Sunday June 16th and we met for our first Yatra in the Cheese and Grain car park central Frome. The word Yatra is a Sanskrit word for ‘journey ‘ or ‘procession’. Often a Yatra is a pilgrimage to a holy or sacred place. We decided to acknowledge the sacred in the beautiful nature all around us on Sunday as we headed out of Frome along the river towards Great Elm.
Just before heading off Matt reminded us that the Buddha encouraged walking alone in nature – he would take off alone for three months to spend time in meditation. 2500 years ago the monks and lay practitioners did not sit in meditation halls together – they sat in groves, parkland, cemeteries and generally out in nature. For much of their year, in the Indian state of Bihar, I guess they may have had better weather than us – and maybe they took cover during the monsoon rains but we all acknowledged that there is something very deeply connecting in practicing outside in quiet natural environments.
We walked in silence for 40 minutes then chatted for 40 minutes – alternating as we walked and stopped for lunch on the ancient sea bed rock in the quarry at Great Elm – the sunshine too.
It was a great day, I felt my body relax, all the tension gently letting go as we walked slower that I would normally walk out of town – through Whatcombe fields. The wild flowers in this field owned by a Frome Collective were beautiful and attracted swooping aerodynamic super flyers the house martins and swifts – so elegant and sleek under the grey skies. The starlings gave us a little show too on our way up the hill – a mini murmuration– reminding me of the systemic fields we too live within unconsciously.
My lasting memory of our wonderful day is of the smells of elderflower, wild garlic and roses – along with great companionship and a growing community of dharma practitioners.
Here are a couple of comments from Yatri :
The Yatra yesterday has been a very special and rich experience for me. Walking in the beautiful nature of Frome partly in silence, partly in conversing magically created a bond for me with every detail of the whole experience, that I still feel. I am most grateful for this opportunity I was given.
Thank you all both the organizers and the participants.
I will be looking forward to the next Yatra meeting in July.
Such a simple and beautiful day...walking connected by silence and walking connected by speech. Sitting in a circle sharing food and words. A heart opening experience, receptive to nature, to the present moment and to each other. Thank you to Matt and Nic for holding the vision. Looking forward to next time!
So the market meditations will be starting again in a couple of weeks, from the first Sunday in March. I thought it might be a time to write something about what lead us to offer a meditation space in the middle of Frome’s busy market. It is not easy to write about, it feels like a purposeful thing to do but I struggle to say exactly why. It seems important not to pin it down too much, to let it live and evolve. So I thought the best way begin talking about this was by pooling the reflections of several people who have been regularly involved, which is what I have done below. At the same time I take full responsibility for the views expressed here. The article doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Frome Insight as a whole.
So, back to meditating in the market and why it has been good. First I have found it to be a great way to practice. Each month we sit in the middle of the noise and bustle of the market and practice being fully present with whatever is going on. I notice what comes up for me as i sit there, including when I’m a bit fearful, or when I’m worried people might be judging me. Nic says something about this practicing in the midst of a busy street:
I love the contrast between the sitting and what is going on around me; the noise, the smells, the movement and all the senses that are activated. Hearing people chattering, and talking as they pass, hearing comments about what we are doing and then allowing them to float off.
I seem to feel more inner calm there when the world around me is loud and moving, and I love listening to people's comments about what we are doing, especially from the children, some asking to join us and their parents saying "Yes go on then!" Once a child asked what we were doing and their parent said "They are sitting and thinking and pretending the world doesn't exist!" What an insight into the perceptions of meditation, and such an opportunity to interact and share.
Lauren makes another point about community and reaching out to others as part of our practice:
These meditations are a way to build community by meditating together, a way to interact with people, build curiosity, start conversations and bring meditation visibly into the world.
For me this is a reminder that practice isn’t just something that happens on retreat, in a meditation hall, or otherwise hidden from other people; it happens in the middle of my life. By doing something a bit different perhaps something different will result. For example perhaps people who otherwise would never come into contact with Buddhist meditation will find a way in through our activity. In this way a we might hope to build a more inclusive, resilient sangha.
Connected to this some of us feel like we are actively offering an alternative to the market environment, which can be stressful, and dominated by commercial interests and distractedness, as Jay says:
Sometimes the busyness of the market can be a bit much and doing these meditations is a way of taking part in a different way.
This feels like a contrast compared to my normal market engagement which I find much more stressful, and the questions that normally come "How much is that? Can I afford it? Will they like it? Should I buy it? Am i hungry?"
As does Lauren:
These meditations offer a way to engage with the market which doesn't feel overwhelming, a little centre of quiet in the busyness all around.
I have spoken to people who have seen us regularly sitting in the market. They have made the same observation, noticing how they long for some of the calm they imagine we have while they shop and we sit.
Finally, there is something quietly subversive, for at least some of us, about sitting in this way, as Jay says:
We are doing something that goes against the grain, something that isn't expected and isn't part of normal market behaviour, people don't normally sit on the floor, or close their eyes!
Jay won’t mind me saying, I don’t think, that he is no scholar of Buddhist teachings, but his “against the grain” is remarkably similar to a phrase the Buddha use Patisothagami, usually translated as against the stream. Insight Meditation teacher Noah Levine, who named one of his books and his organisation Against The Stream, says:
The Buddha said his path to awakening was one of rebellion – a subversive path that is against greed, against hatred, and against delusion. It is a path of radical, engaged transformation, a path of finding freedom and spending the rest of our lives giving it away. It is a path that goes Against the Stream.
I agree with Noah and Jay. For me there is something quietly, strongly subversive about bringing my meditation practice into the midst of the busy, hugely popular market in Frome. It does feel as if it goes against the grain.
So there you have a few reflections on what has drawn us to offer this market meditation space. I hope you can join us next time.