Wednesday, March 29, 2006

40 Days of Lent - Day Twenty-Nine

Thwacked with the Buddha Stick

Several years ago, I went to a Buddhist center in Manhattan. The center was open to the public for meditation on Thursday nights in exchange for a small donation. My meditative practise was a little "off," shall we say, meaning I hadn't been doing it at all. I figured going to the center would get me back on track.

As with most things in my life, I thought about learning to meditate for a while (several years) before I actually did it. I learned at a TM center while in grad school down in DC. I had expected it to be an earth-shattering (or at least John-shattering) experience, but it was not. The sensation was familiar to me: calm, slightly groggy, less chatter in my head. My main memory is when my instructor mentioned those who are enlightened and I asked if she was. Appearantly, this is a spiritual faux pas. My instructor curtly informed me that "we do not ask about the state of other people's enlightenment." Oops.

As I mentioned, despite the sense of calm it gave me, after several years my practise had dwindled. It just never seemed like was enough time in the day. You wake up, and at first you're too sleepy to do it. Then you have to get to work. You shouldn't do it shortly after eating, and you shouldn't do it right before going to bed. When I was a student I could schedule meditation without any trouble, but once I joined the working world, it was difficult.

So I went to a Buddhist center. Now, TM is different from Buddhist meditation, but only in that you are focusing on a word (a mantra) instead of a breath, candle or riddle. Buddhist meditation also requires a certain posture, whereas TM just requests that you are comfortable, preferrably sitting. At the center we sat crosslegged, shoes off, listening to a brief lecture about Buddha, the soul, meditating, blah blah blah (this is not my mantra but it might as well be) . The procedure for the night was explained to us: we'd go to a room, a bell would sound, monks would enter the room, meditation would begin, try not to make any noise. Oh yes: there is a tradition in Buddhist monastaries to hit those meditating with a paddle or stick, the pain serves to induce the meditator to deeper practise. "But I understand that some of you are new and that some Americans don't like being hit. So I ask that when the gong sounds, anyone who is would like to be hit, please raise their hand."

We entered the room and I began focusing my attention on my breath. Eyes closed I heard the monks enter. I didn't feel ready for any spiritual hazing, so when the gong sounded, I kept both hands in my lap. Each THWACK! was so loud, they echoed and filled the small room in a way that the gong could not. I remembered the times as a child when I would be in trouble and those agonizing seconds before punishment (either physical or verbal) was meted out. THWACK! You couldn't help but jump a little at the sound and wait in suspense for the next beat. They could see that my hands were in my lap, right? My hands are in my lap, aren't they? Oh yeah, there they are. The last THWACK! was administered and we continued to meditate. The noise focused my attention on my breath in a way that just sitting in the room had not.

After the session, we were putting our shoes on in the foyer. The big topic of conversation was the stick. Did you get hit? You did? It was so loud. I couldn't believe it! One guy said it hurt more than he expected. H knew it was gonna hurt, but it really stung. I can't believe how loud it was, was all I could say.

Today's reading from the Faithful Words Promise Box:
His delight is in the law of the Lord; nd in his law doeth he meditate day and night.
- Psalm 1:2

(Finally the Faithful Words Promise Box has something to do with the topic of the day, or at least uses one of the words of the topic of the day.)

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