This is a very exciting time in our human evolution because more of us are seeking inner peace and happiness.
On one level it appears that we are becoming increasingly more material as the world becomes an ever larger global market place, but on another, many more of us have access to information that was previously not available or shared with previous generations. The wonder of the internet makes it possible to download the majority of the holy texts, from the Koran to the Gnostic Gospels within a few minutes. Centuries of wisdom are available to you at the touch of a keypad and there are many paths to enlightenment that you can choose.
I discovered meditation somewhat by accident. During a period of ‘garden leave’, and between jobs, I joined a yoga class run by a friend of my wife. I only attended the class for a few weeks before returning to the daily commute of another job in the City. Shortly after starting my new job I complied to a semi-command from my yoga teacher to attend a meditation class in a village near my home in Cambridgeshire.
Tentatively, I said yes to the request without giving it much thought until I was late, and rushing to catch a train from Kings Cross to St Neots. The class started at 7:00pm, which was the time that I had arrived at St Neots station. At this point I almost gave up and headed for home, however, something made me attend the class, even though I knew I was going to be late. I’m glad I did, as I arrived panting at the door, in my city suit, the meditation group were waiting for me.
Paul, the Meditation Teacher, led the group and myself to an outbuilding at the back of the house. The first thing I noticed upon entering, was that there were no chairs and that we were all asked to sit cross-legged on a carpeted floor. I was also starting to think that my business suit may not be the best attire for learning to meditate, but Paul didn’t seem to mind.
Sitting cross legged on the floor I introduced myself to the rest of the group. I nodded and diligently listened to the group’s introductions and experiences of meditation whilst quietly, and somewhat painfully, noticing that my legs were going to sleep. With the introductions over, Paul lit a candle and instructed us to observe the flame whilst trying not to blink. Ten minutes later, with watering eyes, I wanted to leave, but couldn’t because I had lost all feeling in my legs! Fortunately, this exercise ended quite quickly and we were given the opportunity to talk about our experiences and, in my case, try to massage some feeling back into my legs. Paul had noticed my pain and kindly allowed me to sit with my legs outstretched and my back against the wall for the next exercise.
This next practice was something called, ‘following your breath’. It seems that, in the West, we don’t know how to breathe properly, because we tend not use the whole of our lungs. To address this issue, Paul taught us something called, ‘Yogic Breathing’. In Yogic Breathing you breathe in, through your nose, so that you first push out your stomach before inflating your chest. Paul taught us that the out breath should take twice as long as it took to breathe in. He noted that we should perform the exercise with our eyes closed and breathe both our in and out breaths through the nose. With a final caution that we should focus on following our breath, and not be distracted by our thoughts, we started the exercise.
I noticed that my back was cold because I was leaning against the wall of the hut. Sitting with my legs outstretched was better than sitting cross-legged, but the benefit was marginal, my bum was going numb and my back was aching! Added to the thoughts associated with my uncomfortable physical position, other thoughts were crossing my mind — I hadn’t eaten since lunch time and I was hungry; Was my car parked safely? What would I eat if I ever arrived home?
As soon as the practice started, I observed how easy it was to be distracted by my thoughts.
After what seemed like an eternity, a gong sounded which this signified the end of the second exercise. At the debrief I noted that my mind had been distracted by my thoughts and various aches and pains in my body. Paul smiled at me knowingly and the other members of the group gave me empathetic smiles.
Paul then announced that we were ready for the final meditation of the evening and this would be a, ‘Chakra Meditation’. He informed us that there are centres of energy or power focussed on points in our bodies called Chakras. As a scientist, I was somewhat cynical about the explanation given at this point, but out of politeness I kept my views to myself. Paul informed us that beginners in meditation should focus their attention on the, ‘Heart Chakra’ (a point in the centre of your chest) or the ‘Brow Chakra’ (a point on the forehead between your eyes).
Without giving it too much thought I decided that, in the meditation, I would focus my attention on my ‘Brow Chakra’. It appeared that the exercise involved, ‘following my breath’, whilst focussing my attention on the centre of my forehead. I’m afraid that at this point I can’t fully explain what happened.
The meditation started, with guidance from Paul, as before. I remember Paul asking us to focus on the chosen Chakra.
I was experiencing the same aches and pains in my legs and back, but as I focused my attention on the point between my eyes things changed. There was a physical tingling sensation in my forehead that distracted me from all other sensations. I started to observe this sensation and the physical element became stronger. It was as though someone had put a kitchen plunger on my forehead and was gently pulling me upwards. At the same time I started to experience a feeling of bliss that was akin to being intoxicated in some way.
Whatever place I had taken myself to, I wanted to stay there for a very long time, however, in what appeared to be a blink of an eye, I heard the gong sound again and Paul’s voice bringing me back to the room and the meditation was over.
The rest of the evening was a blur, but I do remember, as I walked back to pick up my car to drive home, that, probably for the first time in my life that I wasn’t scared. I realised that I had been living my life in fear, flitting from one worry to another, hoping that the next qualification, the next job or the next relationship would make things right. The revelation of the meditation was that I joyfully felt part of life rather than being scared of it.
Since that first experience of meditation I have actively taken on a regular meditation practice and in recent years I have become a meditation teacher and I am now an active proponent of introducing meditation to the workplace. The way we work affects both yourself and colleagues around you. Your work environment can be a place of fulfilment and creativity, but the increasing complexity and demands of the modern workplace can cause anxiety, stress and fatigue.
Meditation and mindfulness help us to connect with our true selves, enable forgiveness and help us to eliminate fear. Without the fear that drives us to internal suffering, defence and attack we are, in essence, love. Once we have achieved this state, where we are able to truly love ourselves, we are then able to extend this love to others. We become easy to be around and do not hurt others. We become teachers of love, peace, compassion and happiness simply by being. In this way we start to heal the wrongs, suffering, divisions and insanity of the world simply by being still and observing our thoughts.
Martin Hassall is the author of ‘Take Three Breaths: A Short Course in Meditation and Mindfulness’, and CEO and Founder of Meditation in the Workplace Ltd.