In the last year, Liadan Hynes’ marriage fell apart. She is now working on adjusting to the new reality. In her weekly column, Things Fall Apart she is exploring the myriad ways a person can find their way back to themselves.
About six months into the break-up, I realise I need to do something about the stress levels. Build in some pressure valves. I decide on a meditation course. The mother comes too; we make a weekend of it in London.
It’s been a long-term goal to learn how to meditate but I’ve never found a course I liked the look of – a lot of it just seems a bit on the incense-burning side of things. Then I see a post on Instagram by a beauty journalist I follow about a course she attended in London. There’s a mention of Kensington, it conjures up visions of Regency houses and private parks, Stella McCartney and Nigella Lawson. This is it, I think.
A chat by phone beforehand is required; it feels slightly like going into an interview. What do you want to get out of this, Michael asks gently, and, in the way that kindness can unexpectedly completely undo you, I’m suddenly crying. ‘Sorry,’ I apologise, ‘it’s our wedding anniversary’. He is completely unfazed by this stranger sobbing down the phone. I like him already.
The course is being held in a typical London mews, the sort of thing you might find in a Richard Curtis movie, all cobblestone and wisteria and Farrow & Ball grey window frames. Perfect.
Things kick off with a short ceremony. Jill and Michael, the couple who run the London Meditation Centre, engage in some chanting.
‘How did I so completely forget the kind of person I am?’ I wail inwardly.
A person who hates any sort of showy ceremony, who has a highly over-developed cringe response. ‘Will there be group participation?’ I wonder in horror. I start desperately plotting a discreet exit.
This part over, we sit down, and Michael quickly reveals himself to be a thoroughly sensible type of person, witty and a little sarcastic. He teaches Vedic meditation. Developed in India thousands of years ago, it was created for what they call householders, multi-tasking working people, not those living a monastic, spiritual life. As a non-spiritual atheist, this feels good.
We’re brought separately to a room where Michael gives each of us a mantra, Jill leads me there; she is an ombré vision in various shades of muted grey. ‘Sometimes meditation comes to people when they need it most’, she murmurs softly, looking off into the distance. It’s surprisingly soothing.
‘What’s your mantra’, asks the mother afterwards, the look of a naughty child on her face. Many years ago as a student she attended a course with a group of friends in Kerry. On the bus afterwards half the group shared their mantras only to find that they had all been given the same one. I pompously refuse to tell her, we’ve been instructed to keep it a secret. ‘I loved it,’ I say of the course, and I can see she is making a conscious effort not to look smug. She has been at me for years to try it and I, as you do with things your mother tells you to do, have ignored her for years. She’s been announced to the class as a meditator of over forty years, and to my amusement there’s a ripple of awe throughout the group, a fact which she takes serenely in her stride.
Throughout all this she has been a rock. When someone quietly consistently confronts you with their calm assumption that you can handle whatever it is life is throwing at you, it makes it that much easier to believe that you can.
‘You’re like an onion’, Michael tells us, and for a start, we are peeling away the layers of stress. I spend the rest of the trip with a splitting headache; I can sense the stress exiting my body in waves.
It feels like I’ve been given a full body encasement of insulation. Suddenly, underneath everything, I have a layer of not giving a damn. Things can bother me, but only so much. Deep within I am cocooned.
‘Meditate twice a day,’ they say.
I am evangelical about it, boring all around me with tales of the life changing properties of meditation. I can feel the work wife’s barely restrained eye roll as I set off again.
The first time I can’t start the day with meditation feels like nails scratching down a blackboard. Admittedly, it involves flying with a toddler, an event perfectly capable of inducing this feeling on its own, but I am raw. Michael says that that is how stressed we felt much of the time pre meditation, we just get used to it and know no different.
There are lots of questions at the course along the ‘am I doing it right?’ lines. Which never occurs to me. I seem to have a built-in laissez fair attitude to the whole thing, a whatever works approach. I never feel remotely transcendental, relating more to an anecdote Michael tells about Jerry Seinfeld describing his thoughts during meditation. ‘Mantra, mantra, mantra, mantra, what am I going to eat for breakfast, mantra, mantra.’ I realise that it’s from my mum. Having grown up with someone who meditates, it’s no big deal.
‘I am second generation’, I think smugly. Got it from my mamma.
Photo by Aleksandar Radovanovic on Unsplash