Friday, April 7, 2017

What is meditation?

I was 18 years old, the year was 1988.  I was spending the summer in France like a nice priviledged American girl restoring a castle in France on a program called Renaissance du Chateau.  There were lots of other Americans but the person I was most interested in was Heike, a German woman from Bremen,

One night one I was walking in the fields near Vichy outside of the castle Montgilbert and I came across Heike meditating. She was chanting Nam Myo Renge Kyo. 

When we talked about it later she told me about the power of chanting Nam Myo Renge Kyo. This was before the movie "What's love got to do with it."  And any way I was a black girl from Philadelphia not a Hollywood star.  I didn't know anything about Buddhism.  I just knew that Heike was what I wanted to be, cool, calm, self-assured, quiet, but strong and self-determined,  I began chanting Nam Myo Renge Kyo with her and when I got home to Philadelphia I found the Nishiren community which didn't have a temple back then (they have big places today in Los Angeles), we just met and people's houses and worked the corners handing out pamphlets.  That was me in the late 80s.  I had become a Nichiren Buddhist in Central France and continued to be one in West Philadelphia.  Nam Myo Renge Kyo was my first introduction to meditation.

Now I know I was chanting mantra and there are a lot of mantras to chant, but I didn't know that then. I didn't like being on corners prothlytizing and I didn't like how strongly in my business the Nichiren Community of West Philadelphia was.  I liked the principles but I left meditation behind and didn't re-find it until 2012/2013.

Around 2012/2013 I had been practicing yoga asana pretty regular for 12 or more years.  I had started at Santa Monica Yoga doing Hatha and then Goda Yoga in Culver City when I moved to Baldwin Hills but in 2004 everything changed.  I had had knee surgery in 2000 and couldn't get out of pain.  In San Diego while working on Veronica Mars I started practicing Bikram Yoga.  I only did it because it was the only studio near work that had an 8pm class.  I started practicing and I didn't like it at first but my knee felt better instantly so I stuck with it and began to love it.

Somewhere between 2010 and 2012 Bikram Yoga World Headquarters moved from my neighborhood in Los Angeles and I started doing other yoga.  I did about a year of a practice called Dharma Mittra.  While doing this practice I learned a lot more about yoga.  I was introduced to alternate nostril breathing, badhas, bija mantras, the chakras and meditation.   I was so interested I began taking classes in the Yoga Philosophy Extension Program at LMU.

In 2012, while in Yoga Teacher Training at LMU a met Beth Sternlieb a mindfulness instructor at Insight LA. I also watched a documentary about football players and brain injuries.  And I decided that meditation and yoga could reverse brain trauma and I wanted to do that work. So, I decided to take classes in Mindfulness at InsightLA.  Back to my Buddhist roots.

I was all in, Inspired by a workshop for People of Color at InsightLA led by Larry Yang, I became an organizer of the People of Color Sitting Group and started a 2 year training in Buddhist Meditation called "Following the Buddhist Dharma."  But a year and a half into my activities at InsightLA  I realized again that Buddhism was not my path, I left insight LA and began studying meditation in combination with intuitively drawing and painting at Art 4 All People and did 2 different certificate programs with them in Transformative Art and Meditation.

I had also combined meditation with art practices it Ayur EcoAshram and with classes in Mindful Painting (the Painting Experience) with Stewart Copley, and Mindfulness and Drawing (Otis/LACMA).

In the beginning of 2014, I went to India for 7 weeks and studied Yoga and Meditation in Ayur Eco Ashram and Pushkam Yoga Garden.  The diversity and expansiveness of the yoga world had started to open to me.

In the Yoga Philosophy Certificate Program at LMU I had started to study with Laura Amazzone. She was a Tantric very interested in goddess meditations and mantra.  I took a lot of classes with her and even some classes at her house where we chanted and learned more about the South East Asian Goddess.  I began to understand that I was a Tantric.  I wanted to do asana, chant mantra, and make yantras.

I continue to do Bikram Yoga along with other practices and just finished studying at the school Bikram studied at in Kolkata, the Ghosh College.

I have studied Yantra making with Mavis Gerhart, Sarah Tomlinson, and Pieter Vandervelve.

I was also studied meditation at Expanding Light, Kripalu and with Nischala Joy Devi

Parrallelly, I also dabbled in Taoism and studied qi gong, yoga and meditation with Mantak Chia and Paulie Zink.  I was was certified in Satyananda Yoga Nidra in 2015 through the Yoga Academy of North America. Yin Yoga and Yoga Nidra are this most important practices to me spiritually.

So now that I have given you all this preamble about my wanderings into meditation what is meditation?

According to my teacher Joseph Le Page:
Meditation is an "experience of our true nature which is always present, waiting to be discovered....(it) is the moment-to-moment awareness of our true Selves and the experience of wholeness and integration that is inherent in that Self."

Meditation is the nature of life, it is the essence of reality.  Meditation is not escapism, it doesn't take us away from things, instead it helps us to develop objectivity in which we see ourselves and the world as one in the same.

Our conditioning is like glasses that we put on that distort and change everything.  When we meditate we take off these glasses and see the word is it really is.

The intention of meditation "is to glimpse and progressively identify with our deeper Self, whose intrinsic nature is wholeness, happiness and freedom.  This freedom, often called enlightenment, is the fulfillment of our human potential, and the completion of the journey of being human." Joseph and Lilian Le Page

And what is meditation for me and what process in within my control?

Pratyahara (for me Yoga Nidra) is a practice that I have done at some times a ton and some times not at all.  I teach it atleast twice a week but often a lot more.  I believe in it.  I think it is very powerful and it can transform lives.  I think it can be benefical in people's healing and that is why I always use it.  I like how easy it ease.  You don't have to worry about your back being straight, you don't have to worry about falling asleep.  You always get the benefit.  An amazing practice.  I don't consider it meditation.  I considered it pratyahara,  But a lot of people group it with meditation.

Dharana is something I practice a lot. I have a TM personal bija mantra.  I have other mantras bija and longer I enjoy chanting.  I practice yantras.  I candle gaze. I use mudras.  I practice much more
dharana that dhyana.  Dharana is not as difficult for me as dhyana but not as easy as Yoga Nidra.

Dhyana is something I don't do much of.  I did much more when I was using the mindfulness techniques and part of that world at Insight LA.  Right now it doesn't speak to me as much.  I think the main time I would say I use Dhyana is in Savasana after practicing Asana especially after Bikram practice.  This is I think one of the few times my mind is clear and quiet enough that it doesn't need a object of concentration to meditate.  It is within my control to do more dhyana but it is not a strong desire of mine.  For now I will leave it for Savasana.

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