Metta Gras: When Meditation Meets Mardi Gras

Metta Gras is a celebration of embracing the decadence of meditation.

Metta Gras is a celebration of embracing the decadence of meditation.

Welcome to the latest incarnation of my blog. Over the years, it has morphed from an etiquette blog, to a lifestyle blog and now into a blog devoted to mindfulness and meditation. I decided to call it Metta Gras, after a post I did on the Sharon Salzberg website during her Real Happiness Meditation Challenge. As you will learn in the post, published below, the challenge has been a rewarding experience, the result of which (so far) has been allowing myself to sign up for a meditation teacher training course. To me, using the phrase Metta Gras as the title speaks to the idea that meditation, far from being a form of denial, is really an indulgence. Much like Mardi Gras being a time to overindulgence in eating, drinking and general merriment, meditation a time to binge on awareness, peace and food for your mind, body and soul. Also, I live in New Orleans, so it seemed like a fun way to give a shoutout to my beloved city. My hope is that by sharing my love of mindfulness and mediation, and the adventure of training to become a meditation teacher, I’ll inspire a few of you to start your own practice. Happy Metta Gras. Enjoy the decadence!

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THIS POST ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON SHARON SALZBERG’S WEBSITE ON FEB. 6, 2016

It’s Carnival season in New Orleans and I live on the parade route. Well, 30 yards from it right off of St. Charles Avenue. It’s safe to say Mardi Gras probably isn’t conducive to meditation. In fact, that thought crossed my mind when I signed up for the Real Happiness Challenge — that it coincided with Carnival, which contrary to what some people may have been lead to believe isn’t just one crazy weekend. It actually lasts about a month. The other day, some friends in Mobile, Alabama — the birthplace of Carnival in the United States — reminded me of this dichotomy, commenting on my Facebook post of the day about the meditation challenge. One friend wrote, “How you will be able to meditate this weekend, I don’t know! Get your party boots on instead.” To which I replied, “The beautiful thing is, I can do both!” To which he replied,”All earthy things are to be abandoned and decadence will reign.” Will his prophesy come true? I have enough humility to admit, that it might and to know my response about doing both was more of a hopeful remark than a definitive statement, because the weekend before Fat Tuesday is the loudest, rowdiest and most parade-filled with the parades beginning at 8 a.m. on some mornings and lasting well into the night. Which means in the coming days, I will likely be meditating with the sound of brass bands and cheering crowds in the background no matter what time I sit. The “hearing” meditation will be a helpful one on those days, no? In a way, rather than being the worst time to grow my meditation practice, I think it’s the perfect time. Instead of fighting between meditation and Mardi Gras, I’m going to embrace the two and look for balance. I’m calling it, Metta Gras. (Pop over to my Instagram page to see photos of the more Mardi Gras fun.)

This morning as I sat, I heard the sound of revealers arriving to set up camp on the parade route; sirens from the police cars clearing the streets; and the ubiquitous honk, honk of the vendors as they rolled their carts up the street stacked to the gills with plush toys, boas and other Mardi Gras goodies. Rather than resist and attempt to push those noises out of my mind, I allowed them in and let go as Sharon Salzberg’s voice encouraged me to find balance in the breath. Yes, the Day 6 meditation was on Balance. How fitting, that it should arrive on the same day as the start of the early parades.

Six days into the challenge — and in the final week of Mardi Gras — I find myself feeling more balanced, joyful and serene than ever. Each morning, I look forward to the day’s email from Salzberg and with excitement as I open it to discover the new meditation. In addition to respite from the Mardi Gras madness, this week brought about the courage and conviction register for a 160-hour meditation teacher immersion program through the non-profit, The Mindfulness Center in Bethesda, Maryland, co-sponsored by the National Association of Social Workers.   

I’ve secretly wanted to do this for years and am excited to deepen my practice, experience and knowledge and to learn how to share meditation with others. With a first week like that, it’s exciting to think what’s in store for the coming weeks as I continue to sit. I’m looking forward to coming down from Carnival with this challenge, though I envision it being more of a gentle plop, rather than a crash landing, since I’ve been able to stay grounded through the parties, parades, balls and booze.
While the sense of tranquility and balance brought about via continuous meditation during one of the wildest, city-wide parties in the world doesn’t surprise me, the enjoyment of the sense of community I’m experiencing with the challenge isn’t something I expected. Checking in each day with my fellow meditators — clocking in at more than 13,000 at this point — via social media and here on Salzberg’s blog, is also something I look forward to each day. It’s fun having compatriots, especially after so many years of practicing and studying meditation alone in my own little world. Thanks everyone and Salzberg for opening me up to this wonderful group of diverse, but like-minded individuals.  As I step back into the world today — most likely wearing a brightly colored wig, because New Orleans — to dance in the streets, catch beads and imbibe, I do so with balance and that sense of awareness gained through meditation, which allows me to live completely in the moment. It’s not depravation to meditate during Mardi Gras; it’s decadent. My friend’s prophesy did come true. Happy Metta Gras! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a parade to catch. Laissez le bon temps rouler!

 

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