On Finding A ‘Guru’ At Meditation Classes

I was thinking recently about the time I went to the local hospital’s chaplaincy centre for meditation classes and ended up listening to a Buddhist nun’s teachings in-between meditation sessions. And I’ve been contemplating how we can be influenced by religious teachers, by their charisma, by their sense of inner peace and by what they impart to us, and how we can be partially or completely converted to one religion or another, at a certain point in our lives when we are seeking answers, through the power of one individual. I’m using the term guru to encapsulate any spiritual teacher, sage  or mentor and guiding light who share their own literal and experiential knowledge and for whom a student feels respect, reverence, and even love. What are these special qualities that are so powerful?

So there I found myself, quite a few years ago now, listening to a real life guru who fits our definition perfectly. I’d picked up a leaflet somewhere thinking I’d like to explore meditation because I wanted some inner peace. Just like that, right?! Feelings I didn’t like had been churning around for quite some time  – nasties like anger, frustration, envy, a great dollop of negativity, and a sense of failure because I was in the habit of being too hard on myself. I wasn’t feeling like me anymore  – the real me – so I thought meditation might help. So, sitting in the company of fellow students, all eager to learn, I began what felt like an indoctrination, listening intently to a lovely lady teacher known as Gen Kelsang Devi, sitting in orange robes by a tiny table on which stood a glass of water and a little black prayer book. She was young and  had a contemporary modern approach – just perfect, I decided. As she gently led us into meditation, focusing on breathing and mental visualisations, my attempts were a bit fraught with my inner musings going something like this:

Close eyes, yes, get comfortable, feet apart, hands in lap. Which hand in which hand? Oh it doesn’t matter, okay. But I’ll get it right next time. Oh here we go, have to go doing that relaxing all parts of the body thing, bit by bit. Do we really have to? It’s so boorring? Why can’t we just get on with it?

Right, okay, I see, breath in good energy, breath out the bad, positive, negative, right, right – hang on, I can’t do this with those dogs barking outside! How dare the owners let them carry on like that? How are we supposed to concentrate? People can be so selfish! So ignorant!

 Quiet again, that’s better. But just a minute, now I can hear my tinnitus blaring. It’s so quiet in here, this is the last thing I need. It’s not relaxing at all. Actually it’s getting very uncomfortable, louder and louder in fact. It’s all right for the others, they don’t have this ringing to contend with! (sneak peek at the others, who look  irritatingly tranquil behind their dutifully closed lids).

 And I’m feeling physically tense in my chest now. I can’t stand this deep breathing in, and hold, hold it, then deep breathing out. I’m having to hold for far too long, it doesn’t suit me. Just do it the way you want, then. Right, fine! I will!

 Going deeper now, yes, hmm, I think I’m getting somewhere now. I think I can feel it. Stop thinking then, just feel. You’re not here with your inner self and the universal spirit ,whatever that is, if you’re still thinking, you know! You’re aiming for nothingness, expansion…

Fraught with tensions, until this happened:

Hmm—————————————this is quite nice———————- ——————————————- think I’ll stay like this—————— —————————————————————————————

What? We have to come out of it now? Yeah, okay, only when we’re ready. But I’ve just got here! ———–Why don’t I want to open my eyes? ————————————————-I’m not particularly deep or anything. Oh, all right, I’ll come out now———-(I stretch and smile at Devi)

I carried on trying meditation at home for a while, allowing myself to listen to wind chime music to offset the tinnitus and I treated myself to a meditation cushion from the local Buddhist Monastery, known as Samye Ling,  which we’re lucky enough to have here in the Scottish Borders. I sat in the temple, absorbed the atmosphere, and many years later, I do still pay it a visit now and again. I meditate now and again. I bought a couple of books and I read them now and again, looking for my pencilled markings in the margins. I guess I’m one of many that gets this far…but doesn’t go beyond this point into a real conversion process, because upon investigating further into what was available, I noticed all the courses and the fees which I could scant afford, I saw the business side of it, I saw all those different schools of Buddhism with varying affiliations. How do you choose? I saw one or two of the others students telling me they were going to the next level, but I sensed the ego still in them, I sensed this was their next ‘cause’ or fad. I became suspicious and wary of handing over my personal power. I thought to myself – I’ll go my own way, thank you.

But the really special thing for me, which is the point of this post, was Devi’s charismatic teaching between the mediations, and the interactions of questions and answers which she invited into the session. I found myself listening to the fundamentals of Buddhism with a real world application, delivered by a Scottish lass in her thirties turned Buddhist nun. I felt we were extremely fortunate to have her come down from Edinburgh just for us (say 5 to 10 people at any one time), and the sessional fee was only a fiver. I lapped up her teachings like a dried-out river bed. And if you read last week’s post, it will be no surprise that I wrote notes afterwards, which I’m taking a look at as I type.

