I have always been wary of religion or spirituality. I decided I wasn’t really suited to it when early one morning, age ten, before school I knelt and prayed in church for Leeds United to win the European Cup – they lost. I remember listening to the radio underneath my blankets, the disallowed Peter Lorimer goal, those final few awful moments when with each tick of the clock I became more and more convinced God was not on my side.
However in my late forties whilst watching a documentary about people attending a silent retreat I felt a powerful urge to try it out. I didn’t however want to do it in a religious tradition. I tried to sit in quiet in my flat. I enjoyed it but felt constantly dragged back by the urge to be distracted by noise be it through turning the radio, computer or tv on.
I couldn’t explain to myself why this need or silence kept returning. I was at the time anxiety ridden and unhappy. I knew I had to do something about it. I did something which was for me, at the time very unusual, I tried something new. I googled meditation and to my horror found a course just about to start, close to where I lived.
It was a cold and windy night in Broadstairs. I walked from the train station to the venue for the free talk, to Bleak House on the seafront. My extremely well developed cynical side pounced on the name and jabbed my brain with it in and attempt to throw light on the absurdity of what I was proposing to do . I walked in the dark, not a soul around, a startled black cat ran past me into a graveyard, leaves whorled around by gusts of wind. I began to laugh to myself and this prevented me from turning around and back up the deserted High Street to the train station.
I decided to delay entering the building until nearer the starting time. I leant over the railings, listening to the crashing and hissing retreat of the waves, all the while thinking to myself “What the bloody hell am I doing?”
After five minutes I plucked up the remains of my fast disappearing courage and decided to go in. But where was the entrance? I hesitantly shuffled around the building and found no door open. I came full circle, the waves continued to crash and hiss. I noticed a forlorn looking chap, sitting on his own in the cafe in Bleak House. He looked unhappy,ill at ease – he looked well – strange. Seeing me, he looked startled and cautiously opened the door just enough to say
“Have you come for the seance?”
With this he ushered me in and signalled me to be quiet
“No! No!” I hissed but he scuttled off “This way, this way, quick, they’ve started”
Before I could protest he had opened a door and once again placed his index finger to his lips. A group of people sat silent, eyes closed in a semicircle, the light low, a fire flickering in a black victorian grate. I was about to turn tail and flee when a man in a high backed chair opened his eyes and smiled, signalling me with his outstretched hand to enter. He pointed to a chair situated in a row immediately opposite him.
With every nerve ending screaming “RUN” I found myself not wanting to create a scene and disturb – what? A seance?! I approached the chair, sat and closed my eyes – what else to do?
Ten minutes passed, I had managed to quell my howling, turbulent mind to a force 8. Nobody was talking – people talk in a seance right? Force 7 and then upon convincing myself this to be a meditation session force 6, as the waves in my mind crashed less and hissed quiter.
Then my phone rang. The shrill tone ripped without mercy through the silence
I fumbled and repeatedly missed the off button, finally it stopped. Force 10. I looked around the room, all eyes still closed, an amused smile flickered on one woman’s lips. I slumped against my chair, the heat from the crackling fire causing sweat to drip down my back. I took off my coat, causing yet more noise and once more closed my eyes.
A further five minutes and then
“Ommmmm, and now we return, back to the room. When you are ready open your eyes slowly.”
Two minutes later, the man facing me smiled
“You must be Pierre?”
“Er, I am. I am really sorry to have disturbed everybody. I really do apologise”
I stammered, my face flushing mirroring the deep red embers of the fire
“Oh, no need – we do not sleep during meditation. Noise is not a problem”
Relieved I sat back, my wet shirt sticking to the leather chair.
The man, reassuringly called Colin, went on to explain about meditation. Our minds are stormy and turbulent on the surface, troubled by constant thinking about the past and the future. The deeper we can go in meditation the more calm and silent our minds become. This, our natural state, can only be reached if we still and calm the surface. there was no religion, no woo woo. it was practical, common sense.