I just returned from a trip to Dallas, Texas, on business and had a really great trip. On Tuesday, December 21st, I had enough free time in the evening that I wanted to get out and do something. When I travel, I try to use the opportunity to do as many things as I can that I wouldn't normally do.
When I eat out, I like to frequent restaurants I have never been to, and can only go to, in the city I am visiting. I like to visit the less ordinary attractions. Take, for instance, when I had a local take me to a Pan Yard in Trinidad. That is something that very few Americans would get to see because it seems slightly (or very) dangerous, and it's not easy to find. Just getting there would scare off most tourists. But, that's just what I like to do. I'd much rather experience something truly unique than see a tourist trap attraction.
So that explains why when looking at the list of local concerts, movies, events and such in Dallas, that the one that appealed to me the most was the "Winter Solstice Celebration" at the interestingly-lacking-in-specific-practice-tradition-name-appended-to-the-beginning "Dallas Meditation Center"!
I checked out the web site, and all the related information, and I wasn't sold. First off, I'm rather neutral when it comes to solstice recognition. Meaning, I have a lot of friends to whom it's a big deal because of their particular religions, but not being particularly religiously affiliated myself it's never been something I paid much attention to. Also, the very thing that intrigued me about them - the lack of a specified "tradition" such as "Mahayana" or "Soto Zen" or whatever - also turned me off a little because they were SO open to all faiths that I feared a distracting mix of beliefs that might make my first foray in to group meditation a distracted mess.
After vacillating back and forth all day, right up to 30 minutes before the event, I finally decided that I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. I put on some white track pants (as the flyer had requested that you wear white if possible) and I set out for the Dallas Meditation Center with my hopes set high, but my running shoes laced up tight in case I didn't like what I found!
By the way, the deciding factor in me finally going was that the facilitator of the event was the founder of the center, Brother ChiSing, who is a student of Thich Nhat Hanh. I figured , if nothing else, this was a guy I wanted to meet.
Can you tell that I was going in to this with high hopes and low expectations? I was fully aware of the fact that I was judging this event, this place and it's people without any reasonable cause. In the end, it was the realization that I was stopping myself before I started - getting in my own way, basically - that made me man-up and go.
When I arrived, the outside of the building was very encouraging. It was decorated in each window with things like "Tai Chi", "Interfaith", "Interbeing" and so on. I walked in the front door and there was no one to greet me. Just when I started feeling kind of like a party crasher, someone walked by and asked if I was there for the event. I said that I was but didn't know where to go, and they invited me back to get involved. They asked that I shed my shoes outside the room and directed me inside, where I found a few people sitting already in a meditative state, and a few others just quietly sitting. It was a little unnerving being thrust in to the room with no real knowledge of what I was in for.
I took a seat, and started doing a little mindful breathing of my own to get myself in the right frame of mind. It was easy, due to the environment. The room was hardwood floors, large and dark but lit softly with candles and strings of white lights like Christmas lights. People were trickling in and getting seated, and soon enough Brother ChiSing came in and got things under way.
What followed was the best two hours of group meditation, chanting, talking, mindful moving, relaxation, solstice honoring time I could have ever hoped for. We started with some introductions, and each person sharing - in a single word - what they were letting go of with the changing cycle of the year and what they were welcoming in. It became clear that the group had some pain and suffering that they were holding. The words came with emotion. Words like "the past", " pain", "loss", "non-practice", "suffering", "judgment", "grief". Then, the same ones who shared their painful word, shared their word of welcoming for the new year. These words dwarfed the negative ones with their passion and energy! These were words such as "new experiences", "practice", "assertiveness", "openness", "non-judgement" and others. As sad as some of the emotion was when they said their past words, their future words were full of light and hope! It was remarkable to be a part.
