Walking through the city recently I stumbled upon this wonderful place called Crossways. It’s a peaceful oasis right in the heart of Melbourne. On the second level, there’s a restaurant that serves highly affordable vegetarian meals and sells Hare Krishna books (bare with me on this). On the third level, there’s nothing but tables, couches and a book shelf with Eastern classics. And on the fourth level, there’s a yoga studio called Urban Yoga which is operated by the same crowd I think.
As someone who’s becoming very interested in the spiritual side of life, this place seemed like the ideal place to relax and recoup after work, without necessarily going straight home. I like to go there, get something to eat, read and maybe chat to someone. People can be so warm and unpretentious at places like this, it really takes the edge off.
I decided to go to a talk at the yoga studio about “living in the moment”. What could be a more enriching thing to do than that? It cost $7, included a meal and was about 2 hours of intense spiritual vibes. I should mention that many of them are Hare Krishnas (Hare Krishnas are a modern Hindu movement). There are negative connotations to Hare Krishnas but I experienced it to be the quintessential Indian, spiritual, yogi experience. Much more laid back than zen-Buddhism but strikingly similar in may ways.
We sung mantras and someone passingly mentioned past lives (which made me bristle). That was about the extent of the dogmatism, though. The rest of it was spiritual not religious, based on experience, not scripture.
The mantras were intoxicating. It helped me to lose my sensible everyday self in a shared experience. That was simply beautiful. I understand what spiritualists mean when they talk about connection and love. I experienced it as “letting my guard down”. And I did indeed manage to let it down. I felt unguarded in the company of others, perhaps for the first time since my childhood. I didn’t know I was capable of feeling so cozy with other people.
There was then a discussion about living in the moment. It was quite enlightening. Nothing I haven’t read before though. “You’ve got to quiet the mind”, “find an object for it to focus on”. Et cetera. The theory is incredibly simple, yet ironically living in the moment can be difficult because it’s not of the intellect. I believe that learning directly from others is much better because there’s a whole new depth of meaning occurring, energetically, beyond words. Although reading from a book can be better than trying to will or intellectualise yourself into the right state.
After that there was a guided meditation, it was very brief – only about 5 minutes. I couldn’t hear the girl very well. I could feel a huge difference having the energy of others meditating in the room. Finally we did more chanting. Then had a meal and chatted.
I have mixed feelings about the whole thing. There were definitely positives such as a feeling of community and losing myself. However, there were negatives as well. I thought there was a strong dynamic of status consciousness. You could feel the will of people to be above you somehow. You could see it in their efforts to gain honour by helping to clean up the plates – any way they could to feel elevated. The drive for status lacked the usual external accouterments such as money or achievements. I did feel that someones’ body seemed to affect their worth but there were other other avenues as well. The will for status seemed to manifest almost in its pure form since all those attachments weren’t part of the culture of the place. That made the drive reveal itself directly, and it seemed evil. Social niceties and self-consciousness can ebb away when the mind is quieted and you may experience unalloyed intent to dominate. Or unalloyed pain at being slighted or rejected.
These base sentiments are part and parcel with the visceral highs of being truly connected with others in a community. Nonetheless, I find it deeply troubling to not be respected. And I don’t much feel like having to change my life or behaviour to earn the respect of a bunch of people that didn’t respect me before. I’ll be respected and it will be on my own terms. But I digress.
I think these spiritual or religious experiences provide a vital service to the human soul. In the modern world one simply forgets that they have a place in life and we grow ever more egoic and isolated. We mistake so much stuff for who we are. I think it’s an important thing to peel away the ego from time to time; and experience raw, energetic interaction. Things like being able to connect with others or to struggle with another with no external accouterments to degrade them: these are human skills that a man (or woman) ought to have. Yet ironically this is in fact why the mind grew so awesome at all.