The concepts she taught for us to think about and to try to put into practice to find inner peace included:

Cherishing others – by cherishing others, no matter who they are and what they have done, you’ll feel a weight lifted that otherwise would be filled with anger, jealously or despair. The big question that was asked here was – can you do this cherishing without making yourself vulnerable, weakened, an idiot,  or ‘walked all over’?

If you cherish yourself above others and put yourself first all the time, or push yourself forward before others, you’re creating a negative karmic energy which slowly destroys your good nature, your openness and your ability to love others as we do ourselves.

To recognise the kindness and services done to ourselves in a multitude of ways, whether those kindnesses are intentional or not.

To recognise the social construct we unconsciously adopt – eg judging others, categorising people, not realising that we are all equally significant, all with equal worth.

To have compassion for self and others, to keep your own needs in balance and appreciate the needs of others.

To be mindful of your inner thoughts and feelings, to practice shutting down the fears, doubts, angers and jealousies of negative mind, to develop an open positive mind to attract positive karma into your life.

Ultimate happiness cannot be achieved by external means. External means are only fleeting. Happiness comes from within in the form of inner peace, in which the muddy waters of delusions and distortions we plague ourselves with are stilled, so that the water clears. In this clarity there is room for enlightenment or at least some enlightened moments!

Don’t react to others negative mindsets with a negative mind of your own  – dispel and defuse it for your sake and theirs. Be open and honest and act with integrity. You can change your karma by modifying your inner attitudes and feelings.

The benefits of acceptance, patience, and the detaching from ego-driven attachments  – huge topics far too big to cover here.

So contemplating these, and trying to put some of it into practice, got me started on a midlife journey. This was only the beginning, but it was a beginning instigated by listening to an inspirational (in all the best senses of the word) person, who happened to be a Buddhist nun.

So what were the special qualities that made Devi my guru for at least a little while?

There was a sense of theatrical anticipation in that we waited for her to enter the room in her robes, when everyone suddenly hushed and respectfully responded to her Namaste greeting.

Her voice and tone was quiet and measured. Every word and syllable was carefully enunciated to be soaked up into your being and your heart. There is a real skill to this delivery of information and she had it in abundance. She talked. We listened.

She was humorous and compassionate at the same time.

She was still in herself and glowed with an inner harmony. And I asked her quietly just within myself – how did you get like this? Did following Buddhism really give you this? And at this point, I had to decide how far I wanted to go with these practices. Did I want to learn more, go on a retreat? Did I want to fully embrace this philosophy? The fact that her example raised these questions is the true power of a guru for me.

Devi left after a few months. On her last evening, we all had coffee and biscuits as usual, then she said her goodbyes. Some of the ladies gave her a hug. I stood back, but she reached for me and she gave me a hug and it was one of the most special hugs I ever had. Going to meditation just wasn’t the same after that. The two replacement speakers (one a trainee monk, the other a plain clothes psychiatrist (and yes, I struggled with that one!) ) did their best, but it wasn’t working for me any more in the same environment, so I took Devi’s teachings away with me to carry on my journey.

Now I deliberately haven’t put a link in to connect you to this lady who’s gone on to teach at many retreats and festivals, because she was special to me and isn’t necessarily to you, and you may well have your own past ‘guru’ teachers to remember, but if anyone out there is interested you can listen to Gen Kelsang Devi delivering some teachings on Youtube and judge for yourself.

Cheers for now, and feel free to share any experiences of your own.

Namaste!

 

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About lynnefisher

Writer and visual artist living in Scotland, INFJ type Writer's blog: lynnefisher.wordpress.com Art: lynnehenderson.co.uk Twitter @writeartblog Writers page Facebook https://www.facebook.com/lynnefisherheadtoheadhearttoheart/ Artists page Facebook https://www.facebook.com/lynnehendersonartist/
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6 Responses to On Finding A ‘Guru’ At Meditation Classes

  1. Rachel A. says:

    Buddhism interests me greatly. As does Hinduism. I do not know which path to follow and am seeking further information of both. I recently bought a book by Paramahansa Yogananda and although I’ve only just finished reading it, I already want to read it all over again. The things he wrote just made so much sense and hit deep with me. I really liked what I read.

    A good few years ago I would stick a tape into the video and practice yoga three times a week. The tape sadly wore out and the video player was replaced by dvd. Never before have I felt such peace and never have since. I tried again a couple of years ago and managed to injure my shoulder in the process so made no progress at all. I find myself wanting and needing that peace again now.

