The nature of the mind is to be restless. It becomes drunk with egoism and pride. The scorpion of desire stings it…

Purification…begins with the awareness and observation of the mind’s contents, of its positive and negative aspects, and by standing apart from it, as one would observe a child playing.

–Yogi Hari


On Thursday, after a 39-day stretch of vegetarianism, I had an accident.  I missed “egg” on the list of ingredients posted by the pasta salad at the Whole Foods deli.  Well, more specifically I overlooked “mayonnaise,” which contains egg.  After a few bites I thought it tasted funny, so I examined the ingredients more closely and discovered my error.  My first reaction – “UGH!” – was closely followed by my usual flippancy, “O-well, whatever, now I start all over.  Guess I’ll have a hamburger tomorrow night before I do!”

Then I went into complete burger-obsession mode.  I engaged in burger chat with several people.  I made dinner plans for Friday at a steakhouse that serves amazing burgers.  I fantasized in elaborate detail about my burger dinner, down to the details of what I would wear at said event – a white sundress with silver embroidery (a dress I do not actually own, mind you) accessorized with a pearl bracelet and earrings and silver sandals.

But then something weird happened.

 (As if having an in-depth fantasy about a hamburger isn’t weird enough.)

Wait. Let me back this story up. 

<Insert sound of a tape rewinding all squeakylike here>

Several days ago I received an unexpected invitation to attend a 2 ½ hour meditation. This meditation was scheduled for 4:15 a.m. Friday morning when “the channels of energy are the most clear…”   It sounded a bit hokey to me, which of course made it exactly the sort of thing I wanted to do.  When Thursday rolled around, I ate the wretched egg pasta, had my burger fantasy, plotted my feasting on the massacred, and went to bed late. I went through the motions of setting my iPhone alarm for 3:45 a.m. with no intention of actually getting up when it quacked. Then I fell into a deep sleep, from which I awoke abruptly a few hours later in the dark. I looked the time – 3:43 a.m. – two minutes before the alarm was scheduled.  I was utterly awake.  Not even traces of tiredness lingered, so there was no pleasure to be had in hitting “snooze” and drifting back to sleep.  There was nothing else to do, so I threw on pajamas and left to go channel energy, or raise my consciousness to a higher level, or be transformed, or something.

I meditate.  I do! With a certain degree of regularity even.  But usually not with complete strangers. Certainly not before sunrise. Never for 2 ½ hours at a time.  Not while chanting a whole bunch of stuff. And not with people on a bus tuned in by phone. So this was all a very new thing for me.

Before we began, the meditation leader gave instruction. Breathe this way; say this, that, then this; contract this muscle then that one; etc.  It was ok to take breaks, stand up, lie down, or whatever. We were told we would still benefit from the effects of the positive energy even if we weren’t participating directly. With group chanting, the idea is that the energy produced in the harmony of the sound vibrations is more important than the meaning. This is good as the mantra was in Punjabi, a tonal language, which I doubt any among us spoke fluently enough to have mastered the nuances of its three tones. Of course, I could be wrong about that.  In any case, if you’re curious about the meaning, the translation of the mantra was something like:

One Creator brought forth everything.

Truth is the Creator’s identity.


WOW! Infinite light from infinite darkness.

-Guru Amar Das

Ok, I put my own spin on that translation, but you get the gist, yes?

After the instruction, the meditation began.  This is how it went down for me:


Fifteen(ish) people sit cross-seated in a circle on mats. Their eyes are closed. The chanting begins. I sit there silently trying to figure out how the breathing goes with the chanting. 


As quietly as possible I attempt to join in the chant.

Ok….thaaaat was awkward.

 I’m mortified by the off-key, stumbling sound of my own voice. I fade out hoping no one noticed.  I sit quietly practicing the breathing pattern and muscle contractions.


I join in again and find a place for my voice that isn’t as obnoxious or halting. It’s difficult to coordinate the breathing, contractions, and vocalizations, but I keep going cycle after cycle after cycle after cycle until I sorta get the rhythm.