There were some chants that ChiSing led us in, giving honor to the changing seasons and cycles of the planet and our lives. They were in multiple languages and honored no particular religion. There was some "dancing", the prospect of which had me quaking, but in execution it was little more than a circle moving around and singing a little chant. We did a couple of meditation sessions that were great! Until that night the longest I had ever meditated was for 15 minutes and in a comfy chair. This meditation was performed with most everyone on a Zafu and Zabuton (meditation cushion and mat) in a large circle. This was great for a few reasons for me....first off I really wanted the group meditation experience, so I could decide if I want to pursue the same back home. Secondly, I wanted to try the mat and cushion, as I have asked for my own for Christmas. Lastly, I really wanted to meditate for a longer period of time. All of this turned out to be great! The meditation was really wonderful, and the group aspect adds a quality, and depth that I am not sure I can adequately describe, but to say that it is very rich.
Without describing it in crushing detail, suffice it to say that the evening went too quickly and was a great deal of fun, very gratifying in many ways and exceeded my expectations by miles! We did some mindful moving, which was essentially Tai Chi mixed with some thoughtful leadership. ChiSing gave a heartwarming appeal to everyone to make a choice to say yes - or no - to a mindful pursuit of life over the next two years. He spoke of the solstice, the cycles of he earth, life and the universe, and of the fact that the planet simply can't sustain people not living mindfully any longer. He encouraged everyone to choose to attend group meditations like the one we were having, engage in a mindful life and practice, and stressed that these groups are occurring more and more around the world and that they really matter. I've done a poor job here of describing it, but the talk was very mindful, poignant and moving.
The night wrapped up with everyone taking a moment to say what they had on their mind, which was very inspirational, and then another group "dance" and chant.
The happiness, mindfulness and sense of Sangha was palpable, and everyone gave hugs and handshakes all around before retiring to the kitchen for some desserts and discussion.
I had a wonderful time talking about "Savor" with a woman who said that my words during the evening about Thich Nhat Hanh and "Savor" were exactly the message she felt she needed to hear. I really enjoyed this, because I felt the same way when I discovered "Savor"...that it was the right message for me at the right time. She's now intent on getting the book and applying mindful eating to her own life. I enjoyed fun and thought provoking discussion with ChiSing and some others about all manner of things. I felt as though I had made a dozen new friends and was saddened to have to leave them behind. I took comfort in this though, knowing that we are all connected. I hope if I am ever back in the Dallas area, I will have the opportunity to meet with and enjoy their company again!
What is the point of all of this? Well, there are many. But if i needed to pick a single overriding theme to focus on for this experience it would be "Be open!"
Be open to trying mindfulness in your own life, be open to trying new things that are outside your comfort zone, be open to trying things you might think aren't for you, be open to making new friends, be open to new experiences and even people whom you've never expected you would enjoy or have things in common with.
One of my favorite quotes, which is part of my meditation every single day, is "As I enjoy people, I attract enjoyable people". I embraced that ideal on the Solstice and was rewarded with infinite kindness, friendship and love from a room full of complete strangers!
I want to tell you more about Brother ChiSing, but I have more to learn about him first. For now, please take a few moments to check out his various web sites and see what he's doing with the Dallas Meditation Center, then go out and look for something similar in your own area and get involved with it. At least try it. As ChiSing encouraged me before leaving, "no one place will be perfection, but just try them all and you'll find one that works for you."
I'll do a follow up story on ChiSing in the future and I will feature his music, and meditation center and more. Until then, I truly hope that this story has inspired you to look for some similar experience in your own area.
When I was younger I spent countless years exploring and trying various churches. I was seeking a place of fellowship, and group spirituality, but was constantly disappointed in the people who made up the gatherings.
Not once did I find a place where the group was there for the spirituality of it, but instead I consistently found people who were using the gathering as a networking opportunity or for gossip. This soured me on religion for many years, until I found my own path that worked for me and eventually accepted and understood what they were doing.
What I found at the DMC, in addition to all the other great things I described above, was a group of interfaith practitioners who shared a single common desire to meditate and be mindful regardless of their individual religious beliefs. And no gossip at all!
Thank you to Brother ChiSing, and all of the other kind souls who attended the Winter Solstice Celebration the Dallas Meditation Center, for showing me a great time and extending such warmth and kindness to me. It is my great wish for you all that you achieve the things you are welcoming for the new year!