Our Bloggers

  • Written by  Ian Ives
  • // Monday, 21 November 2011 11:30
Ian Ives

Is Meditation a Foreign Idea?

Just the other day I found myself in the all-too-familiar situation of trying to explain what I do when I meditate to a curious and inquiring stranger. I’m sure this has happened to you before…You know, you’re sitting on the bus or in a coffee shop and you strike up a friendly conversation with someone next to you. One thing leads to another, and before you know it you’ve let it slip that you meditate. Then comes that slightly tense moment as you wait to find out whether or not the other person thinks you’re a total wacko and if you need to try and change the subject to something safer…like sports or IKEA.

This time it was a little bit different though…


It was in German class, and the curious and inquiring stranger was a young woman from Kabul, Afghanistan who happened to be my conversation partner for the exercise...Everything had to be said in German, which I can’t say I’ve come close to mastering yet.

How did I get myself into this? Well, I moved to Hamburg, Germany about a year ago and finally decided it was time for me—a mono-lingual American—to get myself to a class and learn to speak like the people on the street. So I signed up for a intermediate level German class at the local community school and a few days later found myself sitting with a group of people that it’s safe to say  I would never have met otherwise had I kept to my  familiar meditation-friendly groupies. My fifteen classmates come from Egypt, Iran, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Romania, Ecuador, Thailand, Dominican Republic, France, South Africa and Russia, plus a few others I haven’t figured out yet.

Of course, this being a language class, you’re supposed to learn how to discuss everyday affairs, such as what do you do every morning after you wake up. It was during just such an exercise that I happened to mention to my Afghani partner—in German of course—that after getting out of bed (see my last blog for more details), I usually sit down and meditate for a while.

Some facial expressions seem to be fairly universal, because when my friend from Kabul raised her eyebrows in interest, I knew what was coming next.

“So what exactly do you do when you meditate?” she inquired with frighteningly perfect German grammar.

“Well…I…um…,” I sputtered. How unfortunate, I thought to myself, that words such as undistracted, mindful and spacious were not on our last week’s vocab list.

Finally I constructed a sentence that went something like: “Well, I just sit there and I try to let my mind be relaxed and undistracted (unabgelenkt in German for those wondering)…” Then I tried to add something about focusing on the breath, but found myself lost in a void of wordlessness.

Her response surprised me.

“That sounds really wonderful,” she replied, (again with perfect grammar) and with a genuinely interested smile. We tried to speak a little bit more about it and then suddenly class was over, everyone packed up and that was that.

Happily my German had been intelligible, but this little exchange left me thinking: “Maybe I spend too much time relating to people who are like me; maybe we all really do have a lot in common; maybe meditation isn’t something that weird after all….who knows, perhaps there are no limits to how it could benefit and inspire others in the world…and, thank god I didn’t mention that I sit in front of a shrine.