When I lived at the meditation center, I liked to visit this cute little Vermont town. Having lived in cities all my life, I would strain to imagine what it was like to live, day in and day out, in White River Junction. After dropping someone off at the train station here, I would kick around in the railroad yard in a wistful, longing way. It hardly seemed possible to actually live in such a place, unless one were either financially independent or willing to live very simply… but ten years and several twists and turns later, here I am, living near White River Junction and frequenting the Shambhala Meditation Center that happens to be located right next to that old train station.
White River Junction: A meeting of the White River and the Connecticut River; a meeting of Interstates 89 and 91; a meeting of trains and buses; a meeting of old and new, rich and poor, nature and artifice; a meeting of me and my mind; a meeting of me and other humans who are meeting their minds.
The meeting of my mind starts the moment I step into the White River Shambhala Center. Before I can even name what I’m sensing, I’m softened by the earthy red of the hallway walls, the rich warmth of the big wood bench, the flash of flowers in the alcove, and the awkward but direct smile of the person in a blue blazer who is stationed near the door. Whatever I was worrying about – and there’s always something – instantly falls away. I’m here, but what’s next? I’ve come a little late, so I need to sit on a meditation cushion in the hallway until the gatekeeper lets me in. It’s an awkward few moments, and I see that I have the courage to bear them. I notice that rushing up those stairs affected my heart rate, and I can feel it slowly settling down. After a few minutes, I’m ushered into the meditation hall.
I furtively look around to see who else is there. A few people I recognize, a few I don’t. The person sitting in front of us by the gong looks back at me, and then her eyes return to their place about four feet in front of her. I do the same with my eyes. I start to feel my body on the cushion. I remember the meditation instruction I’ve been given about posture, breath, and thoughts. This is starting to feel good. I’m doing it – I’m meditating! No matter how many times I’ve brought myself to this place, there is always a feeling that I’ve never done it before – never been here, exactly, before. Just as I’m starting to get lost in the self-congratulations, there is the sound of a coupling of train cars outside the building, and I really wake up!
Sometimes on the meditation cushion, the meeting of one’s mind can feel just like that – like two boxcars colliding; other times, it’s more like the meeting of a tributary and a major river, or a merging of traffic on a highway, or a joining of old and new, rich and poor, nature and artifice. It’s best to just stay curious, as they say, and to relax in the knowledge that, as they also say, it’s all good. Who is this “they” anyhow?
When I’m on the meditation cushion, I’m also meeting the minds of the many who have gone before me. Meditation practice is a raw and lonely experience – there’s no one looking, really, which means that there’s no one to blame or to praise for your experience, particularly. But there is a vast world of beings past and present who have done or who are doing what you are doing right now, and you meet their minds the minute you decide to try to meet your own. So it’s not entirely lonely, but still, it’s your experience and yours alone.
The person sitting in front rings the gong three times, and a train hoots as if to confirm that the sitting session is over. Someone tells us about upcoming classes and events at the Center, and then we are strangely free to get up from our cushions. I’ve been anticipating this moment for much of the sitting session, but now that it’s here I’m a tiny bit sad that my time with myself is over. We have been invited to stay for cheese and crackers, and I find that, even though I’m usually shy – plus I have lots of other things to do – I do want to linger a moment with the others who have spent their last hour on a cushion in this space. I’m feeling oddly celebratory.
Thus the meeting of me and others in my community who are committed to meeting their minds. When we step out of the meditation hall and into the community room, I can feel that my session hasn’t really ended. There are just more sights, sounds, thoughts, and so on to attend to and let go of. Some of them are quite beautiful, or tasty, or interesting. Others make me uncomfortable. For a while I can remember to meet them all with equanimity. It is as if my time on the meditation cushion has given me some kind of “equanimity momentum,” and I now get to coast for a while with others who are similarly relaxed. I recall the Shambhala phrases “ordinary magic” and “enlightened society,” and I wonder if this is it!
A lot goes on at a Shambhala Center. The offerings – and the opportunities to offer oneself – are incredibly diverse, and they seem to never cease. At the heart of all this activity, though, are the small and brief meetings that take place moment by moment. May they be gentle meetings, and may they cause all beings to flourish!