The point of practice: Program director Khalsa leads Week Two’s Mystic Heart meditation

SAALIK KHAN Staff Photographer
Subagh Singh Khalsa, Week Two teacher-in-residence with the Mystic Heart Community Meditation Program, leads the first meditation session of the week Monday at the Main Gate Welcome Center.

Editors’ Note: Jake Zuckerman is the 2015 Interfaith Lecture coverage reporter for the Daily. Part of his beat, including attending and writing about each 2 p.m. lecture, is the Mystic Heart Community Meditation Program. Zuckerman will attend Mystic Heart meditation every Monday and share his experiences in the following day’s Daily.

There’s an oft-cited cliché that different religions are just different paths up the mountain to the same peak. As I learned from Week Two of the Mystic Heart Community Meditation Program, some of those paths are more arduous than others.

Leading Week Two’s program, Subagh Singh Khalsa guided the roughly 35 participants through the practice of Sikh Dharma meditation. Khalsa is leading Weeks Two, Four and Six, as well as serving as the program coordinator. Although he is leading three separate weeks, he’s teaching the same tradition at each.

“I always come from the place that I am, and I always come from the practice that I engage in,” Khalsa said. “It would be artificial of me to lead people in a practice that I don’t do on a daily basis.”

Mystic Heart meets at 7:15 a.m. every weekday in the conference room at the Main Gate Welcome Center. The class is open to the public, and donations are encouraged at the door.

Although this was only my second attempt at meditation, I walked into the class with more confidence than last week, believing to have some understanding of what meditation is.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Sikh Dharma meditation varies from Week One’s Vipassana meditation in practice with stark contrast. As opposed to meditation via silence, Khalsa led the class in reciting a mantra repeatedly over a musical accompaniment from his iPod. While Khalsa instructed the class to recite the mantra, “say” in meditation-speak equates to the booming of a mantra at a Johnny Cash-esque, baritone level pitch.

As Khalsa instructed, the tradition encourages its practitioners to tune out and ignore impulses of boredom, annoyance, stress, fear or worry. The task presented was a difficult one, but often more difficulty brings more reward.

Khalsa did, however, offer sage advice for the struggling.

“We’re not here to kill an hour, and we’re not here to do something we may or may not remember,” Khalsa said. “We’re here to practice.”

While I “practiced” meditating, I found my mind wandering. My feet would tap to the music. They sped up when the drums ramped up to double time. I wondered how many times we had repeated the mantra, and how many recitations remained.

Apparent to me was how different my voice sounded to that of the crowd. What took longer to digest was that, maybe, that was the point. Perhaps the isolation of my own voice from the unified voice of the crowd was the goal of introspection and self-realization through meditation. Maybe my awareness of self was the goal.

Maybe it was a failure.

Before the session, Khalsa shared with me a piece of wisdom that he frequently shares with his students and friends: “I think that the beginning of wisdom is to love what is,” Khalsa said.

As with most good advice, Khalsa’s words were cryptic in nature, leaving room for personal interpretation. Maybe “loving what is” is embracing the inevitability of failure in life. Maybe the advice points to the attempt of meditation being more important than realizing any goal.

Maybe I failed and fell flat on my face. After all, that’s the point of practice.