I sat still at church last Sunday. I recognized that’s hardly noteworthy for a 41-year-old woman, but I’m rather pleased with myself. It’s not before that day I was getting up and walking around or sliding under the pews each week, and I managed to stay in my seat (mostly) during 20 years of school. But I’ve rarely been still. I don’t tap my foot, drum my fingers, or, like a friend in college, rock back and forth. I just fidget. I wiggle. I lean back, then forward, then to one side. I remove my shoes and sit on my feet. Then I dangle my feet back down, rubbing the asleep foot with the awake one. I even whisper to my seat mate. week.
Until this week. About halfway through the sermon, I noticed I was still. Back straight, head up (awake!), feet on the floor still. And silent. I was awed.
I’d spent the previous two days at a workshop/retreat led by Russill Paul, a teacher of spiritual chant and author of The Yoga of Sound and Jesus in the Lotus who leads similar sessions around the world, promoting interspirituality, meditation, and enlightenment. I blogged four months ago about my first experience with Kirtan, a call-and-response Sanskrit chant experience that’s gaining momentum in the United States. Since then, I’ve been to another local Kirtan evening, listened to chant CDs for more hours than my children would like, and found a mantra that works for me. When the Russill Paul weekend of Kirtan and retreat opened, I was quick to sign up.
What a weekend. The Friday night chant soothed me, but it was Saturday’s spiritual practice that touched my soul deeply. Admittedly, I was a bit unsure about so much meditation and chant in a single day. I opted to stick to a chair, since my experiences sitting on the floor for longer than an hour or so have been far from comfortable (upper back and shoulder pain commences within minutes). I felt, well, a bit wimpy with the chair option, at least for the first session. Surely meditation would be more meaningful if I’d brought me cushion and blanket and seated myself properly on the earth. I wasn’t the only chair-dweller, however, and I quickly let that go.
Granted, some of the meditations and chants involved movement, so it’s not like I sat the whole 7.5 hours. But the room was just so still during the sitting parts. Still and silent. I don’t think I’ve ever been somewhere (that contained people) that was so still. Not wanting to disruptive, I worked very hard at not moving when we were to be still. And, to my surprise, rather than getting harder as the day progressed, it became easier. My mind still wandered and fidgeted away, but my body stayed put.
I didn’t give that much thought until Sunday morning, when I noticed mid-sermon that I was still. And quiet. Although seated next to a dear friend, I was quiet. For the sermon. And did I mention my focus? With that still body came a more quiet mind, one that listened with more intention. Hmm.
Since Russill Paul visited, I’ve returned to quiet sitting and meditating each day, generally twice a day. Not for long. Russill encouraged just sitting for a minute, which always seems manageable, and assured us the minute would grow. He was right. While some sessions are interrupted by a child or other distraction just a handful of minutes in, others go longer. My mind is still leaping around, although I’m content to notice the leaps and return to my breath, again and again. My body, however, is still, still in a way I’d never experienced. There is a peace in that, and I’m certain my mind will learn to follow suit.