Many of our students have never meditated. We introduce them to the practice in an easy, non-threatening way. To inculcate a healthy practice–and to build a bridge to conflict-transformation work–we ask our students to keep a meditation/reaction journal, and then to use ideas developed in the journals as the basis for homework writing assignments.
A meditation/reaction essay by Gabi Rivero:
…My meditation has been really hard to bear. Most days I would sit down, close my eyes, and just feel something hurt and not be able to get past it so I would stop early, or I would be too anxious about something to focus properly. Luckily, the day came where I managed to push those things away.
As the snow fell, I decided to sit in my cozy chair and meditate. My neighbors were playing loud music, so I looked up a meditation playlist, grabbed my headphones, and set on my way to a more mindful place. A short while ago, we read about the five hindrances, and since then I have really been trying to get past them, to no avail. The good part is that practice makes progress; in this session, I progressed. I really focused on my breath and clearing my mind in order to allow room for me to feel whatever had to be felt…
This session of meditation was completely in my hands. Maybe it was not my hands, but I was 100% aware of what was in my head and what I was trying to accomplish. My body was not so much in my control, it was like it needed to release energy on its own, and so I eventually let it.
Desire is the first hindrance we discussed. What I desired was to find something other than my back pain. I wanted to take over the little swaying and head movements that my body was doing, but once it fought me back and kept me from moving to the left to center myself, I let it go, I resisted taking control. Once I took a deep breath to let go of control, my body swayed left and stopped aching and freezing when moving.
The next hindrance is ill-will, or aversion. Although I am not super sure if I had any to begin with, I had some thoughts about a conversation I had with my husband the night before. We had not fought in a long time, and all though this was not really a fight, it had made me mad at his friends again. While meditating, I kept seeing male silhouettes and felt my jaw tense up. I somehow got it to really relax and the guys I imagined seeing just vanished from my mind.
Sloth and torpor came hand in hand with my worry and then restlessness, because I felt my body completely give up. My back dropped, arching over my crossed legs, and all I saw was darkness. It felt like I was falling and flying all at the same time. I felt panicky because it was like I was searching for something, like I lost something very valuable and could not find it anywhere. Eventually I started think about how birds must feel, hawks especially.
Doubt hit me along with the thought of hawks. I had no clue what I was looking for, so what was the guarantee that I would find it? Then it hit me. Hawks have amazing eyesight. They can see small little prey that move really fast while so high up and moving themselves. Hawks never know exactly what they are out there looking for besides something that might be food, or something they need in order to survive. The key is that they will know it when they see it, then they go for it. That is exactly what I allowed myself to do. Once I was ready, I would know what it was that I needed to get myself back up.
Then, like a switch, my back shot up and started circling! My head also tilted back a bit so that I was looking straight up, my eyes able to pick up on the bright lights that were right above me. When I first hiked up a mountain (I think it was Camel’s Hump in Vermont) it was amazingly eye-opening, the same way that this moment was for me, literally. I opened my eyes slowly and looked at the time; I had been meditating for 21 minutes.
You are an excellent writer, Gabi. I really enjoyed this essay. I feel I have gotten to know you well through these writing assignments. I think that you will be happy, later on, that you have so internalized the lesson of the Five Hindrances that you can use it as a road map for a mental journey toward understanding, as you have done here. Other students over the years have used the Hindrances as a given, a prompt for a meditation essay or a final paper. I especially like how you did it, and how you used the energy contained within each hindrance to move on and get to a clearer place—a place of contentment and the end of your spine’s discomfort.
The climax of your story for me (and I guess for you) came in the thinking about the hawk. As I say, you have absorbed the Hindrance lesson from our class, and it can be a lifelong friend for you. In turn, I receive from you this incredible image of the hawk—in the future I, too, will think of my own focus in meditation with the help of this image of a circling hawk, with super sharp vision, scanning down there to see the thing I need to survive! And not even knowing what it is while looking, just certain that I’ll know it when I see it! This is such a wonderful metaphor for meditation! I’m going to remember it forever. And it fits with my own visualization, developed over a long time, of the spiraling-down process in meditation. Now it’s not just a spiraling down. It’s more than that. Now it’s the circling hawk, ready to grab the morsel it needs, right now, before the twenty minutes (or 21) are up! Thank you so much! —Peter