Although not political in nature, I think that this meditation was very well-timed considering both local and national events. For one thing, it’s the day before Remembrance Sunday on the the Centenary of the First World War, and gathering by the war memorial to sit in quiet contemplation and peace seems to me to be a good, positive way to commemorate the occasion.
Secondly, Rochester has been the site of much anger and hate recently, sparked by the up-coming by-election for a local MP. To give a summary of the situation for non-British readers: The respected MP for Rochester suddenly defected from the central-right wing Conservative Party to the considerably more right-wing and eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP). Once considered a minor oddball of politics, UKIP has gained a considerable following in the UK recently – but has also come under criticism for the racist and homophobic sentiments expressed by some of its members. What’s worse, the strong possibility of UKIP winning a seat in Rochester has attracted extreme far-right parties to the local area, who have been demonstrating and distributing their literature, which is highly anti-multiculturalism (and particularly anti-Muslim) in nature. The presence of such hateful groups in Rochester has caused a lot of anger and sadness among so many of the locals – myself included.
So for me, taking part in this meditation has been a way to try and spread feelings of tolerance, love, peace and mindfulness, in a communal and public fashion. It was a form of prayer, a silent demonstration against hate, a celebration of a practice that’s been brought to Britain thanks to multiculturalism, and an expression of hope.
There were about 10-20 participants I’d say, and we all sat in a circle around the memorial. Candles were lit and placed at the foot of the memorial, and we began the meditation by intoning the sacred syllable “aum.” We were then encouraged to start the meditation by focussing on giving love, kindness and compassion to our own selves. In our mind’s eyes we then spread these feelings to those close to us, to those we feel hostility towards, and to our community as a whole. The whole meditation lasted half an hour.
I had my eyes closed the whole time, and it turned out to be quite a sensual experience. At the very beginning it was raining very lightly, and this actually felt quite nice to be sitting in the gentle rain – almost like undergoing a light “misogi” (Shinto purification ritual by water). The rain then stopped and I focussed on the feelings of love and compassion, all the while remaining aware of my surroundings yet distant at the same time. I could hear the wind rustling through the trees, the bells of the cathedral ringing every quarter hour, and at one point a busker playing the guitar. I was aware of all the other people on the high street, but felt neither self-conscious of them or bothered by them or anything at all – they were just there, just existing as part of nature like the wind and the rain. Towards the end of the meditation, the sun came out and I could feel its warm light on my face – a really hopeful way for such a meditation to end.
I think afterwards we all felt serene and glowing from our experience. I found I got a lot out of it emotionally and spiritually, and I hope that perhaps it inspired onlookers to consider taking time to sit, think, and be at peace.