A few years ago I began meditating regularly. It started with a visit to the London Buddhist Centre, and then a mindfulness course, and then retreats at Gaia House and Vajrasana. And then between 2014-15 I did formal training as a mindfulness and meditation teacher.
On the 25th of June, right at the beginning of this process of exploring fear, risk and change I organised a meditation afternoon at Open School East. I have found that meditation can help me understand the complexity of my emotions and experiences, and go much deeper than the immediate sensations, thoughts and feelings that arise constantly and can often seem overwhelming.
The idea was to come together with a group, in a free, open and accessible session, and spend some time going deeper together: seeing whatever comes up. It is a strategy that I find incredibly useful when working with uncomfortable experiences and so I wanted to share it and explore it with others as part of this process.
The day of the session actually ended up being the day after the result of the referendum on whether the UK should remain in the EU or not. I hadn’t timed it specifically like this- it was the only appropriate saturday when the room was free.
It did mean that there was a very significant emotional backdrop to the afternoon. Throughout the day before I could feel a real heaviness and tension in the air. There was so much angst and grief and anger on social media- from people who had voted to remain and couldn’t believe the actual result. And I felt that there was a huge amount of fear: about what would happen next; and how it would change people’s lives. I myself was feeling fear, but in a different way to perhaps I ever had before- it was like something had been wrenched away, a sense of a possible future had been torn off.
We didn’t discuss anything related to Brexit in the afternoon- the focus was returning to the body and the breath as an anchor to ground our experience. And this somehow created some space, an opportunity to return to the present, to the group of people I was with and not to get drawn into projections about the future. Listening to the wind, and hearing rain falling gave me a sense of the world going on as usual, and how change is completely natural and inevitable.
At the end of the day I led a ‘loving kindness’ meditation, which is about exploring compassion for others and the self. During part of it you are invited to offer kindness, or love, or whatever positive emotion feels right, to everyone around you- not just in the room, but out in the city, the surrounding countryside, in hospitals, on buses, going to work, sleeping, kissing, arguing, holding hands. This stage of the meditation was very moving for me, as I felt the powerful angst of the division caused by the vote, and anger towards those who had set this course (in my own opinion) needlessly. But above it all I felt that compassion is such a powerful emotion, and one that is so invaluable at times of risk and change- it can shift a whole perspective, and help me to understand myself better and connect with others better too.