One day, I was working on a piece of writing for my studies in the university library and was aware of a strong ripple of anxiety coming on, as the deadline fast approached. I was also aware that my writing wasn’t going to be up to scratch if it were written by the anxious version of me. My meditation cushion waited in my bag, I used to carry it around a lot to facilitate and take part in meditation groups in various places. There’s an idea! I thought, I could set aside a half hour for meditation… in the library! I had my cushion, I had an urge, the library was a quiet (enough) place for it, but where?
I had a wander. I had heard of the library having a prayer room, but I had never thought to use it. I didn’t know what the situation was in terms of using it; could anyone use it, at anytime? I assumed so, it was called, at least in one sign, a multifaith prayer room. But even so, did that mean at the same time or did it have to be booked, at least in some casual but polite way? I found it eventually, and without seeking an answer to these questions, I ventured inside with my cushion underarm.
The room was small, tiny, I dare say smaller than most rooms I have ever been in. It didn’t feel too small though, a huge window took up one wall and made the room alive with light. I shut the door behind me. There was a lock. Should I lock the door? I didn’t lock the door.
I place my cushion in the centre of the very square, very small, room; assumed the posture and began concentrating on the breath, after a body scan. Standard meditation procedure.
I don’t time meditations usually, and didn’t this time, but some time into it the door opened. A fellow student entered the room. I turned slowly, aware of my movements, attempting to maintain the awareness that had been cultivated thus far.
The young man was a Muslim, and he asked quietly if he could use the room for prayer. I nodded and moved to the back corner of the room, aware that he would need more space for prostrations. It turns out the room planners didn’t consider the orientation of the room very well as in order to pray in the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca, the chap had to lay in his prayer mat diagonally in what was already a small floor space. I don’t think he expected me to stay, I think he expected me to leave. I resumed my posture and centred my attention to the breath once more, but this time the young Muslim was in the centre of the tiny room prostrating and uttering phrases under his breath.
I’m pretty sure he had no idea what I was doing, or why, and I hadn’t the faintest idea what he was uttering and why. Nevertheless, in that room, with an assumed capacity limit of 1, there were 2 people creating an atmosphere. He left before I did. But, as I looked back on that moment, I realised that my meditative practice was not less because of his prayer, and I like to think my presence offered something a little different to his noon prayer. I don’t like to try to verbalise precisely what we were offering each other, I don’t think it would do it justice; but, maybe, his praying was offering me to contemplate humility, and my mediating was offering him some balance. He was moving a lot, I was still; he was speaking, I was silent; he was reaching far out, I was reaching far in.
But then again, maybe, maybe he’s thinking, what was that weirdo doing just sat in the prayer room.