The Year of Fun #22: A Sangha Sunday

I know I know! ANOTHER workshop. With a spiritual ilk. Is this the Year of Fun, or am I just having an existential crisis?

Hopefully I justified my reasoning for these group-based activities a bit more last week,¬†but if not: I’ll elaborate.

When you work from home, when you revel in your alone time, and actually get a lot of that solo time… it’s very, very easy to get stuck in the trap of introvert isolation.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, introverts need people too! And I don’t just mean coffee dates with your closest friends or collaborators, which I do get plenty of.

I mean being in a group of people, small enough to hear everyone’s name, but big enough to not remember them all, this kind of group exposure is really beneficial to all of us – not just the most gregarious extroverts.

May be it’s because I was raised a church-going Catholic and regardless of my beliefs (or lack thereof) now, I still have something in me that craves elaborate ceremony and ritual in a communal space… but I actually think it goes deeper than that, and more universal.

Our ancestors did not operate alone. They lived in communities. They worked together, ate together, slept together. In a community, we feel safe. If we found ourselves alone – particularly for an extended period – we were likely in danger. We might have done something wrong and our tribe abandoned us – now, we’re at the mercy of nature and sabre-tooth tigers.

It seems plausible to me that we still retain some of that primal fear and discomfort, regardless of whether you’re an introvert or not. And yes, I think my tolerance for alone time is WAY higher than my extrovert counterparts, but it isn’t limitless.

These experiments I’ve been having with groups have shown me a lot – not just about whatever subject we’re focussing on – but about myself, and how I perceive others and how I judge myself in relation to others.

So even after one of these gatherings, I get a LOT to reflect on.

This particular gathering I found by searching the local events for group meditation. As you might know, i’ve been on the mindfulness bandwagon for several years now, but am the first to sa: I’m CRAP at it.

Like, really. And I know I know, you can’t be crap at meditation, we’re all learning, it’s a process blah blah blah.

But I really, really suck.

OK, that said, I know it’s value. I know what I’m like when I go without it for a few days, and I dread to think what I’d be like if I didn’t at least attempt to practise.

This particular event checked all my introvert-Goldilocks boxes.

  • Not too late in the day (11am),
  • Not too far away (central Brighton),
  • Not too long (2 hours) oh and
  • Not to pricey (by donation.)

Sweet. I also invited a friend along for extra accountability and bail-proofness.

I didn’t know much about the style of meditation, I knew it would be Buddhist but that was as far as I could tell. And that the word ’embodiment’ was used, which is a word I’ve heard and sounds like something I could use to combat my very dominant head.

It was held at Anahata Health Clinic, a big yellow building in Brighton, and I was pleased to see a big open door. I often struggle to find entrances to places, so that put me at ease.

I walked into a room where a few people were kind of pottering around, making tea, rolling out mats and placing oddly shaped cushions and foam blocks around at random, and while everyone seemed equally friendly and non-plussed about my entrance, no one was clearly the lead teacher or facilitator, nor were they clearly attendees.

Needless to say, I felt a bit lost as I carefully placed my lunch contribution. It’s a nice feature of some other Buddhist events I’ve been to: a shared lunch after practise.

I brought lentil chips, hummus and olives, because that was all I found in a nearby health shop that seemed appropriate.

At some point the very lovely¬†Sheila entered, welcoming me warmly and showing me around the… small room. I instantly warmed to her and she only continued to go higher in my estimations throughout the morning.

Once we were sat around, myself and my accomplice chose to plonk down on those nice, firm meditation cushions, while others did the same or sat on chairs or lay on the floor.

This in itself I LOVED. There was a lot of encouragement from Sheila to DO WHAT YOU WANT. That there is no one right way and wrong way, and that particularly with the exercises we’d be doing, it’s mostly about getting yourself comfortable.

I think this in itself is a great little lesson about paying ATTENTION to what YOU need. The rebel in me gets rubbed up the wrong way when I’m told to sit up straight and not move a millimetre, but at the same time the good-girl, type-A perfectionist strives to do what teacher says to show that I can.

It’s a push pull that’s caused me a great deal of stress in my life, and one I’m quite ready to drop in favour of MY needs.

OK so the exercises. I won’t bore you with the details, but I’ll link to some of the resources Sheila mentioned in the show notes. The aim with these were to get a sense of embodiment, and I take that to mean, getting more in touch with and aware of our physical bodies. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a real hard time with that, as someone whose mind is constantly whirring and who often forgets she has a body, let alone is able to use it.

We did one practise that involved alternate nostril breathing, which normally annoys me, but I for some reason found it really helpful with Sheila’s instruction. I also liked her secular approach: whilst she acknowledged the idea of channels running down our back, which sound a lot like the Chinese meridian lines, there was no forcing this – it seemed like she was using it as a way to just get us to use our imagination to be a bit more aware of our bodies.

That was exactly what I needed. We ended with a visualisation I chose to lie down for, which involved us sinking into the ground, which I suppose if you have a fear of being buried alive might have been unpleasant, but I quite liked it and felt very chilled and content by the end.

The class FLEW by. I also loved the fact that Sheila acknowledged she forgot to get us to introduce ourselves (which is something I despise anyway) but did this at the end instead – which, actually works a lot better because after a couple of hours of meditation together, you feel a whole lot more comfortable with your group.

Then we had lunch together, I chatted to my friend and a couple of the other lovely attendees, and we said our goodbyes.

This was a really nice way to get my community fix – and to get a really good meditation practise that I would simply never make time for at home.

 

Links mentioned:

Anahata centre

Bodhi Tree Brighton

Reggie Ray

 

Fun rating: 8/10

 

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