Flashback to 1976:
I decided to try out meditation: I’d seen a poster for a vipassana (Buddhist) session in a local centre where I’d been helping the residents do the house up.
About a dozen of us sat in a circle, most of us on little bench-like stools, some on chairs and some on cushions on the floor, and were told we’d sit for an hour. (An hour?) The instructions were very simple – don’t try to concentrate on anything, just let whatever comes into your mind come and go.
It came and I suppose it went but each time something went, something else came. I had no idea of the passage of time, other than the fact that most of the time I wished it was over. But here and there came moments which were utterly shocking – I fell out of whatever mental drama was going on in my head and found myself sitting in this room with these people, in this light and this temperature with these sounds from inside and outside the room. What’s going on, where have I been?
Put the kettle on
The only experience I could relate this to was that of being totally involved in a TV drama. Completely in the world conjured up by the writer, director, actors and whoever; then – suddenly – the adverts come on, and I’m back in my livingroom, with my family, probably realising I need the toilet, or being asked to put the kettle on. Then, just as quickly, the programme comes on again and quickly I’m back in it. The difference was that with the meditation I wanted to stay in this ‘clear’ space – I didn’t decide to rejoin the drama; I very quickly did, but I didn’t know I had – until the next time I ‘came back’.
I learned that
- the mental drama of being me was involuntary
- coming out of it momentarily felt good
The experience was such a revelation that it inspired me to what has now amounted to 36 years of practice. And it still surprises me!