Sleep is the best meditation. – Dalai Lama
A few weeks ago I splurged on a three-hour meditation workshop, hosted by a meditation for-profit company. This is one of those places where post-hippy millenials wear flowy clothes and flip flops and find solace in the crystals section of the store.
As a meditator for many years in temples, sitting groups, yoga studios, retreats, church, etc, this space was a bit foreign to me. Donation or member-based non-profits are usually grounded in a educational discipline or spiritual philosophy. Yes, they may also have crystals in their store but the money they collect is tax-deductible.
So my first thought was: Only in LA.
Two strict rules were enforced: 1. No shoes on the floor and 2. No cell phones in the room.
Phones couldn’t even be turned off, they had to be relinquished at the door, sort of like at a Dave Chappelle concert.
Seemed reasonable. I took off my shoes and took my phone back to my car (because no one gets my cell phone, period). When I returned the women who checked me in gave me a small pitch on their services and instruction on how much it cost to become a member (I can’t recall the amount but it was prohibitive at the time). I could also take one-off classes to the tune of $24 (which, I mentally noted, was more than the most expensive yoga class in my neighborhood, where at least I would get a workout AND meditation). While I waited for the workshop to begin, I watched the young, mostly white middle-class women file out of the previous session, seemingly refreshed by their meditation immersion. I attempted to ask one young woman a question about her experience and her whole body threw shade at me. It was like a cloud darkening. Luckily, another young lady with a completely different energy sidled up to me and asked if she could sit down. She and her husband had driven three hours to see the teacher and she had been following him for years. They were both writers, she an aspiring mystery novelist. It was her husband’s first foray into meditation and he was as earnest as a school boy, bringing along his notebook so he could record everything. They were lovely and charming to interact with.
The guest teacher was the draw: An elf-like, Santa Claus guru type of throwback to the 70s, he arrived in a semi-frenzy in the lobby wearing a dark jacket, under which he wore a dark t-shirt with a spirtually inspired emblem. On his feet were a pair of colorful socks, cartoonish in nature. It seemed he had a pretty big following; everyone had come because he often does big retreats in faraway lands that no one can afford. Hence the $60 admission to spend a few hours with him.
The group was a bit more diverse group than the previous one. There were many males and more ethnic representation, including a few older women and one elderly Asian man. The most impressive aspect of the room for me was the seating. Each person had an individual meditation ‘lounge chair’ that contorted to your body. There was no way to be uncomfortable in it, even sitting as we were on the floor.
I had followed the meditation recordings of this ‘guru’ for a couple of years having discovered him on Deepak Chopra’s website where he was part of the administration of their organization. However, I never really knew what he offered besides a weekly recording. Turns out he left Dr. Chopra to do his own thing. So, in addition to teaching meditation to anyone who will have him, he also has a radio show where he picks topics and then incorporates his standard meditation (it’s pretty much the same each week with a different spiritual topic).
Being a positive sceptic, I knew he wasn’t a renowned counselor nor was he a doctor or therapist. In other words, he’s not Wayne Dyer. Yes, he learned a technique but it is his charisma, his soothing voice that draws you in. His videos are all taped on the beach. He’s like Surfing Santa with a DJ vibe. He’s also written a couple of books on destressing. In other words, he’s got the relaxation gig down cold.
He wasn’t exactly nice as much as he was a firm parent – there to guide you but not be your friend. Listening to his suggested methods, I was pleasantly surprised at how structured his presentation was; it flowed so easily that the hours went by very quickly.
Even more interesting was the manner in which people were responding to him as a person. The audience was both rapt and respectful; they reacted as if they were being read a bedtime story instead of learning how to go deeper within. Not everyone was practicing mindfulness, however. A younger woman in front of me came in with a male friend and hadn’t gotten the memo about the cell phone rule. A middle-aged woman sitting next to them had sat in one of their chairs when they first came in so there was tension there; she later sharply demanded that the woman give up her cell phone, which the woman did readily but not without a return rebuttal on the tone of the woman’s voice. Meditation drama.
A young Indian girl who attended was particularly heartbreaking, interrupting throughout the session asking basic questions. She would periodically get up on stilts – her legs were painfully thin – and hobble out of the room, presumably to the bathroom. She was the absolute worst case of an anorexia I have ever witnessed. Literally the walking dead. As she passed me for the third time to leave the room, another woman to my right muttered, “Jesus”. The teacher addressed her every question on the edge of disgust and impatience, even at one point trying to interject some wisdom on addiction and impulse and how people even have a problem with food – as he looks straight at her.
Meditation techniques were shared. Three of the four were unique to any I had experienced anywhere and I was glad of the new information. We meditated periodically throughout the talk; his goal being to get the audience to understand that meditation can be built in blocks over time and doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Five minutes or a day, doesn’t matter.
When the workshop ended, I was ready to go home. I didn’t swarm to buy the teacher’s book or get his autograph. However, I did begin to contemplate my own practice to see how or if I could incorporate any of his techniques into it. The answer was yes, of course. But do I need to? The door he opened for me was choice: Of all the types of meditation I’ve done over the years in various disciplines and religions I’ve always felt an obligation to ‘see-through’ the process of getting still as if it is an end goal and not a journey in and of itself.
The truth is that there are many forms of meditation out there – each with it’s own set of benefits, including relaxation, contemplation and healing. I have learned to seek out what I need, when I need it. And because of this I wouldn’t necessarily recommend one guru over another. In fact, while this teacher was appropriate for the moment, I know I that personally I will need deeper, more experienced teachings over time. The teacher matters but, in my opinion, the message is more important.
In the end, this workshop was a gift of insight and whatever tools I learned that day are now at my disposal. If I learn a new meditation tool and it seems to feel good, then I will use it. If not, then I won’t pick up the throne. The intention was and is, to be still and, in that stillness, allow life to unfold.