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Your Meditation Practice May Not be What You Think (Old Men Who Spit and Throw Stones)

Dear Integral Meditators,

This weeks article features a reflection on a period of my own meditation practice in the year immediately following my ordination as a Buddhist Monk. Our life challenges come in a variety of different ways, sometimes they come in ways we can anticipate and other times not so much!

This coming week has two events, the first is the Integral Depth Meditation Classeson Wednesday 10th, and the Introduction to Walking Meditation on Sunday 14th. You can click on the links below for full details.

Yours in the spirit of the journey,



Your Meditation Practice May Not be What You Think (Old Men Who Spit and Throw Stones)

In the mid-nineties I returned from a Buddhist festival the Newcastle, England having been newly ordained as a young Buddhist Monk. One main reason I thought I had gotten ordained was to make sure that I had plenty of decent open space in my life for meditation practice, and I was looking forward to getting onto my meditation cushion and making some serious progress that year.
The place where I was staying at the time was not actually a meditation center  it was the spare room of a friend’s flat in an inner city council estate with a lot of poverty, and a lot of substance abuse all around. Our little meditation group had recently moved out of our previous residential space, and were looking for somewhere to buy. So, in the meantime I was holed up in this small room with a bed on one side, a meditation cushion in the middle, and all the furniture and other materials from the meditation center piled up to the ceiling all around me.
The circumstances weren’t ideal for meditation, but nevertheless I was anxious to sit down and get started. However, as soon as I sat down a pattern of occurrences happened that lasted for a whole year. Basically it would be like this:

  • I would sit down to meditate, close my eyes, start setting my motivation and begin my pre-practice prayers
  • Simultaneously in my mind’s eye (not physical eye please note) I would see a bunch of wrinkly, sour faced old men assemble in a circle above my head. Some of them were dressed in old police and military uniforms, some had big sticks in their hands, others stones.
  • As I would start my prayers they would start shouting, spitting on me, chucking rocks down and “hitting” my head aggressively with their sticks (again please note this is in the subtle realm, not the physical one!). Then basically they would stick around for the duration of my meditation, making life as difficult as possible, and then just as I was about to finish they would go away cracking smiles and patting each other on the back!
  • I would then emerge from my meditation session rather disturbed, disoriented and confused, and with something of a headache!

After a couple of weeks of this as I’m sure you can imagine I was pretty sick of this, and it really was not much fun. Nevertheless I kind of hoped that it would last a month or so and then they would leave me alone. Unfortunately not, this basic pattern repeated itself for the year that I was living in that small room. Every time I sat down to meditate I had to endure a shower of psychic abuse from these weird old men. I tried to pray them away, do protection circles, to call on the Buddha’s for help, all to no avail. It seemed like it was just up to me to face off with this every day (and often it persisted during the night and when I was out walking etc…) and take what it was teaching me. What did it teach me? Well, that open to debate really, but here are a few things that occur:

  • To endure and to be very resilient. Sounds like a bit of a cliché, but it did make me mentally tougher to sit myself down for hours at a time knowing that basically I was going to get a lot of abuse and very (very) little bliss
  • To direct compassion and care toward myself. I was alone for long periods of time in this rather hostile location, and if I was not going to direct care and compassion toward myself to deal with the trauma, it was not going to come from outside
  • To appreciate the friends I had. I was not able to talk about what I was going through with anyone, it just felt a bit bizarre, but I did learn to deeply value the basic human warmth and care that I received periodically from people I learned from, taught and who otherwise shared my life.
  • The equanimity of a big mind. I could not control what was appearing to my mind (which was all pretty horrible) but I could be aware that all that was happening was happening in the context of an infinitely large experience of spacious awareness that was always the same, always tolerant, always reliable.
  • A deeper sense of trust: I struggled with the feeling that, despite my belief and experience of benevolent higher powers, they basically seemed to have left me literally and completely to the dogs. Over time I came to see that the skills and insights that I was developing in such a hostile environment were actually ones that could not be developed in other ways. So I (not without a certain amount of chagrin) accepted and trusted what was happening as part of a bigger process.

I just want to say that if you take up meditation it is EXTREMELY UNLIKELY THAT ANY OF THE ABOVE WILL HAPPEN TO YOU! And if you come to one of my meditation classes the environment is conditioned to be conducive to developing states of inner peace and wellbeing.
However, I thought it might be interesting for me to share a bit every now and again about my own (somewhat eccentric and off the main road) personal path and process.
…and finally to point out the title theme of this article, that your own personal meditation practice, which is to say your own path to genuine inner liberation and enlightenment (in whatever way you understand it) may not be quite what you think it is going to be.

© Toby Ouvry 2013, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website