The group is waiting in the garden; some are chatting with one another while others are just looking around, silently. Today, there are no cushions or chattais or stools outside to sit on. Soon Mridula Di joins them. After initial greetings she tells the group that today they will have their session in one of the study halls in the building.
As they enter the building through the garden gate and walk toward the first floor study hall, Mridula Di tells them a little background about this community study center. She tells them about the previous owners of the building who had willed it to her school for the purposes of such educational activities.
The room is a brightly lit and gracefully arranged space. Simple yet aesthetically pleasing. The group settles in on comfortable chairs arranged in a circular manner. There is a table in the middle of the circle, with a large urli full of floating flowers.
Mridula di asks the group if anyone has any allergies of any kind or is generally resistant to the idea of lighting an incense. Nobody has any issues with it. So she lights an incense – with a mild and pleasant fragrance and then walks to the corner table to turn on the music system.
Everyone in the group understands the cue and quietens down for their opening concentration and meditation. Mridula Di walks toward her chair and joins the group for the concentration. The music plays in the background, filling the room with silence.
After a few minutes….
The music has ended. Some are still sitting in the silence with their eyes closed, others are sitting in a quiet waiting. Soon Mridula Di opens her eyes and looks around at everyone with a gentle smile and a calm expression. She waits till everyone has their eyes open and seems ready for the class.
Binoy: (looks straight at Di, smiles but says nothing)
Dia: This was so good.
Eesh: Yes, I feel so relaxed. I can just sit like this all day.
Dia: Yeah, me too.
(A few others nod in affirmative).
M: I know what you mean.
Avi: But can I be honest?
M: Of course, nothing less will do.
Avi: I was feeling a bit restless, especially toward the end. I mean, I wanted to open my eyes and just move on with our discussions.
Falguni: I think I can relate to that. I am being honest here too! I mean, the first few minutes are okay, but like today when the music piece is a bit longer I can’t sit still. Like Avi said, a sort of restless feeling comes.
M: Good, I am glad you said this. That’s completely understandable. Anyone else would like to say something?
Binoy: Well, I felt it was a good enough length of time. I mean, in the previous sessions we have had just brief concentrations. I like that today we had a bit longer one. I mean, it allowed me to actually feel something. Other times I was just…..I don’t know how to say it, it was like touch and go. You know, what I mean? Today I could actually feel myself relaxing a bit.
M: Good. I am happy to hear that, Binoy. Anyone else?
M: (Smilingly) I am happy that you all shared so honestly about this. And all I said to open up this discussion was “Well…”
(Some smiles and gentle giggles in the room).
M: But that’s good, you know. It is always good to be honest about these things. You see, the reason we begin our sessions with a small concentration is to allow ourselves a space and time to gather our energies which are generally scattered all around, bring them into a sort of focused concentration, so that we are prepared to take up the work at hand.
Avi: I like it. I don’t know how else to say it….but what I feel is that it does help me to calm myself down a little bit. I feel more…how to say it….ready after our meditation.
M: Yes, that’s it. We are not trying to go into deep meditation or find answers to some deep mysteries through intuition. That’s not the objective of such brief concentration…or you may call it meditation too, but concentration is a better word.
Binoy: Yes, I figured that was the purpose. To get us into a state of mind where we can focus on the discussion and for that period of time forget other things.
Gul: I have sometimes felt it helps me empty out a few things from my head…some of the usual chatter that is there. But not always. Most of the times I find that I am only hearing the mental chatter and that too more loudly.
Avi: Yes I agree.
M: Glad you said that. It happens to all of us. Ideally, when a concentration is done at the beginning of a task, it becomes, or it can become, a way to get rid of other mental distractions. But so many times we are so caught up in our own chattering that it is not easy to stop all that noise. We have to be honest in admitting that.
But you see, what we must also remember is that what matters is constant practice, abhyas as they say it. Abhyas, practice and vairagya, detachment from the practice. We try, we try to concentrate and quieten down the noise and then we let go of our attempt to do so. We make an effort, we practice, and then we let go of the effort. It is not about the result, it is the process.
Hari: That makes so much sense. It does. Thank you Di for saying it this way.
Gul: Yeah, it really helps to know this.
Avi: Now I don’t feel so bad for saying what I said earlier about feeling restless.
