I Thought I Was the Worst Meditator Ever Until I Got Zen in a Room With 499 Strangers

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I was almost late to The Big Quiet session I was set to attend, thanks to a pretty un-Zen Lyft experience. The other passenger in my shared ride was also headed to the mass group meditation, which is currently in the midst of a 10-city national tour. We were nervously laughing about not having time to visit the bathroom at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan before the centering session kicked off. And after discovering she had done the Big Quiet before and I had not, I used the traffic as an opportunity to conduct some serious investigative journalism.

"Is it, like, fun?" I asked. She mulled it over and marked it as more of a powerful experience. To paraphrase, she said it's fun, but not like, woo! fun. Hmmm, I thought. Unsettling, yet intriguing.

For the uninitiated (like I was, until very recently), the Big Quiet is is a massive meditation movement that hosts events where hundreds of people gather in some of the most gorgeous places in the world to hopefully soothe their mind for 75 minutes. There aren't harsh restrictions set in place at these events, either. Need to bend or stretch mid-meditation? Great. Bend or stretch. With The Big Quiet, comfort, unity, and the cultivation of community are paramount. And with 500 total attendees set to join the session at the Gugg along with me, I knew that I was going to get a lot of community. What I felt less sure about was the comfort component.

That's because—confession—I don't know how to meditate, and it's natural to not feel inclined to do things you feel bad at. So when I did eventually arrive and settle into my space for the session, I felt like an imposter, unworthy of being there at all. Bobbing precariously on my meditation cushion and looking at clusters of what appeared to be bona fide mindfulness gurus, I knew: They are going to figure me out and label me as a fraud if I don't lay low. But, when I learned the first item on the agenda was an icebreaker to make friends, it was imminent that I'd be outed.

Next, we're instructed to quickly touch base with the person to our side. Peggy, the woman/meditation pro to my right, tells me about a bike ride she made through Brooklyn that morning. Then she silently helps me uncap my Saje essential oil when I struggle big-time to open the vial. I am significantly more at ease now—and it's not just because we're inhaling the scent of citrus. I also feel comforted when we're instructed to look up and focus on the architectural marvel of the Guggenheim. Maybe I'm bad at meditation, but even a meditative minute honoring the city I love fills me with joy.

We're then led in hatha breathing, meant to recalibrate the nervous system and build togetherness via exuberant "HA!"-style exhales. And, you know what? By the time we start the main-event meditation, I do feel comfortable, and I do feel a sense of community.

When we were told to be silent amid the instrumental sound, I was fidgety and couldn't keep my eyes closed. But I also wasn't worried any longer about being found out as a meditation fraud.

Auditory waves accompany the guided meditation, and we're encouraged to match our own hum to the hum of the noise—raise the sound, lower the sound, keep the hum steady, and take a breath when you need it. Eventually, we're told to send absolute love to someone we adore, and someone we're having a difficult time with. And, maybe I cry at this point. (Okay, I definitely cry.) Ultimately, "powerful" is a label that only sort of reflects the high caliber of emotional charge packed into this event.

Bottom line: The Big Quiet proved to be a transformative experience for this meditation doubter—but there were still pain points I feel compelled to share. During the chunk of time we were told to be silent amid the instrumental sound, I was fidgety and couldn't keep my eyes closed, even a little. But I also wasn't worried about being found out for my self-diagnosed mindfulness shortcomings. When I looked around, all I saw was a sea of tranquility. And I was part of it. I was wide-eyed, bouncy, and unable to sit still—but I was still part of the meditative magic.

Meditation, I gloriously learned, can mean so much more and be so much more personalized and nuanced than sitting in silent solitude with the goal of quieting your mind. For me—for now, at least—it's prolonged, peaceful moments of feeling connected to everything.

Here, learn more about how to use meditation as a tool to improve your relationships. And one energy healer shares the mistake that might be derailing your entire meditation practice.

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