Tuesday, February 23, 2016
I attended a weekly Study Group that meets at Peter Carlson’s house (1818 Carrigan Ave., Winter Park FL) on Wednesday evenings from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM. After 45 minutes of meditation, various aspects of Buddhist teachings are discussed. The study group is open to anyone who has completed a meditation retreat or taken a course on Buddhist meditation or psychology. My goal of course was to sketch, which I consider my own form of meditation. I now realize that I was under qualified to attend since I have never attended a retreat. I got to the home about 15 minutes early since I was told that at 7pm the doors close and no one else can enter until the meditation was complete. I thought I would need my art stool, since I assumed, quite correctly, that people would be seated on the floor. The meditation occurs in a tiny retreat behind the home. There however was a chain link fence blocking access to the meditation retreat. Walking in the dark, I felt I might be trespassing. I knocked on the front door and Peter assured me that I could go out back.
The small building was dark a empty. I was the first to arrive. I found a light switch and made my way to the meditation room which had dozens of chairs along three of the walls. I didn't expect chairs. I settled into a corner chair and lightly penciled in the overall composition as I waited for people to arrive. I placed all my pencils and pens in a row on the floor, because I didn't want to be searching for things during the meditation which would be noisy. Peter had a comfortable looking mattress throne with an adjustable desk set up for his computer. A sculpted goddess head looked out in all directions. Two participants sat on the floor with pillows to cushion their spines. Others sat in chairs, out of the view of my sketch. Peter said, "lets begin." and the room became completely silent.
45 minutes seems like a short period of time to complete sketch since most of my sketches take two hours to complete. My first lines were rushed but I started to notice that the fast pen strokes seemed quite loud in the silence. A calm washed over me and the pen began to explore with quiet deliberation. Even so, the pens journey made a sound quite louder the my own breath. the line slowed down even more to a snails speed and each line became more deliberate and more confidently observed. True observation takes quiet deliberation. The line work completed itself with time to spare. I resisted the temptation to reach for other tools since bending over would have created loud rustling noises. This forced me to focus on one deliberate task without interruption.
A Buddhist prayer bowl quietly sounded announcing the end of meditation. Everyone took a five minute break and then returned for the discussion. Peter was just getting over a harsh cold that developed at his last retreat. He spoke of his mindful awareness and acceptance as symptoms developed. People who meditate often have the inner strength to heal quickly. As we were leaving, I realized that everyone but me had left their shoes at the from door. I also realized when I got home that I had left my art stool in the meditation hall. Clearly that was a sign that I needed to return.
The next week I returned with no sketchbook in hand. I wanted to experience meditation first hand without the distractions of sketching. I've never been comfortable sitting cross legged on a floor, but I figured if I found just the right pillow I could pull it off. I had observed the perfect posture of friends and wanted to see if I could quiet my mind the same way. I wedged two pillows under my knees for extra support. I closed my eyes and relaxed rocking my butt side to side to settle into the pillow. I rolled my neck snapping cartilage. The room was completely silent except for the sound of a ceiling fan. Blue and green orbs danced and flowed together on the insides of my eyelids. My breathing seemed loud. My lower back ached so I breathed deeper which straightened my spine. Why do I keep having to swallow? I focused on my breath again and relaxed. I began imagining the room in the green and blue patterns swimming in my eyelids. As I imagined this new world of swimming forms the prayer bowl quietly sounded. Wow. Time had flown by. Had I meditated? I'm not sure. The fact that I sketch daily means that I already quiet my mind to achieve a sure focus. Perhaps that is good training for this looking inward.
The talk was about five precepts or commitments needed for awakening. Peter discussed how harmony and compassion were not important to early hominids. Charles Darwin's theory of the fang and claw pointed out that only the most aggressive of a species survives. If that were true, then loving kindness would be seen as weakness. But daily mindfulness offers strength. The second commitment is be mindful of how desire affects our choices. This relates to our compulsive and addictive tendencies relating to social media. I rely on social media in my quest to find new sketch opportunities. I need to realize when this becomes a form of distraction. A third commitment is to avoid aggression and hostility. This can be in every social interaction. A more modern commitment is towards the ecology of the planet. For early man this wasn't a concern but today careless abuse of our resources can have lasting impacts for future generations.
It was reassuring to be in a room full of people seeking compassion and an increased interpersonal trust. I haven't decided if extended meditations are for me. I like the idea of doing a quiet 60 breath meditation each time I leave the studio to go on location to sketch. Life is ever changing. For me this study group answered my yearning to "Eat, Pray and Trust."