Let me know if this sounds familiar: you wake up, go to work, go home, exercise (maybe), cook (maybe), clean up, text with friends, meet them, or cancel on them, because it’s been a long day, and you haven’t had a moment to rest since you first woke up. You go to bed drained, and do it all again, even though you haven’t had time to recharge. This is how I feel most of the time, anyway, and I don’t even have kids.
While it’s easy enough to acknowledge that this cycle is real, it’s hard to get out of our ruts. Plus, identifying how to fix that cycle can feel impossible, too. Who has the energy, or time, or creative capacity to make that happen?
And so, when I got an email inviting me to check out MNDFL, a meditation center that opened this year in the heart of Williamsburg, I was happy to accept. The premise of MNDFL is that, for all of the very busy people who live here, and who are mentally and spiritually exhausted, it can be used with the same pragmatic ease as a gym: it offers a dedicated meditation space that lets you pop in and pop out, at a time that is most convenient to your schedule. Plus, its deep roster of meditation experts, from a variety of disciplines, allows you to pick and choose which practice, and which teacher, works best for you. Beyond that, MNDFL doesn’t come with the standard trappings of mediation culture, like weekend-long retreats, or talks that last hours. Instead, this is meditation pure and simple, tailored to your life and schedule, with an assist from an expert—nothing more.
As a pitch, I found this appealing. But for many people, myself included, getting up the resolve to actually try out meditation can still overwhelm. The thought of creating a silent space around myself, and filling it up with my thoughts and emotions and an acute awareness of my body, felt almost scary: confronting the bigness of whatever that would be stopped me from diving in. But with help? I thought I could give it a go.
The morning I walked to the MNDFL space on North 8th Street, and was greeted with muted tones, soft textures, and minimal decor, instantly, my New York armor started to dissolve. I was greeted by a receptionist, instructed to get comfortable and take off my shoes, and hang up my coat. Just beyond the front entry, and before the spacious meditation room, a cell phone-free zone (complete with pillows and banquettes, literature, and hot tea) is enforced. The complete absence of this device/third limb—and the voices and distractions that come with it—helped me transition to a pre-meditative state well before my guided “body scan” began.
Inside the meditation area, there were rows of large pillows, and my teacher Kathy helpfully told me that, while my first time might feel foreign, if I followed her instructions, everything would be fine. There would be time after class for questions. Over the next 30 minutes, what followed was—as advertised—a complete mental scan of my body.
Kathy would say things like, “Think about the tiny spot on the back of your heel. Focus all your thoughts on that exact spot.” It can seem funny, if you’ve never thought about the tiny space on the back of your heel before, to acknowledge that it is there. But afterward, the cumulative effect of scanning the entire surface and depths of your frame is nothing like I expected. It simultaneously grounded me and opened me up to the world. It made me not just remember, but also feel, that my body is a haven—not, as it often feels, that it is a battle ship in self defense mode. I hadn’t felt anything like it ages. And the feeling stuck with me well after I left.
“A body scan is Buddhist in origin—it is mindfulness of the body, one of the four foundations of mindfulness that the Buddha taught 2,600 years ago,” says MNDFL co-founder and Chief Spiritual Officer, Lodro Rinzler. “Like other mindfulness practices, it allows us to become familiar with what is going on with us in a given moment; the more we understand ourselves, the more we befriend ourselves. The more we befriend ourselves, the more at peace we are,” he explained.
MNDFL co-founder and CEO Ellie Burrows told me that, at base, this ability to be friendly with ourselves is important not for keeping negativity out, but for dealing with it better when it arrives: “Part of the job is being able to sit in it, whether it is great or terrible, depending on the day,” says Burrows. “Ultimately, that’s what meditation is about.”
Which addresses another misconception about the practice: successful meditation is not about having no thoughts; it’s about letting whatever thoughts come to us, pass, without getting bogged down by them.“I’ve never had a thoughtless meditation in my life,” Burrows said. “All sorts of things come up, whether exciting, delicious, or stressful. The fact that thoughts come up is completely normal, what’s important is to gently and without judgment come back to the breath or mantra.” (Incidentally, that made me feel much better. While I was focusing on my heel, for example, I also had plenty of thoughts darting constantly through my head, about a whole array of weighty and less weighty things.)
The most important thing to keep in mind says Burrows, as you pursue the practice that is right for you, is that results come when you’ve formed a habit. “Consistency, and style of meditation, and environment, and pacing of the practice is important,” says Burrows. “And also the cumulative effect that builds over time: Like the gym, it takes time to lose weight.” Similarly in meditation, “the benefits build over time.”
And key among those? “It goes back to creating space,” says Burrows. “I don’t feel like I’m racing against the clock as much. It allows a baseline level of relaxation, and for more creative thinking, and clearer communication, and enhances listening skills.” Burrows goes on, and on, and on. She even claims it offers the impossible: “I feel there are more hours in a day.”
Personally, I feel that if 30 minutes of concentrating on the back of my heel, or my right knuckle, or the small of my back, with the help of an expert, can bring me all of that (after approximately 5 months of consistent practice, of course), mediation—especially in this city—is something we can’t afford to go without.