The lady next to me has a nice voice. She keeps changing her pitch. On some cycles she chants falsetto, sometimes not.  She’s doing a harmony thing that’s nice.

I think my legs are starting to fall asleep. Yes, they are definitely falling asleep.

 Danger! Danger! Pins and needles!

I squint one eye open to see what’s going on out there.  Not much. Some people have changed positions.

Ok. I’m straightening my legs now.

I straighten my legs.

 Ahh.  Better.  Ok, focus!


I chant. I chant. I chant – on and on.

Ugh. My back hurts with my legs like this.

I peek one eye open.

Ohmyword. That lady has tricked-out her yoga mat with a furry white blanket and a white cushion that kinda looks throne-like. Is she wearing a turban? I wonder what that’s about. Oh good, some people are in corpse pose.  That’s what I want to do.

I close my eyes and corpse out.


Rivers of voices meld together flowing into one another. I float along happily in the stream.

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.


Room is spinning. I’m about to fall asleep.  I gotta get up! I sit up and get situated again in cross-seated position atop a folded blanket so blood will flow into my legs this time. The lady next to me smells fantastic. I peek to see what’s going on. One person is standing and doing interesting arm things.  One person is in child’s pose.  Several people now are in corpse.  One is in a seated twist. One has a rosary. Ack! That serene girl across the room in white is looking at me!  What– is she the meditation monitor? If she is, I’m in BIG TROUBLE! Ok. Eyes closed. Inhale. Contract. Chant. Inhale. Contract. Chant. Inhale. Contract. Chant….


…Inhale. Contract. Chant….

Good GRIEF!! What was I thinking? This is worse than being 6 years old and having to sit in church for an hour. I want to jump out of my skin! Why did I come here?! This is torturous! Horrible! My legs hurt. My butt hurts. My back hurts. AAAAEEEEEIIIIII!!

 Hey you (me), hush.

 I think back to something I read recently about meditation.  The author described it as akin to being locked in a room with a maniac. 

Yes, that would be me, right now.

 Someone tell the maniac to shut up. 

Shut up maniac!


Uh. Seriously, sh, thanks.


What did that book say to do with the maniac?

 It said to observe it. Acknowledge it.  Then let it pass like a cloud.

(Specifically, on encountering one’s Noble Failure, Rolf Gates and Katrina Kenison write: “…it remains a daunting proposition to find out just how out of control our minds really are. The only option we have is to patiently train our minds, the way we would train a dog or a child.”)

Bring the mind back.


Ek Ong Kar

Sat Nam

Siri Wahe! Guru


Hmmm…there might actually be something to this chanting business.

Inhalation. Inspiration. To breathe in: fill the lungs, lower the diaphragm, open the solar plexus. Control the breath. Modulate its flow with the vocal folds.  Shape it with the tongue. Let it eddy and swirl in the nasal cavity. Release the breath as energy – the energy of sound. Let it strike the tympanic membrane, transferring my energy to you and yours to me.  Strike the drum. Our particles collide. Climb in the oval window. Make the hair cells in my cochlea dance. Around and around it goes transferring mechanical energy to chemical energy. Neurons shooting off signals in all directions all from waves released from lips. We float in the ocean of our voices. We float in energy. Energy. The sun. Sunrise. Solar. Solar power.  Solar plexus. The seat of your breath. Round and round we go. Where we’ll stop, nobody knows…

Wait. Was that nasal dentalized or velarized?

Was that a flap or a rhotic? I’ve been saying it as a rhotic, but I think it’s actually a flap. Surely if the energy from the harmonic vibrations matters, then this is no minor issue. Acoustically there’s a substantial difference between a rhotic and a flap. ACK! Have I been saying it all wrong?! Have I been messing up everyone’s good vibrations with my faulty articulation?!

Why would that matter?

It matters!

Who let the maniac back in?

Bring the mind back.


Corpse pose. Sudden magnificent release. Something lifted I didn’t know I was holding.

Announcement: We’re on the home stretch!


I sit up and chant until the end.

I go home. Sleep. Wake. Want a burger.  Decide in the end, it’s just not worth it. 

Today is day 2 (again) of vegetarianism!