Meditation has intrigued me for a while: if there’s a way to improve your mental health and stress levels by seemingly closing your eyes and breathing a lot, then I’m all for it. Plus, anyone who’s ever casually dropped ‘meditation’ among their typical pastimes has always had a serene air about them. So I signed up to nearly two months of classes on one of Jan Maddern’s introductory courses.
Now, Jan is one of these aforementioned serene meditators. A long-time Dubai resident originally from Australia, she oozes patience, having discovered the art while teaching yoga. I arrive at the first session to find five woman and two men representing a fair cross-section of Dubai’s community: Indians, Brits, Australians and Arabs. We’re encouraged to sit on the floor cross-legged, on the edge of the red cushions Jan has given us, to serve as ‘red reminders to meditate every day.’
Before we even begin, we need to confront our preconceptions: what is meditation, anyway? Jan scribbles our suggestions on the white board before establishing the most common misunderstanding: that meditation is a way to ‘control’ one’s thoughts. ‘Rather, we are trying to identify our inner-reflections more clearly, learning things about ourselves that we might have missed in the whirlwind of daily Dubai life.’ I hear that.
We leave with some homework, as becomes the structure of our weekly meet: this time to close our eyes for 15 to 20 minutes and ‘watch’ our thoughts as though they’re on a screen. Sound simple? It could well
be for you – I, however, get so hung up on the screen itself that all I can see is the grey crackle of a non-programme, my thoughts stunted, suffering screen-fright. In next week’s class I discover the others have experienced similar problems. ‘I was thinking too much about what kind of screen it was,’ a classmate confesses. Like a muscle, Jan explains, meditation takes practice. Clearly.
In this session we break down our minds (thankfully, just on the white board). Split into a left and right hemisphere, we learn that the former contains our rational mind, with a penchant for numbers and facts, while the latter is our creative side, with a liking for patterns and rhythms. We then carve out the conscious (the rational, logical thoughts), from the subconscious (where all information on past experience is stored) to the superconscious (the higher intuitive self). When left and right brainwave patterns are in harmony during meditation, we achieve ‘Whole Brain thinking’ and see ‘The Big Picture’. Evidently the latter is the Rolls Royce of meditation.
This week’s homework involves visualising a rectangle and taking deep, timed breaths, as we imagine ourselves working around its perimeter. We breathe in, hold the breath, breathe out and hold the breath. With something to focus on, my mind behaves quite well. But the group has different experiences. ‘I got really light-headed and panicky,’ reports one woman. Apparently, this could be due to the relation between meditation and death: we need the conscious logical mind to ‘die’, to allow ourselves to enter the realms of the subconscious and superconscious. Cripes.
Fortunately the next activity doesn’t involve spitting death in the eye; instead, we visualise our ideal bedroom, garden, forest and beach. Fully embracing my inner interior decorator, I love this assignment, and am intrigued when Jan explains what my ‘room’ means about my state of mind (an ordered, minimal wardrobe equates to a desire for a less cluttered life, and so on).
The pleasure (and decorating plans) gained from this last exercise spurs me on to complete the course’s final chapters: identifying energy-zappers in my day-to-day life by keeping a kind of ‘meditation diary’, and experiencing the impact that certain types of music can have during deep thought by stimulating one’s right, rhythm-loving hemisphere.
In the final class, amid an ambiance of camaraderie and snack platters, we discuss what we’ve learnt. My stand-out insight is that meditation involves more than closing one’s eyes – and how difficult it is to save 20 minutes every day to practise. I’m not sure whether this programme will convert cynics, but, for those looking for weekly respite from Dubai’s career-driven chaos, you couldn’t ask for a more welcoming sanctuary.
Dhs490 for seven weeks. The next course starts on February 23 at 7pm and continues until April 6. There’s also a full-day meditation workshop on February 4, 10am-5pm, Dhs650 in advance. Dubai Osteopathic Health Centre, Al Wasl Road, Umm Suqeim (04 348 7366, 050 538 5075)