Several years ago, the word “meditation” called to mind Buddhist monks seated in the lotus position, levitating five inches off the ground and chanting; or emaciated, New-Age women wearing all white and surrounded by candles. Meditation seemed completely impractical and somewhat ridiculous.
The idea of sitting still, in silence, for fifteen minutes, much less an hour, horrified me. “How boring,” I thought, “How absolutely wasteful and useless.”
Like many college students, I am, as a general rule, overbooked and overworked. Most of the time I have to-do lists running through my head, mental notes, etc. Call them what you will, I’ve got a busy mind.
What then would be the point of taking out time that I already don’t have and spending it doing nothing?
As it turns out, meditation relaxes me. It’s similar to the feeling of coming home after a long day of life, flopping down on something hopefully soft, and just trying to unwind. It’s like that, but doing it consciously and without the world-falling-apart bit.
About two years ago, I was asked for a ride to the Buddhist temple in Safety Harbor, Florida.
My friend was going to one of their weekly meditations. On a whim, I decided not to just drop him off, but to wander inside and see “just what this is all about.”
“Just seeing” turned into me staying for the hour-and-a-half long meditation session, led by one of the monks who lived at the temple.
At first it was agonizing. And worst of all, I thought, there was no way of telling how much longer I had to sit still for. I use my phone to tell time, and there was no way of pulling it out of my pants pocket without making an unseemly amount of noise. There were also no clocks in the room – believe me, I checked.
During this immeasurable amount of time, my friend was sitting next to me, perfectly still and, seemingly, at peace. Infuriating.
So I shut my eyes and started to do that, sigh, “focus on your breathing thing.” What seemed like 15 minutes after I did this, the meditation class was over.
This is not an uncommon experience in meditation. In fact, when that happens, it usually means that the mind has reached a point of relaxation: the thoughts stop racing, or at least, slow down. I would love to pretend that since that day, two years ago, when I went to the temple, I’ve meditated every day and that I’m supremely calm and well on my way to enlightenment.
Most people that know me are fully aware that this is untrue.
An attempt at meditation does not have to be a daily commitment. It can be a weekly thing, a monthly thing, or it can be tried once and discarded. It also does not involve head-shaving or celibacy vows.
There are no set rules or requirements for meditation. Go to a temple, stay at home, sit for two hours, sit for five minutes, wear a ceremonial robe, stay in your underwear, light some candles and incense, sit under fluorescent lights, play Enya, play nothing; it doesn’t matter. The point is to relax, to calm down. Whatever works! The most basic meditations involve paying attention to breath.
Sometimes there is the addition of counting to ten on each breath, and then starting over. Oh, and relax the belly. Yes, I said, “belly.” It’s not serious, remember?
Sometimes, setting a timer helps. Knowing that a shrill alarm will go off answers the, “Is this over yet?” questions with a firm, “No.”
If you’d rather try to meditate with a group of people, there are several meditation classes offered each week around UT.
There is one class on Mondays from 7:00 – 8:30 p.m. at the Tampa Museum of Art. Another is located on Howard Avenue at Angel Heart New Age Gifts on Tuesdays at the same time. Both classes are led by a Buddhist monk.
If you’d rather not drive, the recently opened Sykes Chapel has a 30 minute meditation session every Tuesday at 4:00 p.m.
The woman who teaches it is a UT student and a certified yoga instructor. While she may not possess the overwhelming serenity of a Buddhist monk, it’s a decent, short class.
While I don’t understand the reasons behind it, meditation works for me. The ten minutes I take to sit, breathe and just calm down, are worth more than the three text messages and two emails that I could send out in that same amount of time.
Besides, I think most, if not all, college students could use a little more breathing time.
Alysia Sawchyn can be reached at email@example.com.