Learning to relax using other cultures and I don’t mean yogurt

To say that I sometimes feel like I have a lot of stress in my life is about the same as someone else saying that they sometimes feel that they inhale and exhale. Most of my life stress is voluntary, or at least that is what people tell me.  I often stress about things both in and out of my control.  Neither one has been remarkably healthy for me. A doctor that I visit with has suggested that perhaps my level of stress has to do with the amount of negativity I direct toward myself. While, I have a tendency to believe that such suggestions are crazy talk, he is a psychiatrist and I am paying to listen to him.  He suggested that I find healthy ways to reduce my own negativity and my own stress. I was upset because he immediately discarded two of my suggestions. Apparently, playing 15 hours of video games a day is not “healthy”. On the other hand, we determined that randomly screaming in a street would probably not reduce my stress. I had to search for other methods.

I got invited to an Indian (from India) celebration of the full moon ceremony. It is a guided meditation, family and friend  get together, and dinner. I was invited by a friend from a club and I decided to say yes to a new  potentially awkward social situation. I know that I think that every social situation is awkward when I am involved, but that is only because it is mostly [sic “always”] true. In this case, it was going to a family event based on a culture completely different from the one I grew up with. Imagine inviting someone-who has not only not celebrated Christmas, but never heard of it-to spend Christmas with your family. How would you explain why your family suddenly laughed when everyone pulled a satsuma out of their stocking?  You could be as inviting and welcoming as any human could ever be, and that person would still feel like an outsider. Now, if that person already feels like an outsider wherever he goes, it would just feel normal.

I arrived at the event and found out that Indian hospitality can be touchy. Apparently, bringing an item of food when you have been told not to is insulting in certain parts of India. In America, if I am invited to a friend’s house and I bring a bottle of wine or a some sort of snack, it is perfectly acceptable (even celebrated depending on how good the wine is). When I brought some dried fruit (always bring vegetarian  to Indian gatherings), I was saying that I did not believe that my host would do a decent enough job in providing for me. I guess the best way to experience a new culture is to drag muddy boots through the house first.

We start getting ready for the guided meditation in a family room roughly the size of my house. It is crammed full of people. In an unexpected event, I am not the only person who is not used to this type of event. In another unexpected event, she is as sarcastic and snarky as I am. We are snickering and joking. Unknown to the other participants, we are mainly laughing at ourselves and our own inability to perform the simple tasks that everyone else is doing with ease. I could not help but notice that every tendon in my leg was vibrating in synch with the universe. It was pure music in the key of “owwwww”. 

I have used meditation in the past. I use a form of meditation to deal with some of the chronic pain issues. I have never really been part of an East Indian guided meditation. The first step almost made me laugh out loud. “Practice alternate nostril breathing” by closing a nostril with a finger and inhaling and exhaling deeply, then moving to the other nostril. This looked like a room full of people trying to quickly blow their nose using the “farmer’s blow” technique.

I have always used western harmonic music to meditate. I have a preference for slow classical or sci-fi movie themes. I am used to the typical 3rd and 5th chords found in western music. I am not, however, used to random arbitrary notes played on a flute or a sitar. It was like trying to relax while someone was randomly saying ‘Hey… hey…hey…..hey…look at me…hey…over here”.  

To make matters more interesting, I was seated on the floor. The chair in front of me was occupied by an older Indian woman who was referred to as a teacher. The thing she taught me most was “Never sit behind an elderly Indian woman during a guided meditation.” While the meditation CD was giving instructions, the woman in front of me was releasing large amounts of flatulence. I don’t mean “large amounts of flatulence for a quiet social situation”, I mean “large amounts of flatulence compared to a group of frat boys with irritable bowel syndrome who spent last night eating beans, hot wings, cheap beer and jalapenos”. Somehow, it was completely silent. I believe that fact is what elevated her to “teacher”.  As the guided meditation continued, I was encouraged to “breathe in, hold it, and exhale”. Keeping politely quiet at that point was a challenge akin to creating the Grand Unified Theory only using an abacus.

My doctor suggested that I replace some of the “negative self talk” during meditation with “positive self talk”. So while the rest of the group was trying to “inhale the light” (making me giggle) I was telling myself “you are a good person” (making me giggle) and inhaling farts (making me giggle).It may not have been the best scenario to try to do a new meditation.

After the guided meditation, the group sang songs in an Indian language. I don’t know songs in any foreign language. I sang, “Watermelon, Watermelon, B-A-N-A-N-A-S bananas”. It may not have been the most polite thing, but it was pretty funny. 

All in all, it was an interesting experience. I am not sure if I would recommend it for everyone, but I would recommend parts of it. I would recommend the gathering with friends, trying to meditate, and trying new experiences. I would probably recommend the “sitting behind a flatulent person with a mostly curry diet” part, but then I would lose some friends.

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