In a dark, small room filled with silent strangers, my eyes are closed and my mind is like the sky: open and limitless.
That’s what Matt Foster softly tells us during guided meditation at Unity Temple on the Plaza. I’m trying to see myself as the sky. But I keep imagining butterflies and planes and wondering what’s going to happen on the next episode of “Ray Donovan.” I’m thinking about work, my dogs and the latest headlines, too.
It’s impressive how loud your mind gets in silence. It takes practice to center yourself — to focus on just one thing so intensely that you can find peace in it, instead of playing tug-of-war with a million little topics.
Unity Temple’s Rev. Duke Tufty believes our thoughts are like cars on the highway, all over the place as we speed our way through our days. It’s not healthy. Meditation, he says, helps us recover energy and create a space of clarity and reflection.
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For over two years, the temple has hosted “Serenity Pause,” a twice-daily (12:10 and 5:30 p.m.) free meditation service. It’s a dedicated half-hour carved out in the middle of the day and at the end of the work day to help people from all over the community.
Duke got the idea when he noticed the way people would gather after 12-step meetings at the temple.
“It was a very important part of their social connection. Sometimes people would stand around and smoke outside in a group. Some people would talk in the lobby. Others would grab lunch at Eden Alley (in the basement). But it was clear they enjoyed being close to people with the same mindset,” he says. “I thought it would be great if people had that same kind of space for meditation, for people who maybe aren’t fighting addiction but still need a place to go to decompress, to connect, to seek mindfulness and good company.”
A dozen teachers lead Serenity Pause throughout the week. Some meditations are quiet the entire time with little instruction. Others might focus on breathing. There are always chairs lined along the walls of the room for people who like to sit up and pillows on the floor for those who want to stretch or get into lotus position. Some people keep their shoes on. I like to go barefoot.
The first 10 minutes are the hardest. I have to dig deep and commit to being present, to escaping the chaos of my thoughts. I am ashamed that it takes such will for a mere 30 minutes of meditation. This must be what my niece feels like when she is fighting sleep, so content to rest in a frenzy rather than give into relaxation and recovery. But this is the way we are in the world, always in a rush. Multitasking is second nature. We never truly sit still.
Meditation, I realize, is a lot like a nap. It makes you so aware that you get a boost of energy, your presence is stronger. I find my ears work better after meditating. I can hear someone without a running inner monologue in the background of our conversation.
When Matt, the temple’s youth education director, says our body is like a mountain, strong and deeply rooted, I want to be that mountain. I want the easy and constant breath like the wind he encourages us to have. And most of all, I want that mind like the sky, where there are infinite possibilities.
Unity Temple on the Plaza, 707 W. 47th St., hosts a free guided meditation twice a day — at 12:10 p.m. and 5 p.m. — 365 days a year. UnityTemple.com