I first came across Meditation Toronto when I saw it listed in a blogTO posting of the top 10 meditation centres in Toronto. The group isn’t affiliated with a specific spiritual organization, but appears rooted in a Bhakti yoga tradition. Their site highlighted their weekly Sunday night EnChanted evening program, which offered instruction in breathing and chanting meditation, and a vegetarian meal, at Trinity St. Paul’s church in the Annex.
Full disclosure, I am a WASP from a white-bread suburb, public-schooled and secularly raised. My interest in meditation and related philosophies is to cultivate well-being and conscious living. The metaphysical is a bit beyond me at this stage.
An evening of singing in Sanskrit (accompanied by a harmonium and folk guitar) took me a bit out of my element. But I jumped in with enthusiasm (and full-on stilted WASP-y awkwardness).
Madhavendra led the session, beginning by outlining the format for the evening , introducing the types of meditation that would be practiced, and providing basic information about mantra (without giving a translation of the texts we’d be singing).
The musical setting for the Kirtan was a folksy campfire tune. Very easy to follow, and Madhavendra had a pleasant voice. A young girl played the harmonium with the assistance of her mother, which was cute.
I found it hard to engage.
I’m a very analytical and I like to know what I’m singing about when I sing. (That wasn’t the purpose of the program, there are other classes offered for that).
I also think I responded with my own cultural biases. Singing mantras in a retro folk idiom, only blocks from the former site of Rochedale College, made it hard to shake associations between Bhakti yoga movements and the excesses of sixties counterculture (which I understand are not entirely accurate).
The whole experience made me think. And here are just a few thoughts I chewed on, along with my vegetarian lasagna.
- In a postmodern world and a multicultural country, when does western interest in non-western spiritual traditions cross a line?
- Are there issues that come with adapting spiritual practices for use in a secular context?
For example, this week the University of Ottawa cancelled a yoga class for students with disabilities because of cultural sensitivity issues.
When I read about it, a memory of Madhavendra’s Australian speaking and Sanskrit singing voice kept ringing in my ears.
I think these are very different cases, buy globalization really does mix things up.
Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church
427 Bloor St. West (west of Spadina)
Sunday nights: 6:00pm to 8:00 pm
- Free weekly session (donations appreciated)
- Instruction in two methods of meditation: breathing and chanting (kirtan)
- Vegetarian dinner provided
- Meditation classes and groups, with gatherings in various locations across the GTA, including Downtown, the Annex, and the Danforth in Toronto; Scarborough, Etobicoke, Mississauga, North York, Richmond Hill, Newmarket, as well as Kitchener/Waterloo/Brantford and Ottawa.
- Annual Free Yoga Meditation Day
- Yoga and Philosophy Classes
Meditation Toronto describes itself as a group of volunteers that have been teaching and practicing meditation for over 15 years in the Greater Toronto Area. According to its website, all the organization’s teachers “were taught how to meditate free of charge and have received so much from this meditation that it gives them great happiness to be able to pass this matchless gift onto others.’
A review of the website shows it clearly promotes physical, mental and spiritual practices associated with Bhakti yoga. Also from the site: “The ancient science of yoga offers us a real truth and the easiest way to realize that truth is through transcendental or spiritual sound. Simply by hearing and repeating spiritual sound vibrations we can experience the peace and happiness of transcendental knowledge. This pairing of the chanting of the mantras with music soothes the soul and calms the mind.”