As a teacher of meditation for over 15 years, I’ve noticed a trend.
If you tell a group of kids to meditate, they jump into an awkward fake lotus—knees knocking out at right angles, fingers up like twigs, looking anything but at ease.
Wherever we got this image, it’s harming us more than helping us.
But the truth is that until our meditation gets real, we are holding that fako-lotus on the inside too.
Some years ago, as a young teacher in an urban public high school, meditation saved my cookies. Sitting in precious silence 15-30 minutes each morning allowed me to care for all of my 250 students through the unbelievably hectic day.
I thought I was so cool, calm and collected.
So when a 17-year-old, football-playing, D-earning class clown put gummy worms in his nose for the 10th time in the middle of a profound Zora Neal Hurston lesson, I was seriously about to lose it.
I was just barely able to hold back my yell and keep my cool. Thank you, meditation.
I knew my class was the last stop; this kid had been kicked out of every other English class in our school.
If he didn’t pass, he didn’t graduate.
As much as his antics were driving me up the wall, I’d taken some time to breathe and I was able to access the smidgen of compassion needed not to bite his head off. I asked him to give himself, the class and me some space that afternoon and agreed to talk the next day.
I spent the evening meditating on the situation and came back in with a plan. I talked with him about how hard it was for me to teach with him goofing around, how I needed to make the class work for the 42 other students, how I cared about him and wanted him to learn, graduate and get what he needed from this English class.
He listened openly. He thought I was going to kick him out.
Despite being the tough football player that he was, he cried when he learned he could stay. We decided we would meet a couple times a week at lunch or on my planning time so we could just talk.
It turns out that that’s what he had needed all along: Kind, present attention. A little compassion and love.
What a lesson meditation taught me, a lesson that I would have missed completely if I hadn’t slowed down enough to show up for him.
He participated fully in English class the rest of the year—with some minimal pranks—but I never did see the gummy worms again. Instead, I saw some great poetry, creative writing and an excellent essay on M.L.K. Jr. and loving our enemies. He graduated with a B+.
That student taught me more about compassion than I probably taught him about English.
I often think of him as my meditation breakthrough. I had been sitting down and breathing silently for about a year. But it was the moment with the gummy worms that made my meditation get real.
The metaphor: Jump into a stiff fako-present meditation pose. How does that feel? Now, just relax the body to let the breath come and go freely. Feels so much more natural and organic. Allows for greater capacity. Freedom. For others and ourselves.
For life to flow freely.
Meditation can happen like that—on the cushion or mat. But it often happens off the mat—in daily life.
There are so many ways to meditate. Some of my favorites are:
Gummy worms or other parties in my stomach.
Sometimes it’s just simply the good old sitting on my seat to meditate—stilling the mind, letting it chatter. No matter.
Picking any one of these many ways to meditate will change everything. Especially if we hang in there and keep it up. For years and years.
It matters less which practice we pick and more that we just pick a practice. And stick with it. Most importantly, give ourselves the time and space to let our meditation get real.
We can’t judge our meditation by what happens on the cushion or mat, but by seeing what happens in our daily lives.
I’d love to hear how you plan to meditate, if so inspired.
Or if you have a practice already, how do you get real with your meditation?
And, If nothing else, fake it until you make it real—I’ll be looking out for those awkward lotus poses as they ease with every breath.
Author: Susanna Barkataki
Apprentice Editor: Jaimee Guenther / Editor: Renee Picard
Image: Fernando Mafra/Flickr