under the great wings of non-judgement

"if we know the divine art of concentration, if we know the divine art of meditation, if we know the divine art of contemplation, easily and consciously we can unite the inner world and the outer world."
-sri chinmoy

my sister and i visited the vedanta center in montecito on my last afternoon/evening in santa barbara.  it is in such a gorgeous location, it's unreal.

driving in the mountains we pull up to this bell, and want to ring it, but aren't sure if we should?

the beautiful temple

 so at this point my sister and i are feeling very chill and blissful, after spending some time by the ocean and having the pleasure of visiting this beautiful place for peace.  we had gone to meditation mount on my first day in sb, so we thought what better way to close my journey than to return to a place of positivity and openness?  kate couldn't remember the name of the place, so we kept calling it the 'pedonkadonk center'.  as we drove up i saw the signs for the 'vedanta center', and i thought yes i remember studying advaita vedanta indian philosophy in college.  i knew at one point i had been drawn to it, so i was excited to see what the ceremony would be like.

it is so quiet up there.  we heard that at 6 pm everyday there is some sort of music and meditation, so we felt confident about sharing in some spirituality with others!

we take a moment to inhale the sweeping breathtaking views.  then we take our shoes off and enter the temple.  i brought my camera in, and was about to snap some photos of the inside of the temple (little did i know it was a good thing i didn't!).  

gorgeous flowers everywhere, yet there are signs all about that say 'please walk only on the paved paths'.  hmmmm...  if this is a place of respect and peace, wouldn't it be an opportune area to trust that people won't trample flowers?


as we enter the temple we hear indian music and chants i don't understand.  there are chairs set up and about 5 or 6 people are sitting with their eyes closed.  i look up front and see an altar with candles and photos of krishna, jesus, buddha, etc.  it feels very formal in there and i wonder why people are meditating on chairs when it's so comfortable and grounding to meditate on the floor.  i realize i shouldn't judge them though, we each have our own ways of meditating. 

my sister and i enjoy meditating in nature!

kate and i make our way to the front on the room and sit on the floor, thinking this is an open place and we should feel comfortable.  we sit upright for a bit, close our eyes, and begin to go within.  the indian music is kind of pretty- the woman singing is slightly off key but it works.  i can't help but wish it was in english so i could know and absorb the information.  oh well i think, we are in an indian temple.  

this is the same afternoon that i got a massage, so i feel like continuing with the muscle healing.  i stretch my legs in front of me and just allow my head to hang in a very easy forward bend.  i think nothing of it, and it's not like i'm going all out and doing sun salutations.  the music is almost distracting, but then i remember that distractions are the best way to meditate- we can't always have our silence and need to know how to be calm in chaos.  i take full deep breaths and accept the calm.  i feel light and love with my sweet little sister nearby, sensing her breath and presence next to me, both going inward.  so awesome.

i am abruptly drawn out of my peace by a gentle grab of my shoulder.  i open my eyes feeling afraid and see a woman wearing a shawl on her head.  she says, "you are welcome to meditate here, but we really don't allow so much yoga asana.  please continue to meditate sitting."  and she hands me a little card with rules on it.

suddenly i feel embarrassed and put out, like a child being reprimanded in church.  i watch as my feelings of animosity begin brewing, my rebelliousness to organized religion resurfaces and my calm easiness has gone out the window. 

i close my eyes and try to meditate again but can't help but feel excluded and unwanted.  i sense kate get up and leave so i do the same.  while leaving i look at the card of rules.  they say: 
1. no laying down
2. wear appropriate clothing
3. no eating or drinking
4.  no physical exercises
5.  no pictures or videos- if you'd like to do this please speak with someone at the center

rules.  ugh.  i'm at church again.  i'm not trusted to find my own path to peace, i have to follow someone else's rules.  

my sister and  i walk around the grounds (on the paved areas of course) for a short while and whisper our thoughts on what just happened.  for a moment we reflect that maybe we were wrong and disrespectful, but then we think- how does how we meditate affect others if we aren't hurting or disturbing others?  why the uniformity?

we laugh it off as much as we can, and think of things we wish we'd said to the woman.  what if one of us had a bodily problem where we couldn't sit up for long periods of time?  it's a bit rude to assume everyone can sit and meditate.  we wish we had screamed out of shock when she came near us and said "oh my gosh you startled me!  i'm meditating here!"  i mean who interrupts someone when they're meditating to tell them they're doing it wrong?!  she could have at least waited until we walked out the temple and let us know after.  it is quite the buzz kill to be reprimanded when in an open and somewhat vulnerable space of meditation.

kate and i decided to take this experience as a lesson, not a mistake.  we shook off the judgement, yet still felt a little sad that we didn't feel welcome and probably won't go back to the pedonkadonk society.  i took a look at the pamphlet i picked up on my way out, about the ceremony we had witnessed called arati.  i understand there are a million ways to peace, and for some this is their way.  it is a little too rigid, superstitious, and exclusive for my taste, with the dipping of the candle three times and the singing of the songs to ramakrishna, but to each her own.

on the car ride home, my sister and i discuss what a striking difference the vedanta society is from meditation mount.  when we walked around mediation mount we saw many friendly welcoming faces.  one guy was walking around playing his guitar, two women were painting, some people were gardening, and we were welcomed by a sweet woman named katherine that asked to take photos of us doing yoga for their website.  you can walk wherever you like on the grounds, respect for the sacred place is understood.  hot tea is available to everyone all day.  the only rule on mediation mount is not to disturb others.  i like that rule, it's very universal and inclusive, something we all should respect- each other's peace.

i find it interesting that once religious dogma is involved, particularly with the idea of a personal god, that judgement begins to peak it's ugly little head.  spirituality is innate and within every being in the universe and we will each find our own way.  to be judged and reprimanded for your way, if it doesn't harm anyone, is pretty much the demise of faith and the antithesis of what religions proclaim.  

i truly hope i live to see a day when rather than focus on what divides us, we nurture and cultivate what we all share.  

we are one after all- imagine!

visit mediation mount's site here: www.meditation.com



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