We’re sitting on cushions in a circle and my mind is going at it –
This is interesting – I wonder what will happen? – That girl over there is cute – I heard people cry and scream in these things – What if I throw up or shit myself or something? – That would be bad – Oh look, here comes the teacher –
His name is Punnu and he looks the part: Indian, turban-clad and bearded with a long robe. He has that air of detached cheerfulness of someone who has done a lot of meditation – he’s part way ‘out’ and nothing much bothers him anymore.
“You look tired,” he says to the group, “You need to wake up!”
There’s no response from us, but Punnu realizes what he’s just said and repeats it to himself laughing, “You are here to wake up!”.
“Do you want to feel happiness?” he asks the group.
“Do you want to feel bliss?”
“Well, you’re going to have to do the work first.”
There are about 30 of us here, sitting cross-legged in a circle on a Monday afternoon. This meditation is called Ananda Mandala and it is supposed to clear the chakras, which – according to Hinduism – are the seven energetic centers in the body that run from the base of the spine to the crown of the head.
“This is a very powerful meditation,” Punnu says, “It will bring up all the garbage inside of you.”
The practice itself consists of rhythmic breathing, in and out through the nose. A full inhale, followed by a forceful exhale. A box of kleenex is passed around and everyone blows their nose.
Punnu says if we start to feel dizzy, or like we’re going to pass out, then we should slow down a little. He jokes that *probably* no one will die and a few people look a little nervous.
We hold hands in the circle, close our eyes, and a recording starts.
A voice begins counting rhythmically –
“One – two. One – two. One – two.”
Everyone starts breathing in unison – in on “one” and out on “two” – taking in full breaths and then forcing out the air by pulling in the stomach.
The counting gets faster…
“One, two. One, two. One, two.”
The breathing is steady with no breaks, and within a few minutes my legs, lower body and forearms start to tingle as oxygen rushes to the blood and brain.
More tingling – and the count speeds up once again as we near the end of the first cycle –
“One two – One two – One two – One twooooo!”
Now we hold our breath and focus on the root chakra – the first energy center in the body located at the base of the spine. Next we focus on the crown chakra at the top of the head, still holding the breath – then let go and the cycle starts again.
“One – two. One – two. One – two.”
The energy continues to build as we move into the stomach and the second chakra, and all throughout my body there’s a strong tingling, buzzing and numb sensation.
Ananda Mandala means “bliss circle” – but part way through you wouldn’t know it. It’s physically uncomfortable and demanding on the body, while causing dizziness and lightheadedness at the same time.
Some of the girls are crying now, and a few let off screams of anger. It’s getting hot and I can feel my shirt wet with sweat.
We hold the breath again, focusing on the solar plexus. Then back to the crown of the head, let it go and start again –
“One – two. One – two. One – two.”
Opening the heart has been on my mind in the days before this class and I’m anticipating the heart chakra – at this point the energy build-up in the body is extreme and I’m filled with strong buzzing, tingling electricity. As we hold the breath to focus on the heart and chest area – I feel a powerful sense of release, much of the energy dissipates and the sensations lessen dramatically.
More screaming now – I barely notice as we pass through the throat chakra and the energy rises up into my face, cheeks and eyes. This is alarming and I open my eyes to stare straight at Punnu – he looks back and says firmly, “Keep your eyes closed!”
My sense of time has gone at this point but we’ve likely been breathing nonstop for at least 20-30 minutes. After the throat chakra I’m so out of it that I miss the third eye completely and am surprised when we’re already on the crown of the head.
We hold the breath at the final chakra, and then let go one last time.
Now I feel completely at peace, floating in a high state of tranquility and calm. There are no thoughts – only an overwhelming sense of wonder and gratitude for getting to take part in this miracle.
The miracle isn’t the meditation or the experience itself – it’s the whole thing. I put my hands over my heart and I’m intensely aware of the holiness of all creation – normally I wouldn’t use a word like “holy” but this is the only way I can describe it. I clasp my hands together and bow deeply to the “God” that is everything.
In these moments are feelings of complete oneness and a near total lack of self. I’m simply floating in this serene and blissful state – filled with love and gratitude for everything around me and for getting to take part in it all.
Punnu is walking around the circle giving a silent blessing to each person. He comes around and blesses me – I bow deeply to him and then for no reason whatsoever – just start laughing.
The humour comes out of nowhere and it’s powerful – suddenly it’s just funny. How could it not be?
Others around me are laughing with joy as well, and I open my eyes to look at the guy next to me. He slaps my thigh and we laugh together like old friends, even though I don’t even know his name.
I have some vague sense that all these bodies have come here today to sit in a circle and practice the Ananda Mandala meditation together – that only adds to the hilarity.
(It later strikes me that this is the exact same quality of consciousness that I’ve experienced on LSD trips)
Eventually the laughter dies down and we sit quietly for a while longer meditating. Slowly I begin to feel my body again, notice that my legs are sore from sitting cross-legged for so long, and that my shirt is soaking wet.
The minutes start to stretch longer, until Punnu invites us back to open our eyes –
I look around the room and see several people still crying, some rocking back and forth silently.
Punnu opens up the floor for people to talk about their experience. A girl describes feeling her recently deceased grandmother there, hugging her during the experience.
I’m curious about the humour so I go next and ask the group for their thoughts. Normally I would feel at least some trepidation about speaking in front of a group, but there’s none of that here.
While I ask about the laughing specifically, what I’m really curious about is how a very particular and exact aspect of a drug experience can be reproduced just through breathing and a silent, contactless ‘blessing’.
The guy next to me talks about feelings of release in his chakras, but he doesn’t really address the question.
Punnu sees I’m looking for something more concrete and says that the blessing activates the parts of the brain most active when we’re children. Babies laugh then cry, laugh again then cry again – for no reason whatsoever. But he also says that you can’t explain it with the rational mind – there is just bliss and love and you are accessing that state here.
One guy is on his knees – he has long hair and looks like he works out – with tears streaming down his face. He says, “This was the most powerful experience of my life.”
He has an accent and I don’t catch it all, but his wife or girlfriend had left him the year before for another man. During the meditation he saw them together in his mind and felt nothing but love and goodwill towards both.
He says, “I feel like there was something black in my heart, and now it has come out”
Another girl asks why she feels like she’s ‘flying’ – I feel pretty similar. Punnu recommends we ground ourselves before driving or going back out on the street.
The class comes to an end, we put away our cushions and slowly exit out the room. I start talking to the girl I thought was cute while we put on our shoes – but she has an accent that’s unexpected and for some reason puts me off. She goes to get some food and I take a shower, still feeling very high off the whole thing.
I feel relaxed, peaceful and refreshed – but at the same time a bit worn out. I take some time afterwards to just be alone, chill out and eat some food.
Even the next day I feel ‘lighter’ – life is good and it’s impossible to take anything too seriously. I’m blown away by the Ananda Mandala experience – but despite the overwhelming positivity, it’s not something I’d want to do every day or even every week.
So what to make of all this..?