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Keeping the Silence

14 May

Awhile back in January, I had the unique opportunity to come with my friend, Marc, to his weekly meditation group. Now, I come from a family whose parents are very conservative Catholics, so convincing my parents to let me go was very challenging–even if it was for an English paper at the time. They agreed because I kept stressing “for school”, and I went with Marc and his mom every Saturday for a month to a small house near Sta. Ana to practice “zen meditation.”

The first day of the meditation, while I was still at my house waiting for them to pick me up, Marc called me on my cellphone.

“My mom says you can’t wear bright colors. Especially red.”

I looked down at my shirt. It was very bright red.

“So what color do I wear?”

“Something dark. Like black daw.”

I wasn’t even in the meditation place and already I was failing at it or something. Anyway, I grabbed an old black shirt, and got in their car. I asked tita Corito why there was a dress code for meditating and told her that I found it really weird. She said that in meditating, you can’t have any distractions. She explained, “If you’re sitting there, trying to concentrate and this girl beside you has a really bright shirt, you might not be able to accomplish anything. Baka magalit ka pa.” I didn’t understand any of this yet, of course. I hadn’t the slightest idea what meditating was besides old monks sitting in an indian position with closed eyes saying Huuummmmm‘s. Nevertheless, I was strangely excited to try Zen Meditating probably because it was new, foreign, and not really “normal.”

The place was called “Bahay Dalangin.” It was a room, about the size of the average Ateneo classroom, at the back of an old house. Despite the used incense sticks in a brass pot in the center of the room, it smelled like absolutely nothing. It was silent, besides the humming of the giant air-conditioning unit in the corner which was easy to tune out, and it was cold. As I looked around the room, I noticed that Marc and I were the only teenagers and everyone else was at least 40. A man came up to us, greeted tita Corito, and led me and Marc to a small room. He explained to me that before I could actually start meditating, I had to practice breath count. It seemed easy enough; sit down comfortably in a cushion facing the wall, count my breaths until 20, and I pass. The only catch was that if something else popped in my head, I had to start back from one. I had this in the bag…or so I thought.

Turns out it’s really hard to turn off that chattering in your head. It would be like: “One, two, three, four, tenententenen Voltes Five!” or “One, my head is itchy…one, my nose is itchy,” and mostly, “One, two, twenty is so freaking far.” I found that it was so easy to create noise, but so hard to keep silence. Turning off all the unnecessary things in your head is such a surprisingly difficult, and daunting task. Needless to say, I stayed there for two weeks until I was able to count until 18. I guess they felt sorry for me and let me join the meditation proper. I finally graduated breath count and moved onto “moo-ing.”

Now alongside the eight other meditators, I once again sat on my cushion facing the wall (this is called a sitting). “Moo-ing” was easier for me, perhaps because I had already practiced breath counting. It was basically letting your mind go absolutely blank, and if any unwelcome thought popped up, you try to exhale it out very slowly, and very deeply. I’m used to blankly staring at things for no particular reason but I was new to the concept that by doing something physical, you would be able to affect what was going on in your mind. It was so interesting, and in some ways, it really did work. I also learned how strange it was to look at the wall in front of me, but not really see it, because I’d try to look at the space in between. And, of course, it was really difficult to concentrate on not concentrating because I’d find myself looking at every single imperfection on the wall and focusing all my attention on it.

In this exercise, each sitting lasts 20 minutes, and in between each sitting is a ritual where we walk very, very slowly around the room. Tita Corito told me that you have to make each step deliberate, and yet you should still have your mind focused on nothing. Prior to this, I thought the goal of meditation was thinking of nothing. After the walking, though, I thought meditation was about something else entirely: being deliberate. I somehow learned, through time, that the goal of these exercises were to clear the clutter of unimportant things in your head, so what’s left is just the YOU. And because of that, everything becomes beautiful and crystal clear; you find purpose–hence, being deliberate. It’s cool to know that you can actually control what goes in your head, and it’s amazing what kind of revelations you come up with yourself all by facing the wall and shutting up for awhile.

Of course, my parents pulled me out of this because they somehow found out that my paper had been done for a couple of weeks already. I tried having my own meditations at home, but nothing really worked because giving in to looking at my phone, checking Facebook and refreshing the 9gag page was too easy. I guess the discipline of always being deliberate is an acquired and practiced trait.

Reg Reyes 113340

*I wasn’t allowed to take pictures inside

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