A Taste of Vajra Yana

I came to David Nichtern’s Meditation Intensive weekend in March 2010 in the midst of growing uncertainty in my marriage. There were a number of issues undermining our union. As the husband avoided dealing with our issues unless I was to give him the answer that he wanted to hear, the yoga mat increasingly became my refuge. Going to OM Yoga Center’s Meditation Intensive was as much a retreat as it was a series of counseling sessions.

OM Yoga Center, where my yoga practice grew and I became a teacher way back when the studio occupied two floors of a cramped old West 14th Street walkup, is one of the places where my heart always is: home. The classes with former colleagues and new teachers felt like a much-needed vacation. Listening to David Nichtern felt like reuniting with a friend I had not seen in years. Sometimes friends give difficult gifts, as David presented through the Meditation Intensive. This weekend’s meditation served as my opportunity for a much-needed hina yana as arising thoughts simplified. The room that was my mind was cleaned up.

Shamatha felt like individual counseling sessions with my mind. Walking relieved my body without interrupting the psychoanalysis. Maitri brought in unexpected surprises, both sweet and unpleasant.

The psychoanalysis was not supposed to be happening, I frowned to myself while mentally rubber-stamping out each thought about the husband and our marriage with the word “thinking” and returned my awareness to the soft inhale and exhale through the nostrils. The right foot falling asleep during Shamatha meditation almost felt like a respite from the internal quips. Gentle air passed through the nostrils as I straightened my leg. Calm body once again, the mind asked me how much longer I could wait for the husband to bring a mature discussion about our marital issues to the table. “Thinking.” Back to the breath.

“Walking meditation,” David instructed quietly.

Deliberate steps: heel to toe, heel to toe. Weight of the gentle right fist nestled in my left palm. Right thumb warmed in its palm. We live in a world of instant gratification with less willingness to compromise, the mind mused. “Thinking.” Heel to toe, heel to toe. Fewer new marriages survive, unlike earlier generations where partners worked harder, sacrificed more, forged through one rough patch after another. “Thinking.” Heel to toe, heel to toe. A few hours before the weekend concluded, the mind blurted a truth: the husband is trying to change you to become what he wants you to be. Tears welled. One foot almost stopped at the other. “People are behind you. Keep walking and cease thinking.” Back to the breath.

That my mind intended multiple meanings behind this admonishing occurred to me in the last maitri session. The loved one, my self, and the person I don’t know well: they are behind me. Even the difficult person that came to my mind supported me in her own selfish way. “May you be safe.” “May you be happy.” “May you be healthy.” On the last day of the meditation intensive, each person whispered the four blessings back to me. I swallowed tears when the final maternal figure murmured “May you be at ease.”

One mid-March Tuesday afternoon last year, I arrived at Washington, D.C.’s Yoga District’s Dupont Circle studio earlier than usual and readied the space for a busy evening of three consecutive classes. Thirty minutes before the receptionist arrived. I folded a blanket and sat on its corner. Deliberately placing my palms down on my thighs, I focused on the soft breath brushing my nostrils. There had been a lot of maha yana in my Shamatha sessions since returning to D.C. I was particularly aware of how teaching others in turn guided me. Tending to my heart allowed others to look after me. That was huge: I rarely allow others to take care of me. Somehow, this heart knew what my proud ego loathed to admit in an approaching time of need: that I would need a strong support system of compassionate people.

Three weeks after the meditation intensive weekend, the husband told me he wouldn’t go overseas to my family’s long-anticipated reunion. Many of my cousins and I had planned a holiday celebration after six years apart. In two words in two seconds, the husband destroyed these plans: “I’m leaving.” After concluding the Skype call with my parents, aunt, uncle, and cousins, I sat in the middle of my more spacious apartment.

Soft inhale. Soft exhale. Soft inhale. Soft exhale. Twenty minutes passed without a thought. Was that a taste ofvajra yana?

Then I realized the right foot was fast asleep.

Reprinted from OM Yoga’s blog, published May 19, 2011.

©2012 Amy Dara Hochberg. All Rights Reserved.