Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Meditating In A Cold Church

So I have problems with anxiety/insomnia and meditation really helps. For a while last year I was going to the weekly dharma classes at the NY Insight Meditation Center, but for some reason I got out of the habit and stopped going. Insight meditation, or vipassana is simple: you just observe your own breath. It's actually a form of theravada buddhism which is nontheistic and tells its practitioners not to rely on blind faith but their own experience. In other words: don't just believe that meditation is going to help you, try it and see if it makes a difference in your life. Which it did and does. The nontheism appeals to me as well. It's not that I don't believe in a god it's that I don't think there's anyway any of us can actually know if there's a god or not... An adamant agnostic, if you will. More pressing matters than whether there's a god or not, as far as I'm concerned, are how to lead a moral life filled with compassion and some level of inner peace.

But over the weekend I saw a sign for a meditation class right here in Brooklyn Heights at the Unitarian Church led by a group of Kadampa Buddhists and I thought I might as well try. I'd never been to a Mahayana Buddhism group before and was a little curious. (Mahayana, as opposed to Theravada, promotes the idea of salvation through the belief in Buddha as a theistic figure. Not really my thing, but one of my resolutions this year was to keep an open mind about new experiences.) R was out and about visiting friends and I had the night to myself so I took a yoga class, showered, and headed on over.

Big mistake. First of all, the church was FREEZING. (My hair was still a little wet from the shower, which meant the whole time all I could feel was this ring of cold wrapped around my head.) And the talk, led by Kelsang Demo, was one of the more simpistic things I've heard. The topic was "Enjoying Other People" but for the first five minutes all she kept saying over and over again was "We have a lot of reasons why we can't enjoy other people. We say--I can't enjoy him because he's too stupid or I can't enjoy her because she's irritating. We all have a hard time enjoying peole." Etc. Etc. At the end of the 45 minute talk I thought I was going to keel over if I heard the word enjoy one more time. Our homework assignment for the coming week: Enjoy others and think of ourselves as a friend.

It just doesn't seem as--and jeez I can't believe I'm saying this--as insightful as the vipassana folks. I just felt like it was a bunch of psychobabble.

The bottom line is next week I'll return the the Chelsea-based Insight folks for my meditation/dharma fix.



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