Having never formally meditated, I was equal parts intimidated and curious walking into the Atisha Kadampa Buddhist Center (AKBC) on the East Side. The unassuming outside gave way to a tranquil interior complete with light colored walls, Buddhist excerpts, and plenty of space to sit. Upon arriving, I was asked to remove my shoes and take one of several seats facing a shelf brimming with Buddhist figurines and a framed photo of the center’s founder, Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.
This evening class was, like most of their sessions, dedicated to a particular topic. In my case, this was the first of many in a series on Overcoming Anger. When our instructor, Kelsang Chokyi, entered, our intimate class of ten pressed their palms together in reverence as she walked, unhurried and graceful, to a platform in the middle. After taking a moment to arrange her gold-and-red robes and settle in, she broke into a warm smile and welcomed us to class.
I don’t think I knew what I had expected until I realized what I hadn’t: The conversational, dynamic mood to the room surprised me. We started with an overview of what we were to discuss, then commenced with our first round of meditation. Eyes closed, hands cupped in my lap, I swear my breath matched that of my peers as we melted to Chokyi’s soothing voice and then meditative quiet. When we were beckoned back to the present, I was amazed to see that 15 minutes had gone by; the longest meditation practice I’d managed to do on my own was a whopping five.