Show, don’t tell. Sharing Sahaja Yoga Meditation in a Manhattan high school.
There’s a clear difference between showing someone how to meditate in schools as opposed to those who comes to a program or meeting specifically advertising meditation. You might think that obvious, but you’d be amazed at the number of people who appear not to understand the distinction.
In schools, the students sitting in front of you have expressed zero interest in spirituality or in meditation and to assume that they have, is a big mistake. If you ask them if they interested in meditation, a move I would not recommend, for in New York you’ll likely get one of three answers, a resounding ‘no’, blank stares, or some wag will touch his index finger with his thumb on each hand and bellow “OM”! At this point, you’ve lost it and getting them from there to meditate is close to impossible.
One teacher in a school, just south of Harlem, seeing that I was getting nowhere, suggested that I don’t mention the words meditation or yoga at all, rather that I should just say something bland or even that she’d introduce me with something vague such as, “‘A’ has come to show us a simple technique that’ll give us more energy, help us relax.”
And then I’d show.
You’d think I’d have remembered this from my time in book publishing. In any lesson of what’s known as Creative Writing, lesson one, day one, will invariably contain the advice, “Show, don’t tell.” It’s great advice and applies to more than just writing. So it was in schools. If you could show students the technique, unnamed, they’d tell you! They’d say, “Wow, I feel really good now.” Some would feel no difference too of course.
I’d been going to a particular class once a week for some months and most of the students enjoyed and looked forward to the experience. But two young men, steadfastly refused to try the meditation. I never said anything, selling it was never my plan because I knew I couldn’t.
One day, I tried a different approach not with them in mind. I said, “Some people like to have music playing while they meditate. (By this time calling meditation was fine because by that point the students had decided they liked the technique, that it worked for them.) Let’s try an experiment. I’ll play two different types of music, one after the other. See which is more pleasant to meditate with.”
And I played Blackalicious, a hip-hop band from Sacramento, CA followed by Thomas Tallis’ Spem in Alium. Tallis was a 16th Century English composer and this work is a forty part motet full of complex harmonies.
The entire class preferred the Tallis work. However, to my surprise and astonishment, the two young men who’d consistently refused to meditate month after month, now meditated and preferred the Tallis piece too! But they never meditated again. Don’t ask me why I didn’t play different pieces every week…..
In a different class in the same school was a gang member, he wore the beads and regalia quite openly. He refused to try to mediate for nine months, and eventually when he did try it, he loved it so much so that when many of his class went on a 100 cycle ride to raise money for charity, when they stopped for a rest after the ninety mile mark and the group were exhausted, he suggested to the teacher that they all meditate for ten minutes which they duly did before continuing.
Some time after that I saw him sitting on a bench in Broadway with his wifey (his girlfriend). We chatted and after a while I asked him why it took him so long to try the meditation. “Coz I didn’t feel like it,” he said.
Again, in the same school, there was a basketball player. He was six foot six, very difficult to teach because he was incapable of focussing more than a minute on a topic, and he seemed possessed of a need to constantly draw attention to himself by disruptive behavior. He performed like a truculent toddler but there was something magnetic about him too, it was easy to sense his vulnerability, his need for love. Teachers, excellent, dedicated teachers, on difference occasions said that his chances of getting into a college were remote. He began meditating in the weekly class, then at home, and to the surprise of everyone, himself included, was accepted into a community college in upstate New York. I happened to see him, by chance, when the college term was over and he’d come into the high school to see old friends. He said that without the settling influence of Sahaja Yoga meditation he never could have gained acceptance into a college and survived there.
There was one guy, Mo, who came across this meditation technique in the school gym during a health fair. He was big, authoritative, charismatic. The gym was a cacophony of sound, karaoke, hip-hop, kids shooting hoops, a joyful, discordant clamor of youthful exuberance. Mo hit the zone in an instant, he said, “Relaxing. I felt I was in another state of mind. I was asleep but at the same time I was awake. All the noise around me, when I was focussing at the top of my head…. It seemed like none of that was around. I felt a strong sensation right here on my hand. It was cool, I enjoyed it.”
He called his buddies, one by one, insisted they try It too. They did, and many expressed surprise at touching an inner space of silence.