September 1, 2007

Spirituality

Finding Inner Space for Meditation

by April D. Boland


I didn't know quite what to expect when I crossed the threshold of the Austin Meditation Center for the first time. I slipped off my sandals and placed them neatly on the shelf available by the door for this purpose, then took a look around.

The best way to describe the center is also the most clich├ęd: It was peaceful. I was greeted by the yogi, an older Englishman with a wide smile on his face. Richard Davis seemed to radiate energy and life. We sat down and talked for a while as others trickled in.

After offering us water, organic cherries and whole wheat, sugar-free, homemade cookies, he led us into the next room, where seats and pillows formed a circle on the hardwood floor. The walls were lined with paintings of figures such as Krishna and Christ. We sat as he took his place in front, closing the circle.

Richard took time discussing the concept of mantra meditation with us beginners. He told us that there are two worlds — the material world, and that of the spirit — and that we are "in illusion" when we believe that we are our bodies, and that we are of this material world. We wear our bodies like we wear a T-shirt, he said. The T-shirt is not us; we only wear it. We are "atma," the spirit-soul, that divine spark that differentiates between a living body and a dead one.

He shared an analogy of a fish in the ocean. If you were to take such a fish and put him on the hot, sandy beach, would he be happy? No. He belongs in the ocean. Likewise we, as spiritual beings, can never find happiness in the material world, try as we may. We will only find happiness when we reconnect with our "atma." Happiness — pure bliss — is possible only through the sound vibrations of mantra. Mantra is the vehicle that takes us there, to that place within.

Richard then taught us three kinds of mantra meditation. The first, "breathing meditation," consisted of saying a one-word mantra, "Gauranga," upon exhaling our breath. We inhaled deeply and when we could inhale no more, we began to push out each syllable: "Gaur ... Ra ... Ang ... Ga." "Gauranga" means the "golden effulgence" or light that surrounds God, and can be used as a name for God Himself.

Next we learned "japa meditation." We chanted a phrase as we moved our fingers along wooden beads to keep track. "Gopala Govinda Rama Madana Mohana," we repeated, which I soon learned were other names for God.

Meditation and chanting form patterns similar to the worship I had experienced in Christian churches. The most striking similarity came when we did "kirtan," which was singing the names of God as Richard played guitar: "Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare."

Despite the familiarity of the phrase from popular culture, to a Western woman who was raised within the Christian church, this was all so new and strange. Yet I had made a commitment to try it, and I wanted to see if it really did offer contentment.

And so, I did it each day in my home, breathing and chanting and counting the beads. I was surprised to find that mantra had sneaked into my subconscious and was pervading my life: It was in my head at work and I would chant it under my breath in the car. In addition, I felt peace envelop me, as if nothing could harm me any longer. When I heard bad news, it did not break me. I felt above it, able to handle anything. I felt my anxiety and even some of my customary road rage dissipate. This was quite welcome.

I am still new to meditation and to the doctrines of karma, reincarnation and the like that surround it, and I cannot honestly say that I believe every single one of these precepts. Maybe I will come to, and maybe I will not. I will, however, continue to make time and space for contemplation, silence and peace in my ever-whirling, ever-changing world.

April D. Boland is a freelance writer and editor. Originally from New York City, she now resides in Austin, Texas where she enjoys reading, writing, soaking up culture and taking advantage of the beautiful outdoors that she never had back home. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Della Donna, a webzine for women for which she heartily accepts submissions. Her published work can be found at her website, AprilBoland.com, and she blogs about writing at These Words.