What happens when the beloved Hermione Granger jumps from the screen to the cushion beside you during meditation?
That’s what happened to me on a week-long retreat when I began chatting with a familiar-looking stranger. With her brown eyes and bubbly giggle, this muggles look-alike reminded me of a college chum I’d met in in London. She was wearing fuzzy slippers and a cozy sweatshirt that covered her hands. We talked about dinner, a selection of salads and warm bread. How did I know this person, I wondered. I glanced at her name tag, “Emma Watson.”
Recognition hit me and my fellow meditators simultaneously. Hair curled. Prayer shawls rumpled.
“Hermione Granger,” gasped a dignified woman in her 50s. “I can’t believe it.”
“Believe it,” Emma said smiling. Then she ducked away. This was the Emma Watson, a UN Women’s Goodwill Ambassador and star of Beauty and the Beast.
While I had never been a Harry Potter fan (my heart belonged to J.M. Barrie, C.S. Lewis and J.R. Tolkien), I adored the young actors and fondly watched them grow up. But I knew adults who owned all the books, wands and red and yellow scarves. I had met people so captivated by Harry Potter they tattooed the characters on their bodies.
How could I possibly meditate near Hermione Granger, someone whose face appeared on biceps and shoulder blades?
My head rebelled.
Left to its own devices, my noggin already spins tales about good and evil, lightness and dark. My job as the meditator is to be a witness: to find narrative patterns and to stay present to reality.
“Mindfulness helps us get better at seeing the difference between what’s happening and the stories we tell ourselves about what’s happening, stories that get in the way of direct experience,” writes Sharon Salzberg, author of Real Happiness: The Power Of Meditation.
I appreciate what Salzberg meant. But next to Emma Watson, my brain melded with J.K. Rowling’s. When I wasn’t imagining a quidditch match, I became fixated on the texture of Emma’s skin. China doll, I meditated. No, porcelain.
“Her skin is like porcelain,” a friend said about Emma during lunch. We seemed to be caught in some kind of spell that confused Hollywood with our boring lives. My pal admitted that she’d meditated on setting Emma up with her son. “I actually thought they would be a good couple,” she said laughing.
“This is embarrassing,” I groaned. But we weren’t the only mental stalkers in the retreat.
The young women constantly checked in on Emma’s emotions. Was she crying? Was she happy? The young men, mostly soldiers, couldn’t believe that their first “fru fru” yoga retreats could include their dream girl.
We failed meditation that week.
But Emma Watson was the most centered person in the room. The rest of us moved in orbit.