M: Why should you feel bad? We all experience this restlessness from time to time. You see, generally we are so used to be an active participant in all the chatter that goes on in our heads. It is almost as if we are enjoying the chatter and so we keep creating more of it, in a way. Another thing is that we generally don’t hear the chatter because we are busy with the noise of the external world, the activities that keep us occupied. But when we are forced to or asked to sit quietly for a few minutes, the chatter that is inside of us becomes louder often bringing a feeling of unrest or restlessness. We want to come back to the world of externalities, the external noise, so to speak. It is natural, you see.
M: But like I said, our practice of brief concentration or a little longer meditation like today’s is a way to help us become more aware of this phenomenon, to help us become more conscious of these movements within us. Does that make sense?
Falguni: Yeah, it does. Totally.
(A few other voices in affirmation).
Avi: So, we concentrate in the beginning to work on our concentration power, can we say it like that?
M: Yes, that’ a very good way to put it. Great!
Binoy: Dude, that’s cool!
Avi: O thank you, buddy!
M: Can anyone think of any other reason why it is good to begin our sessions with a short concentration?
Dia: Well, I was thinking perhaps it is like a prayer. Not exactly a prayer, a kind of a silent prayer. Something to connect with something higher. Or an attempt at least to do that.
M: Yes, very well said. A few minutes of concentration at the beginning can be a means to help us inwardly remember a higher force, a supreme force or energy which is behind all the work and action and everything in nature and the world. It is a way to remind ourselves of that Force and Power from where we derive our energy and force to begin our work, and in a way to offer our work to that Force and Power. One can call That by any name, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is to remember and offer. And by taking a few minutes and making an effort to remind ourselves of that Force, that Power we practice this inner act of remembering and offering. It brings more awareness to our work, our outer action.
Dia: Wow, Di, that’s superb. I like this explanation very much.
M: Good. Does it make sense to others too?
Colin: It does to me. Definitely.
Gul: I like that it is a practice deeply connected with becoming better learners.
Colin: Oh, now that’s a great point, Gul! Well said.
M: Yes, that’s really a good point. It helps us become more receptive to what we are about to learn. We may not realise it right away, but over a period of time it does make a big difference. This is an example of how spiritual practice can be intimately linked to life and every activity in life. It should not be removed from life.
Binoy: But of course, there is a difference between this type of practice and the practice that many people engage in asking God for good grades in return for this or that puja or pilgrimage. No?
M: Well, I don’t want to go too far into that discussion, but I will just say this. What matters is the inner attitude with which anything is done, including any religious or spiritual practice. There is a false superiority some people feel when they say – oh, I am spiritual, but not religious. But what does that really mean?
(She looks inquiringly toward the group, and after a few moments continues).
M: No, no, I am not asking you to respond to that. It is only a rhetorical question, at least for the moment. Maybe someday we can discuss that. But right now, let me just say this – bargaining with God for a desirable result is not limited to only those who do pujas and other such practices. Of course, what matters is how one defines what is desirable and what is not, and from whose perspective. What seems desirable to the student today may not really be so in the long run. So who can say anything?
(Continues after a brief pause).
M: But the real question is whether we should be bargaining at all. Or whether we should be doing any religious-spiritual practice simply for the sake of doing it. And also, is it wrong to hope for or want things such as a quieter mind, a calmer disposition as a result of one’s spiritual/religious practice? Like I said, we will not go into all these, but you can mull over them at your leisure. What is most important is – inner attitude and the purity of motivation, as well as the awareness and mindfulness with which an activity is done, including any spiritual practice. Because trust me, so many times we do our religious-spiritual practices in just a mechanical mode. Isn’t that so?
Eesh: Oh yeah, there is plenty of that mechanical stuff happening out there.
M: Well, before we lose our concentrated energies completely, let us leave this topic for now and begin with our discussions about the nation and its koshas….what do you say?
Gul: Yes, let’s do. But before we do that, can we just have a few minutes of silence, with no music. Just concentrate for a couple of minutes. To bring us back into that mood.
M: Yes, sure. Everyone okay with that?
Colin: Yes, I am. I was actually going to suggest that myself.
(A few other nods in affirmative).
M: Good, let us concentrate for a few minutes in silence and then we begin our session.
The group settles in for a brief concentration….