Mastering Mindfulness: A Thinker's Ode to Meditation
When I was fifteen, I was the sole survivor in one of those horrific car accidents involving a bunch of teens, lots of alcohol, and late-night fast driving. While the driver and other passengers were killed instantly when our car hit a tree on a drizzly summer night, I had the most powerful experience of my life.
I felt myself being lifted lightly, and it seemed as though I was actually caressed by a loving presence. I remember feeling soothed, comforted, and cherished. I didn't want it to end.
The next thing I remember is lying in a pile of wet leaves with a bunch of flashlights in my face. I walked away without a scratch.
The others were from a different town, and their families, high school friends and teachers mourned their loss bitterly. When they heard that there was a survivor, someone from out of town, many of them felt angry that one of their friends couldn't have been the survivor instead of me. In their anguish, they called to inform me of this sentiment. It was a lot for a 15-year-old to handle.
Nobody knew about the accident at my high school. This was before crisis teams were in place to deal with tragedies. There were no counselors standing by in my case. I was filled with a tremendous sense of guilt, and my beautiful experience was one I never discussed. I couldn't talk about feeling cherished when others had died. It seemed disrespectful and arrogant.
Months later, one of the mothers of the victims called me. I hadn't had any contact with any of the families or friends, and was mourning alone in silence, in exile, really, pretending that everything was just fine. She wanted to invite me over for tea. I declined. I was afraid of hurting her, overwhelmed by my guilt, and petrified that she would lash out at me.
She persisted. I must have declined her invitations half a dozen times in the next three months, making lame excuses and once even pretending to be my sister, telling her I wasn't home.
Fortunately, she kept at it, and when I finally did come over to her house for tea, she wrapped me in a completely reassuring hug.
She was my first meditation teacher. She recognized my pain, and I am eternally grateful that she taught me skills to cope with it. I truly believe she saved my life for the second time.
I used meditation as a tool. There was no association with any particular religion. Despite the clear sense of a benign presence during the accident, it just never occurred to me that it was God. Others may have responded with a renewed religious conviction. I opted for a simple there-must-be-a-reason view.
Years later, as a college student interested in psychology, philosophy, and science, I was studying with a university professor and meditation teacher in Sri Lanka. Ratne taught a technique for mindfulness meditation that meshed perfectly with my need for logic, order, and my view of the universe as manifesting power in magnificent but unpredictable ways. He taught meditation from a thinker's perspective, validating the notion that we are entrusted with the responsibility to use our minds for both thinking and non-thinking.
Ratne died a few years ago, but his son, Deva, is carrying on his tradition of mindfulness training in Sri Lanka. My friend visited Deva recently and was immersed in discussions to build an environmentally-friendly meditation center on a hilltop there.
Deva's mindfulness technique is growing in popularity with good reason--it's simple, and it is completely detached from any specific religion.
This is not your father's meditation. It's Deva's insightful take on his dad's approach. It's thoroughly modern and inclusive, based as much on our understanding of the brain as it is on our professed need to find bliss.
I've been lucky to be exposed to this unique method. Through good times and bad, meditation has given me perspective and a sense of ease when I needed it most. I've lost two brothers to suicide, one to AIDS, a stepfather and father-in-law to cancer in the last few years. Meditation has been a life raft as well as a surprising source of direction and joy.
Although I am quick to identify myself as a thinker, in the same breath I'll tell you I'm a meditator. They go hand in hand for me. I consider it my favorite ego-attachment.
Regardless of your religious beliefs, you can use meditation to strengthen yourself and your understanding of the universe. If the age-old methods aren't working for you, perhaps all you need is an updated version, an upgrade to Meditation 2.0, if you will.
You can skip the pricey bench or embroidered cushion. Don't bother with the candle. Keep the incense in the drawer. Contrary to popular belief, no equipment is required.
All you need is your mind--and a supportive teacher. I hope you are lucky enough to find yours.
Maya Talisman Frost is a mind masseuse. Her work has inspired thinkers in over 80 countries. She serves up a satisfying blend of clarity, comfort and comic relief. To subscribe, visit http://www.massageyourmind.com.