation class, and it was starting to become ever so slightly weird. As I squinted one eye open and stole a glance to the side, I saw half the group (the old-timers) spiralling their hands up and down in the air, each one standing behind a new-comer, myself included, who were seated in chairs. For a moment, I thought I was back in my raving days, but with less neon, more knitwear.
It turns out that, by spiralling their hands, they were invoking their kundalini energy, encouraging it to rise through their body and therefore help them to clear the chakras (energy centres) of the person they were working on. Apparently when the energy is rising you can feel tingles in your fingertips and each fingertip correlates to a particular chakra, and you keep making spiralling motions (the direction is important I was told) behind that chakra on the seated person until the tingling leaves your fingers. Then you know that the chakra is cleared and the person you are working on’s energy can flow more easily.
Hmmmm, this was a lot to take in for a natural born sceptic, albeit a very open-minded one…
Having been doing yoga for around twelve years, I am aware of the idea of chakras and energy, and certainly do believe that a more subtle, energetic level of consciousness exists. However, I am very much an experiential believer – i.e. I can’t just believe something I read or am told, I have to see or experience it for myself, whilst remaining aware of the devious power of suggestion and the desire to believe.
The type of meditation I had quite randomly happened upon on Friday (due to an eye-catching, lurid orange poster in town) was Sahaja Yoga meditation. I had no idea there were so many different types. I first tried meditation around a year ago, when I was having a bad time and my doctor recommended it as a way to help with anxiety and insomnia. The classes I found at the time were led by the local Buddhist centre, and I did indeed find the techniques for clearing the mind very effective and in fact have been meditating daily, or thereabouts, ever since. I’ve read various books and tried different techniques, and had decided that they all were a variation on the same theme, which was to get to a point where the mental chatter calms down and you can observe your thoughts in a detached way, not becoming embroiled with whatever they decide to harangue you with at that moment, and enjoy the resultant sense of peace, which does sometimes, if you’re lucky, extend into the feeling of bliss that is so often associated with meditation. And it is exactly that – a sense of deep-seated pleasure and happiness that feels unshakeable.
However, Sahaja Yoga meditation seemed to take it a step further. The end result was the same – to reach what they call ‘thoughtless awareness’ – but the active clearing of the chakras was an additional physical element to the usual meditation techniques that I was familiar with, such as breath awareness, reciting mantras or visualisations. It was also one which I wasn’t yet sure about.
But, one thing that reassured me was the hugely diverse range of people at the class from all walks of life, covering different nationalities, races and ages, which was something that had also struck me at the Buddhist classes. There were gruff ‘salt of the Earth’ men, glamorous ladies, teenagers, elderly people, young, sporty types, a couple of medical students – a refreshing cross-section of the average demographic found on a Saturday afternoon in Leamington Spa shopping centre. Also, the man leading the session was a down-to-earth Northern type with beer belly and balding hair and an irreverent ‘stand-up comedian’ type humour, which took the mystical sting out of the session.
So, experientially, how did I find it?
- I felt a lot calmer, happier and mentally at peace at the end of the session than before I went in, which is usually the case when I meditate.
- I felt I had failed rather as a new-comer. It seems that many people have a moment of ‘self-realisation’ when others work to clear their chakras, which manifests as a cool breeze from the top of the head and hands and a deep sense of peace and ‘thoughtless awareness’. I felt none of the above and felt more than anything a sense of ‘What on Earth is that man doing behind my back?’. If anything, the chakra-clearing disturbed my meditation, not added to it, and I can’t help wondering whether the famous cool breeze is caused by the manic spiralling of someone’s hands behind your head, hmmmm….
- We went on to a cafe afterwards and I found my (green tea) drinking partners to be a very friendly, intelligent, diverse and (mostly) non-mystically-intimidating bunch (well, there was one slightly spiritually militant woman – she seemed very disappointed in me when I said I’d felt no ‘realisation’ moment – I almost sensed her kundalini wilt…). We had interesting discussions about all kinds of things, including meditation, but also history and some brilliant etymology facts. Did you know that the word ‘decimate’ comes from the Roman Army who, if they lost a battle, would randomly select 10% of the soldiers and kill them as a lesson to the remaining 90%? Draconian or what?! Also, I re-learnt the POSH fact (the rich boat passengers heading to America would select their rooms on the basis of Port Out and Starboard Home to avoid the sun). Love it…
- The ‘old-timers’ had an age-defying look of vitality, happiness and serenity about them, with bright eyes, smooth skin and a calm manner that made me feel very at ease. That above everything else, was the best advert for Sahaja Yoga meditation, I thought.
So, will I go again? Well, the jury is still out on that one. I am intrigued, and would certainly be very happy to go along again if I find myself at a loose end on a Friday night. But next Friday I shall be heading down to Devon for a weekend of surfing, and catching waves on my board is, for me, another way to achieve a brilliant sense of inner peace. So I think my current thoughts are that there are many ways to still the mind, and you have to find what works for you. But I would still like to go again, and see if the elusive moment of ‘realisation’ happens, but I shall certainly not berate myself if it doesn’t…
Anyway, I have lots more thoughts on meditation in general (like how HARD I find it to empty my mind), which I shall no doubt pour into my blog at some point. But I feel I’ve written quite enough for one post so will cease my ramblings for now!