by author Whitney Stewart
I began meditation and yoga in high school after a knee injury kept me from playing sports. At first I struggled with being still and watching my breath. Some days I felt grounded and calm. Other days I felt like a failure because my busy mind was so loud. After thirty years of practice, my mind is still busy, but I watch it as if it were a fountain of colored lights and let it be. Difficulty comes not from mental movement but from becoming lost in thought.
Meditation has taught me to experience an expanded sense of being that is not limited to body or mind. It’s as if my skin disappears and nothing separates me from anything or anyone. In this state, I lack nothing, and I’m inspired to project compassion to those who need it.
After Hurricane Katrina upended New Orleans where I live, I volunteered as a creative writing teacher in a public school. I realized quickly that my fifth-grade students were suffering from stress and family dysfunction and couldn’t easily focus on writing. They fought on the playground and acted out in class. Nobody had taught them skills to self-regulate or resolve conflict.
I used simple meditation techniques with them — breathing and visualizations — and after some weeks, the children responded positively. “I feel like I’m floating on clouds,” one said. “It’s so peaceful,” said another. They began to concentrate more easily, to understand and follow my directions, and to write stories with more narrative depth. More importantly, they had a tool for responding to their own harmful emotions.
I wrote Meditation is an Open Sky so children can learn meditation on their own or in other classrooms or groups. I wish I’d written it sooner for my post-Katrina kids. Wherever they are now, perhaps they still remember how to focus their mind and heart and live with more ease and kindness.
What’s your favorite way to calm your mind?