WLCA: Meditating in the Mountains
This is my first go at Wanderlust, and while I’ve done yoga for many years, I still consider myself a beginner (I accept this title proudly now). But I’ve tried lots of types of meditation, including Chan Buddhist meditation and imagery meditation. Of the meditation classes I’ve taken (some taught by Buddhist nuns who are very strict about how you fold your blanket and whether you’ve worn socks—which you must) none have dealt with meditating as a way of calming, becoming more enlightened, spreading compassion. They have mostly just been work I’ve done within myself, and in the case of the Buddhist temple, I’ve done so very quietly. I love it and completely respect it: I know shifus personally, and since they live in my neighborhood, I’m proud to know how to greet them correctly. It’s a thing with me.
Today’s first class, at that lovely morning hour of 10:30, took place beneath a giant blue tent under the best possible mountain sky. I really don’t know what more you could want. I had no idea what Relational Mindfulness would be about, but the schedule said this:
“Relational Mindfulness is a profound practice that supports us having more fulfilling relationships while also experiencing the benefits of a meditation practice. In this "being state," we will access more choice about how we respond to others. This relational meditation is practiced by connecting with others while maintaining awareness of our experience in the present moment. … Relational Mindfulness sharpens your ability to see and connect with others … through this we can experience a deeper level of personal and relational intimacy as well viscerally experience each other’s inner worlds.”
According to patient and observant instructor Stefan Grafstein, the idea is that in order to get through the world, we learn how to assume things about people. He explained that in this class, we were going to explore the idea of what we projected on others based on how something made us feel. At the start of the session he had us all agree that we are 100 percent responsible for creating our own experience, so we all started from the same point.
“To understand that we can be in a meditative state while we’re interacting … that is my main intention here. To notice that we can stay present and also feel free to really say what’s true for us,” Stefan shared with me after class.
I don’t know about you, but I could definitely use some help relating to others and learning how to focus on others, too. [Friends and acquaintances, please don’t comment here, thanks very much.] As one of the other participants mentioned, she had trouble focusing when her husband talks, so how could she be in the relationship more? After brief meditations, we focused on the partner in front of us, looking directly into their eyes and asking one another questions. We owned our own feelings, making comments like “I notice your smile, Marissa, and it makes me feel so happy to be here; I notice you seem enthusiastic about being here, which makes me excited as well”. It was a fascinating musical speed-dating form of meeting others and seeing how you connected.
All of my connections were absolutely positive, even though I’m a little shy and wasn’t expecting a musical chair kind of meditating. I learned some things about how others perceive me (two women mentioned—nicely—that they noticed that they couldn’t get a good look at my eyes as the sun was reflected by my glasses. How interesting. Does this happen to people I come into contact with all day every day? Are the overhead lights at the magazine office I sometimes work at reflecting in my glasses, so no one really gets a good look at my eyes (they’re green, not a bad feature, either). Do I look shifty? Untrustable? It was a little observation and not really the point of the meditation, but I’m going to be thinking about it for some time (and trying to push up my glasses so my eyes show more easily). Shifty is not the impression I’ve been going for.
Considering that I had expected a quiet meditation class that would teach me to deal better with my husband and others I relate to on a regular basis, and that I’d expected quiet breathing and I don’t really know what else, I came away with a real warmth from this class, and I felt it around the circle as well. I continued to greet people all day I’d seen from class earlier, making me realize I now have Wanderlust friends. Even if I can’t remember their names, I made some real connections
~Linda Lenhoff is the author of Life a la Mode and Latte Lessons. Follow her blog at lindalattelessons.wordpress.com. She lives and meditates in the Bay Area.