Yoga Sleuth loves a spiritual bargain. NYU delivers with Meditation Mondays, free to the public through the Mindfulness Project.
The sessions meet at 7 p.m. on the fourth floor of the New Age-decorated Global Center for Academic and Spiritual Life. I arrived early one blistering Monday night and waited in the inviting common area near the elevators. Wanting to maintain my sleuth-ness (and my body heat), I kept my stocking cap tight around my ears. From a formation of couches, I caught an amiable discussion between Muslim and Christian students about the history of Abraham and Sarah. This building felt welcoming.
When the conference room doors opened, yogis emerged, fresh from one of many yoga classes offered only to NYU community and students. Quickly, regulars changed the room into Meditation Monday by setting out cushions, chairs, and countless battery-operated candles from a hall closet. The evening's leader, program coordinator Reka Prasad, instructed participants to keep widening the circle of cushions and chairs until 35 participants found steady seats. Meanwhile, assistants arranged candles in the center of the circle where they glowed and flickered.
Reka introduced herself and asked if anyone was new to meditation. A few people, mostly students, raised their hands.Reka explained the night's theme was Emotional Pain and that we would try a short round of guided meditation and silence. A Tibetan bowl would announce the end of quiet followed by a Q&A and short lecture.
We got down to business. The lights dimmed. Reka asked that participants feel their bodies, including the softness of the tongue between separated teeth. She had a great gentle voice. While noises occurred in the hallway and inside the room -- a few cell phones went off -- Reka coached everyone to remain still. When the bowl rang out, I noticed my leg had fallen asleep because I had chosen a cushion instead of a chair. But my mood had shifted with less dramatic thoughts. After 25 minutes, I didn't feel rushed or irritated. Instead, I felt calm and receptive.
When lights brightened, Reka invited questions, all of which were thoughtful. One newbie asked if he should try to remember his thoughts; some of them were good ideas, he said. Reka nodded and explained that thoughts were just stories and that he could simply let go and watch them go by; none of those narratives defined him as a person. One student compared his thoughts to leaves on a river.
Another asked how he should start meditating on his own. Reka said, "My answer to that is to not start by meditating alone. Do it with others or for short periods of time. You can use some of the many meditation apps, like Headspace or Calm, to let technology help you."
One young woman, who wore a Spiritual Gangster shirt, said she had been experiencing a lot of emotional pain lately and that her therapist recommended exercise. The young woman said she went to yoga, which was the right choice. Reka agreed and added that she had a counseling background. This evening's practice was to stay with uncomfortable feelings as they ebbed and flowed. If the night's meditation made anyone relive trauma, therapy was a responsible option.
Reka then read the Rumi quote: “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” A few participants sighed. She then provided an additional explanation, consulting her prepared notes.
"In this society, we have developed so many unhealthy coping mechanisms not to feel our pain -- drinking, texting, having sex," she explained. "But we can have what the Zen Buddhists call a 'don't know' mind, always curious, softening with compassion around what hurts us."
She continued by sharing her own story of growing up Hindu, practicing meditation with her family in ashrams. When a 12-year relationship "exploded," Reka said none of her coping mechanisms worked any more. She returned to a meditation practice.
All around the room, heads nodded. We ended with a three-minute meditation, which completed the evening beautifully. When the session finished, just after 8 p.m., I noticed how participants didn't hurry away. Rather, they chatted with each other or lingered putting on their coats.
The practice felt needed and special. I would like to see Meditation Mondays all over the city.