My orange silk eye pillow is still tearstained from the first time I tried to meditate. After three minutes of attempting the homework for the mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) course I was in, I went to Hart in tears. I said, “She doesn’t have any idea how hard this is! How can she possibly expect someone to meditate when they feel as bad as I do? This can’t work for someone who is as sick as I am.” Eight years later, that memory is still so strong that I asked Vidyamala Burch about it during our interview.
Kerrie Smyres: The first time I tried meditation was homework for an MBSR course. I was crying within minutes, angry that the teacher had no idea how hard it was to be in my body. How do you encourage participants who have a similar reaction?
Vidyamala Burch: I know how you feel because when I first started doing body scans I felt much worse afterwards, like I had been run over by a train, because my body was holding so much tension that when I came into my body, I was completely flooded by the tension. But I just intuited that I needed to keep doing it and those feelings eased off over time.
If you have got a body that you don’t like because it hurts you, because you feel let down by it or whatever—it is one of the hardest things in the world to come into that body and it should never be dismissed as something that is easy.
At Breathworks, we really know how hard it is, so we put a lot of emphasis on comfort, making sure people have the blankets and cushions that they need, we are sort of loving people, tucking them in literally and metaphorically, and if people cry or get angry, we say ‘Yes, of course,’ that is a totally appropriate response. We put a lot of emphasis on love and kindness which is very important. Otherwise body awareness can seem a bit more mechanical—you are trying to just come into your body and go through the different body parts without this attitude of love. Well, that will be a really hard thing to do.