    I try to meditate every day, even if it’s for five minutes. Your description of your thoughts are the same thing I go through every time which made me smile. I really struggle to concentrate on my breath so use guided meditations on YouTube or I use my mala beads with a repeated phrase. As for the tinnitus, I find background noise actually helps, whether it’s gentle music or white noise (I have an app for that).

    Thanks for the read Lynne. It’s funny how you’ve written about something that is currently very important to me. Another one of those funny signs I keep seeing, or just confirmation. Who knows?

    Liked by 2 people

    • lynnefisher says:

      Hi Rachel, good luck with your search. I know the feeling you’re talking about when reading a ‘new’ spiritual based philosophy. I have a few favourite books which I read and re-read where the threads are in harmony with one another and which I feel an great affinity for while trying to put new modes of being into practice. There is certainly something to it and I wouldn’t go back to how I was. I did self taught yoga at home when I was in my early twenties, had a record track for each position, managed not to sprain something, luckily!, but it was really relaxing, though the breathing bored me, so I dropped that part! I could just about manage a half lotus, but never a full. Those were the days, now I can’t even do a half one.

      Meditation-wise – well, when I’m painting I really relax and go ‘somewhere else’, but apart from that I should do more – even if just a little every day.

      The serendipity you’re talking about is probably a sign – so good luck with your journey and decisions about which direction to follow. I have ended up doing a mix that suits me – buddhim, taoism and psychology (of course!). Let me know how you get on, and thanks so much for sharing.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. galenpearl says:

    Pick up a magazine on most any spiritual tradition, including secular traditions like the simplicity movement, and one of the things you first notice is all the ads — enlightenment and simple living can be expensive! Books, seminars, retreats, DVDs, cushions, prayer beads –it all starts to add up, doesn’t it? But then every now and then someone or something comes along, and your soul starts to sing, and everything makes sense in that beyond sense sort of way.

    As for meditation, I’ve been hit and miss with it over many years, but in recent months decided to let go of all the equipment and rituals and just sit. I set my timer for a dedicated time…and just sit. When my mind wanders, and of course it does, I focus on my breath. But mostly I just sit. Listen. Wait. Now I love it and look forward to it. Even better when I’m at the cabin and can sit by the creek.

    I love your honesty in your writing.

    Liked by 2 people

    • lynnefisher says:

      Sorry, Galen, I thought I’d replied to this already. Yes, spiritual growth is certainly a business, which can be offputting, as if soul nourishment is somehow tainted by the very avenues and opportuntites created for it, advertised for a cost. I’m going to try meditating again, with the simple approach as you describe because that way feels most natural to me. Your stream at the cabin sounds perfect! I was talking to someone this week who is trying a chanting form taught in a group, which just wouldn’t be for me (and this person isn’t too comfortable with it either, but feels group pressure to go with it). There are so many offshoots and different schools, it can be bewildering for people seeking this kind of new direction. I like to keep it simple and solo. Many thanks for sharing.

      Like

  3. Great piece as ever Lynne… My experience of meditation has been similar, but then I joined a group whose teachings were based on the fact that mediation tends to bring up stuff’ but doesn’t deal with it, and we experienced many different forms of therapy to recognise the old pattersn that were obstructing or making us unhappy… it took some years – but no gurus… just teachers who had been there before and were still on their way.
    Once when I was a helper, a woman in her 60’s was having real trouble trying to keep still in her first meditation session, so I was asked to take her out to work on this. I noticed that as she talked about her hated stepmother her hand was shaking… I told her to let it shake, and then her whole arm took over, and then her whole body shook and raged, for some time, until all that rage and tension had been released… she looked a different person… and was so happy ! To me, that is the function of meditation, to help release old stuff and re-connect us with our inner selves…
    Love your thoughtful pieces…

    Liked by 1 person

    • lynnefisher says:

      That’s great feedback, Valerie. I found about about repeating patterns of feeling, behaving and reacting, causing so much potential trouble when I was doing my counselling course, and I learned about the ones going on within me too. It was quite an education and I took it further by myself, for the better I may add. Psychology is where my heart lies, but meditation is certainly a way of connecting to the inner self where tensions can be spotted and looked at. What a wonderful story about the lady filled with suppressed rage, makes perfect sense that she found being still with herself so difficult, so uncomfortable, and what a wise thing you did to advice her to go with her feelings. I like your definition of the function of meditation, in fact, I like it so much, you’ve inspired me to do some on a more regular basis. So thank you for that!

      Like

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