With three gentle taps on the Tibetan bowl, the meditation was about to begin. Our instructor sat, cross legged on a simple podium, with the students in the large studio positioned across from him, some on cushions, some on folded blankets, but sitting upright and aligned. By now, after a full day of meditation lectures from the day before, the mixed group of attendees knew that with those three soft “pings” ringing out in the quiet room, the session was about to begin. I, on the other hand, was on the couch in an AirBnb in Savannah, Georgia, and ready to meditate along with them.
I had just pressed play on the Omega.org site, ready to follow along on the third day’s recorded session from the Rhinebeck campus. The actual live workshop was being held on a past weekend when I had back-to-back commitments, but the title of the program caught my eye: Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics: A Live Stream Workshop hosted by well-known meditation instructor, lecturer and author, Jeff Warren. I had heard his name on the Calm app which I have on my phone and which I listen to on nights I can’t sleep, and to be able to improve my meditation practice, especially since I’m “fidgety” though not skeptical, was too good to pass up. Plus, that I could get a recording of the whole weekend to use when I had an open window in my upcoming weekend was icing on the cake. Omega’s generous recordings’ policy would allow me to hold onto it for 60 days, which provided a relaxed loan time since rushing to get through a series of meditation recordings seemed counter-productive.
I believe in meditation, have read enough about the benefits to recite them to others, and have been fascinated at times when I’ve zoned out during a session. But, many sessions have also been an internal battle of mind control; my monkey brain wants to remind me of all the things I should be doing, like editing a story, going food shopping, or recalibrating the tire pressure on my SUV. It’s like meditation sabotage. The side of me that wants to have a successful meditation is battling with the side that wants to go fold towels.
Jeff Warren (Photo Credit: Ashley Batz)
But I must congratulate Jeff Warren, whose demeanor matched my own; he’s not a master of meditation, but struggles with it, too. He shared how he continually works on his own practice, experiments using music, chanting, and arm and hand movements. Plus, life in his household is chaotic, too, as he and his meditation partner/wife must fit it in when a three-year-old in the house. In his blog, he writes, “Meditation did not come easily for me. I was and am an impulsive, over-thinking worrier.” I particularly resonated with his statement that “I’d rather think about all the things that could happen in meditation than actually do the practice.” Right?! When having a tough day, I will think to myself how nice it would be to find time to meditate later, how it will calm me, lower my blood pressure, put me into a better mood. Then, I run off to the supermarket. But on this playback, I remained mindful and present, I allowed my brain to flitter from topic to topic but let it go. I came back to reality about 20 minutes later. I hadn’t slept but was just in a kind of semi-awareness. It’s hard to describe.
The pandemic showed us the real power of the live-streamed event. It’s here to stay. Yet, I wondered if a livestreamed meditation class would offer the same benefits as an in-person class. Warren responds, “I don’t follow up directly with people who take my online retreats other than to send a general questionnaire – but based on this, people do talk about the immediate benefits. People who do my Consciousness Explorers Club online Monday nights keep coming back, so they experience benefits. Tens of thousands of people regularly listen to my meditations on Calm and 10% Happier – both online platforms – and many of them send me notes about how meditation is transforming their life. So, they seem to be receiving benefits.”
He adds, “My guess is it’s a mix. Some people do better in online learning environments, where they can control their home situation and so on. Others really benefit from in-person group situations, where we can learn more directly from the other students. Plus, the physical commitment of showing up in person can be quite powerful.”
I can see both viewpoints. While the meditation classes were a true convenience — I could hit the “pause” anytime, and resume later in the day; didn’t have to make the small talk in between sessions if I was feeling particularly relaxed and quiet, or struggle to find my shoes at the conclusion of the class, yet, on the other hand, I enjoy being part of the human experience, the camaraderie over a shared joke, or meeting up on the campus at the coffee shop for an impromptu conversation. It’s a true toss-up. I am, however, so grateful that the choice is there to make.
WAT asked Jeff what he would like his Omega students to take away from the class. “That you do not need to depend on experts only to support your own mental health,” he says. “Practice can play a huge role: meditation practice, art practice, therapy practice, music practice, sports practice, all these different ways we have of taking care of ourselves. Once you understand the core universal attentional skills that get trained across all these different kinds of practices, you can learn to become your own teacher. And it gets even more powerful when you do this in community.”
Omega has an eclectic mix of upcoming online workshops scheduled for the Fall, among them, Befriending Yourself: Loving the world; Navigating Anxiety In Children: Meeting Stress With Inner Strength, and an immersive weekend live streamed workshop with acclaimed author, Cheryl Strayed on how to “write with clarity, courage, consciousness and heart” in a class called Wild Awakenings.
Despite Omega’s campus closure due to Covid, says its CEO Robert “Skip” Backus: “Our audience was still hungry for connection, inspiration, and learning. It forced us to swiftly pivot from our traditional operating model to online delivery of our workshops, retreats, and programs.” While it’s impossible to fully replicate the in-person campus experience, he adds, “it’s clear that online learning and virtual classrooms are here to stay and we are thrilled to be able to better translate our vibrant campus curriculum to online learning and make it easier for people to access our robust offering of free content.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, Rhinebeck, NY.
Omega has generously provided this link, free to WAT readers, to OMEGA’s PODCAST INTERVIEW WITH JEFF WARREN, https://www.eomega.org/audio/make-your-nervous-system-sing
For Omega’s upcoming online courses, visit https://www.eomega.org/learn-person-online/online-courses
To see Omega’s upcoming Fall and Winter programs, visit https://www.eomega.org/learn-person-online/person-workshops