The other day my theater company, Mission to (dit)Mars, ran a meditative writing workshop called Poetry in Stone. We do Meditative Writing workshops every summer with a wonderful mindfulness meditation guide named Emily Herzlin. She’s fantastic and always extremely calming.
Now, I meditate, and really like it- but I’m pretty new to meditation– I’ve only been practicing for about a year. The way I usually practice is at home alone with a guided meditation and/or or some music. It’s fairly rare that I practice in the outside world (read: not in my bedroom), but our meditation workshop got me doing just that.
One issue that arises while in a meditation workshop that’s both outdoors and with other people -plus involves writing -is that there are a lot of distractions. I was even distracted walking to the workshop. Thoughts kept crossing my mind like “I don’t know how to do this. I’m really scattered today. Where am I? I don’t feel peaceful. Oh no, I don’t feel peaceful! It’s ok! It’s not ok! No, feel how you feel! No, feel peaceful, goddammit!!” Those were all thoughts I had before I even got to the workshop.
This particular workshop was at the Noguchi Museum in Astoria, Queens. I’d never been there before and amazingly, neither had anyone else attending our workshop, other than Emily herself.
The Noguchi Museum is kind of like being inside one of those rock gardens where you scrape around sand with a tiny rake. Only there was no sand. There were only rocks. And us. And trees. And stairs. Stairs that led up to many rooms… of more rocks. Huge rocks seemed to grow out of the ground.
After all of us introduced ourselves, we spent some time in the outside (yet inside) part of the museum. Emily told us to put our phones away and attempt to not look at them throughout the 3 hour duration of the workshop. I felt both relieved and afraid.
We did a standing meditation. I rarely meditate standing up (by rarely I mean never). I became very aware of how much my feet ached. I became very aware of how my necklace kept hitting my collarbone. Then we finished our standing meditation and walked through the museum in silence, guided by Emily.
The museum is puzzling because some of it is outside, some is inside, and part of it seems to float completely in an in-between world of inside out. There’s a room that is walled-off yet open ceiling. There’s a room that’s simply an outside garden. There’s a room that seems like a concrete garage. There are rooms that are very hot. There’s a room that is very cold. And then there are middle rooms…dare I say they’re more like ‘typical’ museum rooms…whatever that means.
The stones confused me. They’re everywhere. I went into the museum with no preconceived notions about what the stone sculptures meant or why there were big abstract rocks all over the place. I didn’t know who Noguchi was or even that he was a person (he’s a person. But I thought Noguchi might be a place that birthed a collection of different sculptures). My mind wandered. I brought it back. My mind wandered. I brought it back. I felt myself walking. I felt myself breathing. I looked at the stones. They reminded me of people. They reminded me of old memories. They reminded me of nothing.
We went off on our own. I sat for awhile, in the very cold room, by one medium size stone…the only one I found recognizable. It was in the shape of a foot. I stared. People took dumb selfies with the foot stone. My mind wandered. I brought it back. My mind wandered. I brought it back.
I wrote. Stream of consciousness.
Surface of Mars
Metal pieces in my hair
Tin in my ear.
Breath. Air. Foootsteps. Nerves.
I stared out the window behind the foot stone. My mind wandered. I felt proud of myself for coming to the workshop. I was amazed at my meditative skills. I felt mad at myself for thinking about meditation instead of being meditative. I brought my thoughts back. People took more dumb selfies with the foot rock. I became aware of a yearning to check my phone. I didn’t. Instead I wrote.
I don’t want to move
I want to rest my stone feet
Still with the air
Frozen over with warmth inside
There’s a foot rock
But behind the glass in front of it
The warm tree world waves outside
Everyone loves the foot rock
After it worked so hard
and is now dead
It’s a funny corpse
Huge and lolling
I lost my inner battle and checked my phone. There were no important messages and I felt angry at myself for lack of willpower. I stalked to a different part of the museum and sat in a warm corner by an abstract desk sculpture. I stared. The desk sculpture was the only other sculpture in the museum that had a recognizable shape. People took photos of the desk and kept asking me to move my outstretched legs. I shifted and fumed at them..then I fumed at myself. I felt like I’d lost the peacefulness I had gained during the hour without my phone. I brought my thoughts back. I felt my breath go in and out. I wrote.
My warm living skin against the preserved wood floor
I am only a small corner
The desk just a piece
Sparkled metal, dusty
I am not home
The desk is empty
And I watch- close from afar
How it stands without me
I feel better here
Living flesh against wood
Phone’s warmth disappears
As my eyes open
A sickness comes from my bag
In my corner
Others come and go
Bending, filling, waving, capturing
By the end of the workshop I felt calm and in my body. I felt this way for a long time afterwards…even now I feel the calming sensation of that workshop. Of course, my phone still distracts me. My feet still ache. I still feel tense. I still chide myself for texting while walking.
But overall, the stones stay with me. Their solid masses remain mysterious, yet somehow familiar. I feel the strange relaxation of stones growing out of the earth. I feel the strange relaxation of writing about stones growing out of the earth. I bring myself back. I feel their presence. And then I feel my own presence once again.