Meditation classes aim to reduce everyday stress, foster community

Meditation classes aim to reduce everyday stress, foster community

It’s 12:30pm on a Wednesday, and instead of eating a carton of yogurt at my desk while responding to e-mails, I’m sitting on a metal folding chair among about a dozen strangers. My eyes are closed, my hands are folded loosely in my lap, and I’ve been told to focus on my breath, so I’m trying to ignore the seemingly endless to-do list scrolling through my head.

Did I remember to turn the dryer off? Do I have time to grab a sandwich before my meeting? I hope that Amazon order shipped…

“If you find that the mind has drifted, be aware that that is just the thinking mind doing its job,” says Kristina Nell Weaver in a quiet, dulcet tone that pulls me away from my trance.

Weaver is leading the weekly lunch hour meditation group at Common Ground Healing Arts, and the 60-minute mindfulness session is a welcome break from the office. With my tendency to constantly click a pen, crack my knuckles, or play with the slinky that lives on my desk, I’m surprised by my ability to remain physically relaxed and still, but I learn quickly that quieting my mind is a much greater challenge. The session is mostly silent after Weaver instructs us to concentrate on how our bodies are anchored—to the chair, the cushion, the floor—but every few minutes she offers gentle reminders to refocus our thoughts from chore lists and holiday shopping to what our bodies are doing in the present moment.

It’s easy to get frustrated when I realize for the twelfth time that my mind is still racing, and I have to direct my thoughts back to relaxing. But Weaver explained after class that even seasoned practitioners find themselves drifting during meditation, and it’s important to come back into the present without being too hard on yourself.

“It’s a really common misunderstanding that meditation is about emptying the mind,” she said. “You can really take a moment to enjoy the experience of waking up from the trance of thinking, rediscovering your body, re-relaxing, and kind of going back to the anchor of the breath in your own time.”

Weaver is one of a rotating group of teachers from the Insight Meditation Community of Charlottesville (IMCC)—a local nonprofit that promotes the instruction and practice of Buddhist insight meditation—who lead drop-in sessions at Common Ground each week. I’m the only one to raise my hand when Weaver asks who is new to meditation, and everyone seems to know each other. And for a lot of students, that’s what keeps them coming back every week.

“It’s very rewarding, the feeling of community,” said Carol Greene, who’s been attending the classes for about a year. “We’re all different individuals coming together as a group, and we all kind of connect on a deeper level.”

Just last week, Greene said a mishap left the class without a teacher.

“There were more of us here than usual, and we all talked about our own practices,” she said. “So we said we’ll just do it ourselves.”

Greene said the class did three Oms—a traditional mantra used in some forms of meditation—together before sharing an hour-long, unguided, silent session.

Before her first foray into meditation last year, Greene said she never would have imagined that she could sit still and quiet her mind for an hour. The first few sittings can be rough, and it’s easy to get discouraged.

“You need to be gentle with yourself,” she said, adding that it takes a couple weeks of daily practice to start seeing and feeling progress. “It does get easier, and you’re able to relax, and put space between your thoughts.”

It’s not difficult to imagine how beneficial a meditation practice could be, despite my initial inability to focus for longer than a few minutes. Weaver said her students find their way to Common Ground and IMCC for relief from physical pain, emotional turmoil, and everything in between, and the mindfulness techniques start to weave their way through everyday life.

“It’s a way to be fully honest about what’s happening, but not be at the mercy of the waves of whatever issues brought you here,” Weaver said. “It doesn’t change the fact that life can be hard, but it has really transformed my abilities to cope with difficulty.”

A lot of beginners have a first-time experience similar to mine, and walk away unsure if the practice is for them. It seems there’s no right or wrong way to meditate, but the longer you do it, the clearer its purpose and meaning become. Weaver said even mundane, everyday tasks, like brushing your teeth or eating an apple, can be meditative, if you’re paying attention to how your body is moving, feeling, and reacting.

“That extra level of awareness of what’s really happening in the moment helps to create a little bit of spaciousness in your mind,” Weaver said. “In many ways, it all boils down to being aware of what you’re doing in your body when you’re doing it.”

Current classes

The Insight Meditation Community of Charlottesville offers free drop-in classes throughout the week,
which include a 30-40 minute meditation followed by a discussion on relating the practice to everyday life and sharing it with others.

Other services include periodic six-week introduction courses, weekend retreats, and various classes on different themes related to meditation. For more information and an updated calendar, visit
www.imeditation.org.

  • Tuesdays 7:30-9pm at Jefferson Area Board for Aging, 674 Hillsdale Dr.
  • Wednesdays noon-1pm at Common Ground, 233 4th St. NW
  • Thursdays 7:30-8:30am at Common Ground

 

Posted In:     Living,Uncategorized

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