Fashion model, Theology graduate, theatre reviewer, traveller, pursuer of happiness and… Buddhist! Felicity enrolled on an online Buddhist course, and this is what she learned.
“I would describe myself as a ‘spiritual’ person even though I am never quite sure what the definition of that is. For me, it means that I believe in something greater than me, some greater will or being that is hard to articulate, to be honest. I studied Theology at university and I have always found religion, and the history of religion, fascinating. It’s only in recent years that I have started taking an interest in Buddhism. And by this, I mean a general attempt at a meditation practice, an interest in the pursuit of happiness, and a re-evaluation of what makes me happy and what I am grateful for.
With this in mind, and lockdown well underway, a couple of my friends and I took part in a seven-day online Buddhist course, 'Seven Steps to Enlightenment’.
This is what I learned…
1Meditation is like a sport
A huge part of Buddhism is the art of meditation. This is how the Buddha reached enlightenment. And, yes, meditation is hard. Sitting still for 20 minutes, focusing on your breath, and noticing when your mind wanders is really not as easy as it sounds (or maybe it doesn’t sound easy at all. But through this course, I noticed that with regular practice and training, each meditation got a little easier, and its impact greater. As one of the teachers said, meditation is like a sport. When you train your mind, it becomes easier. And this truly is the case. I have meditated on and off for years, but by committing to several meditations a day, the whole process became a lot easier, more rewarding and I felt a sense of progress.
2Meditating helps me feel connected
The more common meditation, or the one that I had practised most often before this class, is the mindfulness of breathing. Through focusing on your breath and using different counting methods and focal points, you try to notice when your mind has wandered. Meditation is not about stopping thoughts, it is about noticing when you have lost focus and when your thoughts are running away from you. In that moment of noticing, you are meditating.
The second meditation is metta bhavna meditation. One of the course leaders described the mindfulness of breathing as a more insular practice. In the mindfulness of breathing you go into yourself, your focus is solely on you and your breath. Metta bhavna meditation is the opposite of this, it is a meditation of loving kindness. You bring to mind certain people in your life and you wish them well. It is a more emotional practice, and I certainly found it more challenging, but it does leave you with a warm, fuzzy feeling afterwards that’s hard to beat. In a time of isolation, metta bhavna gives me the ability to feel connected, not only to myself but to others.
3Buddhism is accessible and practical
Unlike many religions, there is not so much to believe in with Buddhism. There are no deities and it steers clear of dogma. So Buddhism is actually fairly accessible. It is more a code of behaviour than anything else. It focuses on developing human qualities like awareness, kindness and wisdom through practical measures like meditation. It feels free of judgement, and easy to understand the principles.
This course was a more serious look into Buddhism and meditation for me and, since the course ended, I have meditated almost every day. In this very strange time, I find immense solace in living in the present moment, and meditation helps me focus on this. And yet, there is still so much more to learn on the way to enlightenment, more self-discovery and much more meditation. The goal of enlightenment (something which has only been achieved by a select number of Buddhists) is not the focus, it is the journey on the way to nirvana that is the gift.
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