A Meditation Like No Other | by Warren Goldie
First Person Essay
Open up. Go deeper.
JL’s voice drifts down from the speakers high up on the walls of the spacious chapel, mingling with The Fray’s How to Save a Life as if it were written right into the song. Sitting cross-legged on the carpeted floor, I watch his slender form meander through the softly lit room, stepping deftly through the sea of prone bodies.
Let it happen.
JL wants us to turn our attention inward and “sit” in our personal goulash, mingle with our emotional history and relive it. Hopefully, if all goes well, we might break free of its limiting grip.
I’m totally ripe for this. I’m at a time in life when I’ve lost patience with my past conditioning, those cloying, repetitive and obsolete behaviors, “the long bag we drag behind us,” as the poet Robert Bly calls it.
I’d been straining under the weight of that bag for some time and noticing many of my friends doing it, too, struggling with the same old challenges and limitations year after year.
The exteriors had changed, to be sure; the interior, though, remained suspiciously the same.
I had met a woman named Rene who told me about a meditation group in Denver called the Miracle of Love. Their goal was catharsis: opening the blocked channels that keep us stuck. That sounded good to me, so I found my way to an introductory talk and then was invited to the longer intensive at the group’s chapel.
It is hard to not be moved by Donna De Lorey’s imploring In the Sun which is exploding out of the speakers. I’ve never meditated to background music before. I like it. I can feel something happening to me. It’s almost as if I’ve moved. As if I’ve climbed up on a high-diving board in my mind and jumped into…
An ocean? The subconscious?
When I bob back up to the surface, I hear someone sobbing.
It doesn’t take long to realize it’s me.
Though my eyes are closed, I can see the glowing face of my 12-year-old daughter. A powerful longing cuts through me. But before I can even consider what is happening, she is gone, replaced by a different image: me at 10 years old.
Go with it.
My throat tightens up. Donna’s pleading voice beckons me to go deeper, and I sense many more images pushing for expression.
Gossamer webs shoot out from my early childhood in Brooklyn, New York. Playing stickball in the canyon-like courtyard of Montauk High School. Dashing between parked cars to catch a football. Watching my mother and aunt, both war refuges, place jars of cucumbers that will become pickles on a windowsill of cracked green paint. Staring at pinups tacked on the walls of Uncle Alex’s basement where few people venture. Reading Superman and Archie comics from the stack in the foyer of my aunt’s brownstone.
The archive I’m connecting with feels very real, in fact far more real than my present life does, which is suspiciously absent.
Shadowy shapes move all around me, and unsettling moans fill the air, wrenching me from the caress of 41st street. There is much going on: jumping, dancing, crawling on the floor, clothing being shed and flying up into the air.
JL’s lips are a millimeter from the mic, his breath just about in my ear.
It’s okay! Go wherever you need to.
Yes, JL! Yes! I reach deep into the long bag, intoxicated by the crazed scene around me and jump to my feet and join in the dance and the movement, reaching my arms out and spinning in circles in the dim lighting, my usual self-consciousness flying off me like roof-shingles in a hurricane.
At one point, I freeze in mid-pirouette, bounced out of the spell by an intense though muffled scream a few feet away. It sounds dampened, as if by a pillow, and I begin to notice other low-volume unnerving wails. It dawns on me they’ve been going on all along.
Of course— the scream towel! I remember now. There’s one in the kit bag I’ve been provided and I reach for it — it’s an ordinary bathroom towel — and press it to my mouth and throat I’ve been instructed.
There’s no reason to hold on anymore!
A wrenching scream erupts out of me, echoing the anger and frustration of that boy who loathed leaving Brooklyn, who missed his friends and the warmth of that beloved street, who was taken to a cold, cookie-cutter suburb. I scream until sweat and tears glisten on my cheeks and my throat becomes parched, and then dash over and plunge my hand into one of the bowls of cough drops and suck on the little disk until the fire is quelled.
The air seems to be in motion now, laden with the chemicals of raw emotion. Colored lights vibrate off stained glass windows, figures rise up and fleece-shirted arms wave, punch the air, and swoop heavenward as people run screaming and grinning, their stockinged feet padding through the space which has been provided for this very purpose. Everyone lost in their own world, their own dream.
There is a different story at the back of the chapel. There, people kneel at a long altar filled with sacred objects and commune with photos of the group’s gurus or scribble notes on pads pulled from their kit bags. Thoughts, memories, epiphanies, manic ramblings.
A half hour later — or maybe it was a day— the music slows and softens and everyone falls to the floor, spent.
I am breathing. That is all I know. I am feeling the rise and fall of my chest. How real that felt. I peek at the others, who like me, have journeyed for three hours to places that will not be discussed, dissected or articulated, and who, like me, lay splayed out and unmoving on the carpet in what must be an altered state.
I feel as if I’d ascended the summit of Everest or completed the Appalachian Trail. I’m spent and energized both, exhausted and satisfied, as I pass through the doors and out into the frigid Denver nightscape. Following along with the pack, saying nothing, we disperse to our cars.
I drive home through air that is miraculously crystalline, imagining I could reach out of my window and catch a handful of star dust. Where the weight of the long bag had been now there is only lightness. Empty space.
What was that? I wonder. It’s a question for which I have no immediate answer. Maybe I never will.
There is madness in us all. The detritus of the past, seen and unseen, acknowledged or denied, rises up and seizes us and we become what it is and lose who we think we are. We can’t avoid this. We can erect walls to box it in and try to manage it but that doesn’t change the fact of what it is and does.
But perhaps there are ways to be free of it — for a time. If it means howling like a wolf in a den of the possessed, so be it. If it means spiriting oneself into terrifying territory and leaving the known behind, why not? I wonder if what I’ve experienced is akin to the vision quest of the native peoples.
I think about the Miracle of Love hosts, a population unto themselves — spiritual community or spiritual cult, take your pick, these people who are determined to break free and bring you along with them, if you care, or dare, to come along.
Can it be done? Who knows. There was something about what happened. The lightness stayed with me for many weeks.