Meditation 101. How To Begin Without Feeling Totally Stupid.

About two years ago, I was pushing through days, feeling emotionally drained, when a dear friend invited me to join a group meditation.

I had no idea what that even meant, but it sounded like something other people did, so I declined.

A couple of months later, she invited me again.

“What do you even do there?” I asked.

“You sit in silence for about an hour, and you feel incredible when you’re done,” she said.

I was skeptical, yet intrigued. “And how much does something like this cost?”

“What?” my friend smiled. “It’s meditation. It’s free.”

I’d only just begun hearing about the benefits of mediation -- known to many as “yoga of the mind” -- and I had a ton of questions.

“The only way to understand it is to go,” my friend said.

So I did.

• • •

Turns out our neighbor, Tracie, a 49-year-old social worker, regularly holds meditation sittings in a small, comfortable garage-turned-meditation studio on her property. It's a small, peaceful space that she and her husband, Todd, created for community meditation, back in 2013.

“I lost my mother at the age of 20,” Tracie recently explained, “and I really struggled to find peace with the loss. I travelled on my own to India at the age of 25, looking for a system of meditation, and found this.”

Tracie stayed in India for 6 months and felt transformed.

“It's helped me through so many hard times, just finding that space inside that's so unchangeable and quiet.”

Tracie and Todd Pape

Tracie and Todd Pape

• • •

It was a wintery night the first time I went to Tracie’s studio. We’d made arrangements to meet at 7:30pm, and when I arrived, she was waiting for me.

She’d already warmed up the space with a portable heater, and was seated in a big comfy chair facing the rest of the room. I was the only one there for a sitting that night.

From under her cozy blanket, Tracie raised her hand to welcome me in, pointing to one of the many comfortable seats facing her. “Oh, and grab a blanket before you sit down,” she said, gesturing toward the large basket by the door. “It’s still a little chilly in here.”

As I settled onto a couch and wrapped myself in a blanket, we briefly “re-introduced ourselves”. Tracie and I had met on a few prior occasions -- at our annual block party and at various school events -- but we’d never exchanged more than the quick, friendly greetings that parents of young kids tend to do. And now, here we were, alone in this space, about to do something with which I was completely unfamiliar. I was nervous and curious and crawling slightly out of my skin. I kept wondering, How does this even work? Are we actually going to be facing each other awkwardly while this goes on? I don’t think I was meant to sign up for something like this.

Here’s the good news: you don’t have to know a THING about meditation to start. You just START. There's no room to feel stupid. You simply close your eyes and sit in total silence. That’s it.

So, like, are you wondering, What’s the point? That's a fair question.

And lemme just tell ya, for the first few minutes, I was acutely aware of that question, as well as everything else.

Everything...including:

The grumble of my stomach.
The sound of a snowplow in the distance.
A barking dog.
My own breathing.
The itch on my back.
The time.
The gentle rattle of the space heater.
Tracie’s voice as she cleared her throat.

I kept my eyes closed, though, and just remained still.

And then, within about 10 minutes, I wasn’t paying attention to anything at all -- except the stillness.

It was … remarkable.

It was quiet and peaceful and unlike anything I'd ever felt.

Every time a thought popped into my mind – Did I get dog food? How long have we been sitting here? How will we know when it’s time to stop? – I imagined each thought as a leaf floating on a gentle stream...away from me and from my overactive mind.

And as I sat with Tracie, my breathing slowed down, as did my thoughts. This sense of relaxation, while completely unfamiliar, felt like one of the most comfortable hugs I’d ever known.

It was a gift, really.

Meditation was a gift to myself.

I stopped wondering about and analyzing everything. I just let myself BE.

And then, something really cool happened.

On its own, my mind drifted to a writing project that I’d been gnawing on forever, specifically to a plot point that left me feeling stuck. With my body and mind relaxed and open, a new approach to the chapter unfolded before my closed eyes, a solution suddenly so obvious…and so easy to see.

And when our meditation time was done, I heard Tracie say, “That is all.”

No timers.
No buzzers.
No alarms.

As I slowly opened my eyes, I yawned and stretched and came “back” to the room.

Tracie was smiling.

“What did you think?” she asked.

I smiled. “You know,” I said, “that was really awesome.”

I felt recharged and centered, grounded and relaxed.

It didn’t seem possible that I could feel this “re-set” by doing so little – but then again, doing so little was exactly the point of meditation.

Nature mandala by Cathy Clarke

Nature mandala by Cathy Clarke

• • •

After that first sitting, I joined Tracie in her studio on numerous occasions with several others for the larger group meditations. They were run just as my individual sitting had been -- except, just a little longer. Occasionally, someone in the group would become so relaxed that they actually dozed off. And while that never happened to me, I did come very close to falling asleep a few times.

The only true difference between individual and group sittings, that I recall, was that, at the end of group sittings, Tracie read a very short passage from a journal, a universal message about either peaceful intentions, self-compassion or the beauty of stillness.

• • •

After attending group sessions on a weekly basis for several months, my schedule became busier and I tapered off my visits to Tracie’s studio. Still, I was able to apply the practice within my own home, and it’s been one of the best things I’ve ever done to combat stress and anxiety.

A group meditation outside the Evanston studio of Tracie and Todd Pape.

A meditation group outside the Evanston studio of Tracie and Todd Pape

• • •

A few weeks ago, Tracie reached out and asked if I’d share some news about an upcoming June 14th book launch for The Heartfulness Way, written for beginners and seasoned meditators alike, helping to explain this simple, heart-based meditation, an easy tool to manage one's daily, hectic life.

chicago_events-2

“I’ve been practicing for 20 years,” Tracie explains, “and I’m so grateful I have this way to ground and center.”

The Heartfulness Chicago website explains how the practice can help us to achieve:

  1. More focus and commitment
  2. Emotional Resilience: Reduced symptoms of stress, anxiety and burnout
  3. Relaxation for physical well-being
  4. Rejuvenation: Unwinding the mind and letting go of emotional stress
  5. Inner well-being – to simplify life and connect with one’s inner nature. This paves the way for peace of mind, inner joy, bliss and what is beyond
  6. Making wise choices and empathetic Leadership
  7. Finding inner strength, developing confidence and balance
  8. Better relationships, and teams that are better integrated and more effective
  9. A happier, healthier, and more productive work environment

Had I not experienced this practice myself, I wouldn’t be writing this piece. If you’d asked me two years ago what the fuss was all about, I probably wouldn’t have even read a piece like this.

While meditation isn’t for everyone, it definitely helped me. It's a tool I use when I need to slow down, to breathe deeply, and to access peace and inner strength.

Thank you for keeping an open mind regarding meditation. When I was finally ready to do so myself, it became one the easiest and most unexpected joys of my daily life.

• • •

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    Christine Wolf

    I tend to cover life's ups and downs. I don't shy away from the tougher, more emotional stories. While I'm always willing to voice an opinion, it sometimes contradicts my innate desire to please everyone at all times. Such is this crazy life, I suppose. Ultimately, I search for meaning in the human experience, and openly share how I (try to) keep my head above water. Thanks so much for dropping by. I really appreciate hearing your thoughts.

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