I settled into the hard chair, the wood still a bit chilly from the cool air drifting through the Tai Chi space. On the other side of the room was a wall, artfully painted indigo and wispy, cloud-blue. The wood floor gleamed under my feet. The sounds of water bubbled up and around a giant pink crystal in a fountain. This soft ambiance provided a nice contrast to the sounds of traffic on Trade Street and the rise and fall of the voices of people making jewelry in the Bubbling Well Tea and Bead Bar. Angela’s low and rhythmic voice gently punctuated the other sounds, leading us through the first steps of a seventeen-minute meditation.
So began my first Mindfulness Meditation at Golden Flower Tai Chi Center. The group meditation opportunity takes place the first Wednesday of each month from 12:15 – 12:45 pm at the Golden Flower Center on Trade Street in the heart of Winston-Salem’s Arts District. We were gently guided by Angela Savitri a Duke Certified Integrative Health Coach. She received her training directly from the Program’s Founder, Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD. Jon took central teachings about meditation from Buddhism and created a secular method that is accessible to people of all ability levels and faiths.
Angela is clearly well-trained and comfortable leading groups through a process, but she is far from the stereotypically stern or rigid meditation teacher. Her frequent, self-depreciating laughter punctuates her introduction to our lunchtime meditation session. Grace and ease flow through the space and by the time we begin you can see shoulders drop around our circle of seven men and women.
In a brief informal talk before meditating, Angela shared the Seven Pillars of Mindfulness to provide a framework for our short session, and also for our general practice. We went around the circle and read each principal out loud and then she suggested we pick one Mindfulness Pillar to focus on for the day. They are:
- Non-Judging – I am an impartial witness to my own experience. I am aware of my tendency to categorize experiences as good or bad. I am aware that this tendency creates automatic reaction instead of discerned responses.
- Patience – I give time and space to my own unfolding. I honor this process for myself and others.
- Beginner’s Mind – I open my mind to experience any encounter as if it was for the first time. I let go illusions of ‘knowing’ so I may be present to my current experience.
- Trust – I trust myself. I do not lend authority to others as the master of my experience.
- Non-Striving – I release any purpose or goal of my mindfulness practice. I allow presence to be and practice non-doing.
- Acceptance – I accept my current experience with compassion. I have more access to choice when I accept.
- Letting Go – I let go to the holding of pleasant experiences and the rejection of unpleasant ones.
I resonated to both Non-Judgment and Letting Go so I decided I would bend the rules a bit by holding both concepts in the back of mind as I meditated. As Angela talked us through focusing on the breath going in and out of our nose, on our shoulders relaxing and on other present moment prompts, my attention varied. I would shift from easily focusing on what she was talking about to being distracted by the voices from the Bead Bar, or the soft ticking of the wall clock, or the beep of the credit card machine followed by the sound of paper ripping as the receipt was delivered. But just as I started to slide faster into my inner mind games — thinking about how lame I was, or worse, how irritating the noise-makers were — Angela would incorporate the distractions into the mediation. She guided us to think about our feelings and sensations as an opportunity to practice. To be mindful amidst our every day experience with non-judgment. To just let go. What a precious opportunity to immediately learn to bring the benefits of mindfulness meditation into our day-to-day, moment-to-moment lives. To remember that we can always return to the breath and to the natural grace present in each moment.
“Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already.” ~ Pema Chodron