Last night I went to see Jon Kabat Zinn at the Friends’ Meeting House in Euston. It was hosted by Action For Happiness.
It was billed as “An Evening With” and pitched at a general audience so I didn’t expect it to be anything I hadn’t heard before, and it wasn’t. It was more like going to see a supergroup and hearing their old standards or a well loved comedian and hearing beloved punch lines. The familiarity of his words left me just noticing how he structured the talk a lot of the time – and it was pretty much what anyone would do – an overview of mindfulness, a led meditation, further elucidations, a couple of poems, and then Q&A. Just with a much bigger audience than usual. I liked the way that, with a show of hands at various points in the talk he managed to make nearly a thousand people feel like a group, but the content was nothing new. You can hear a version of what he said by going on youtube and watching pretty much any of his videos. He’s good, but the main thing about him is that he did a good thing. Thirty five years ago he stripped down buddhist practices for a secular audience and brought the world MBSR (mindfulness based stress reduction).
So, what did I get for my £15 and my journey several hours out of my comfort zone? (I NEVER go out – not in the evening, it’s not a thing. I am in bed by 7pm most nights and asleep easily by 10.)
Mainly, I got uncomfortable. Yes, yes, it was physically uncomfortable, this was the Quaker’s gaff, and not a theatre, but it was more than that. I started feeling something I used to, in my more physically trim days, call ‘yoga rage’.
I loved yoga. I used to go two or three times a week. I’d done swimming, and then tai chi, and eventually I pitched up at yoga, which is something I always thought I would like, and I did. It’s nice and stretchy. I still do a tiny amount at home, but I do have to be careful. I digress.
At one point in my yoga journey I used to go to an excellent class in Brighton with my friend Nic. Jim Tarran still teaches, indeed he has his own school. He is brilliant. He keeps you in poses for bloody ages so you have to do loads of internal work. It’s a bit boot camp, but in a different way to, say, ashtanga or bikram. Anyway, the first time we went, we were standing still with our eyes shut following his instructions and he went silent and then said “What is yoga?”
Afterwards we giggled about it, because Nic said he nearly answered, which would have been WRONG because it was rhetorical, and it was something he was going to talk about while we stood there, fire in our muscles, working to stand straight and relax at the same time. Oh, and breathe, you have to breathe as well. Anyway, we were hooked, and there being the two of us, naturally we discussed him ad nauseum and all aspects of the classes as we went along. We also did impersonations of him, which I know were funny at the time, but I don’t remember all the catch phrases now. What emerged over the weeks was that we discovered in ourselves something we dubbed ‘yoga rage’ which was a feeling which arose when we were trying to be all OM about it all, and someone, some one would do something annoying.
They might breathe funny or very loudly in what sounded like a showy offy way or be annoyingly keen (not like us, no no, just because we were early and at the front and LOVED him, that didn’t make us annoyingly keen, not one bit of it) or grunt, or fart, or, and there was this one time when this person INCENSED us by doing the poses all wrong because he was clearly a dancer and he was being a poser. And wrong. He was doing it wrong.
Like every other detail of the class we discussed this at length. The thing about yoga rage that differs from road rage or any other kind of rage is that you absolutely know you are wrong while you are doing it. It’s an aspect of what buddhists call dukkha – or ordinary everyday suffering. Not special suffering. Just normal. Normal unfair irritation with people whose breathing, farting, or yoga style is none of our damn business and makes no impact on how we do our own yoga.
Here we are, in a hall filling with people who are passionate enough about mindfulness to buy tickets and turn up and sit uncomfortably for hours and I am irritable as hell and I am super aware of it. Annoying bloody people wanting us to budge up. Annoying people who probably bought their tickets way after we did sitting in the comfortable seats. Annoying lovey dovey couple fondling each other – GET A ROOM!
All of these people irritated me twice as much as they would have done in any other room for any other speaker or performance or whatever because I was super aware that he was going to talk about KINDNESS and as a meditator I am trying to be kind. In thought and deed. And failing.
It wasn’t all like that, but the feeling spiked up now and then and I just had to accept it. As JKZ said in his talk “The present moment is the curriculum”. And it was. And it is.
My friend Al joked on the way in about ‘taking a moment to arrive’ which is a cliche in mindfulness/meditation circles, for the very good reason that we are often not fully present, so it’s a useful tool to bring people’s attention to their own experience in the moment. We snorted a bit when he instructed us to arrive in the room.
So that was nice.
Still taking the piss.