by Dijana Zorić, Brussels, Belgium
In October 2017 I had an opportunity to teach meditation at the Council of the European Union, where I had been working for the last four years (since Croatia’s accession to the EU).
Some EU Background
The Council is one of the three main institutions of the EU involved in the EU’s legislative activity (adopting the EU laws subsequently translated into all official languages of the EU). It is a small institution (about 3,500 civil servants) located in Brussels. The other main EU institutions are the European Commission (about 33,000) and the European Parliament (about 7,600). Here is very nice (and short) video explanation of the Council and its role.
I work as quality controller in the Croatian Language Unit, and as such I am a member of the unit management team. The Council has also certified me as an internal trainer in the field of wellbeing and stress-management. Through my workshops I try to share some of my spiritual values with colleagues who, for the most part, struggle with the high demands of their jobs.
Setting Up a Workshop
Any staff member can propose a one-hour lunchtime workshop. If the hierarchy approves, it is subsequently advertised on the Council’s intranet. I had been lucky, because this meditation workshop was already the third one I had proposed and facilitated at the Council; the first one dealt with stress management and the second one was set up as a celebration of the International Yoga Day.
No prior registration was required, so I didn’t know how many people would show up, which made the preparation a bit tricky. Moreover, two days before my workshop took place, the Social Services advertised a workshop of a similar type (“Look After Yourself and Your Workstation”) at the very same time!? I was worried that I may be facing an empty room, but luckily, my workshop was very well attended, and the turnout vastly surpassed my expectations!
At lunchtime on the day of the workshop, my heart was pounding as I saw known and unknown faces of colleagues, eager to open up to a new dimension of life as they entered the big meeting room which, so far, had been a scene of many a stern meeting and lecture, as well as an occasional Christmas party. There were colleagues from various units, male and female, young and not so young—almost 60 people! I was overwhelmed! Sarah, an English yoga teacher who was assisting me, stood at the door handing out a coloured piece of paper to each participant.
The Workshop Begins
After a short introduction, I immediately “activated” the participants: they were split into four groups according to the colour of the paper they received, and their task was to define meditation. It was an opportunity to “mix and mingle” for the colleagues who would otherwise probably never speak to each other, and for me a way to get to know my audience a little bit. Playing softly in the background was the instrumental version of Cosmic Chants (recordings of chants written by Paramhansa Yogananda, the great yogi who brought meditation to the West at the beginning of the 20th century); this provided a harmonious and relaxed setting during this exercise. The participants wrote their answers on big sheets (flipchart paper), which we later stuck on the stage so that everybody could read them. We read each answer and commented briefly on it, but the definitions were so well written that I made a joke, saying there was no need for the workshop at all since the group was already very advanced.
A Triumph of Spirit Over Matter
After that, everybody stood up for a 5-minute warm-up, which seemed to amuse the group. Bending the spine in different directions allows energy to flow more freely in the body, which is certainly an aid to meditation. Afterwards I taught them the right sitting position (relying on a photo in my PowerPoint presentation of a woman in a perfect position on a chair), the preliminary breathing techniques, and the “meditation proper,” according to the “scenario” given to us during the teacher training with Diksha and Gyandev. Everything went smoothly, with an occasional question from the participants. The PowerPoint presentation provided structure and overview; after all, we were serious people—and EU officials to boot!
Already after the preliminary techniques, one could feel the “thick” calmness descending upon us, and the change of energy in the room. I asked the participants if they could perceive it, and they solemnly nodded their heads.
I was so moved and inspired that at some point I completely forgot about the microphone (which is rather indispensable in such a large room). However, Sarah commented afterward that it was much better like that since, in her opinion, my “unfiltered” voice had a much greater power of reaching people’s hearts. I was speaking like in a trance, abandoning myself completely to the magic of the moment. “As the breath flows in naturally….”—the words were coming through me, but not from me. For the mantra in the “getting there” stage, I proposed using the affirmation “I am calm,” suggesting to the people to repeat it in their own language if this was more comfortable to them. For the “being there” stage, I suggested to the group to abandon the affirmation and breath control, and immerse themselves fully into calmness, merge with their higher Self, feel the Higher Power, the Universe within.
I doubt whether the big meeting room had seen anything like that before. It was emanating magic vibrations as for once it witnessed the spirit triumph over matter. The room was transformed as the participants’ hearts melted in the speechless celebration of the present moment, of the mystery of being, of the very sacredness of life. I was moved to tears as I was partaking of that vibration, of that mystery, of that harmonious moment.
After the practice, I asked the participants if anybody had anything to share. No reply. Just big eyes full of awe silently staring at me. For some of them it was the first time in life to enter the depths of their being. Some were overwhelmed beyond words.
After the Practice
I then transitioned to the topic of brain research, and that was difficult. I felt like a person going through the most beautiful landscape, who then, for some reason, decided to turn on a TV. However, the program had to go on. The theoretical part at the end was also intended as an opportunity for those who wanted to unpack their lunch boxes. This was a lunch conference, after all.
Although I was aware of the importance of research and “hard data” for this type of audience, I knew that next time I would end the workshop after the practice so that people could take with them whatever benefits they might reap during meditation. However, the correlation between the prefrontal lobe and the limbic system seemed to impress them. “Meditation can help us become better human beings,” I concluded. Well, hopefully those who did not intend to continue with meditation will not feel insulted, I thought.
Finally, we dedicated a few minutes to the numerous benefits of meditation duly listed on the last slides of the presentation: benefits on the physical, mental, and emotional level, as well as those related to our behaviour. I remarked that all those benefits were no doubt very relevant and that they all made for very valid meditation motives. However, we would not do justice to this great technique without mentioning its spiritual component. Most people who have meditated throughout the history of mankind were primarily motivated by their spiritual quest.
I ended the workshop with a quote from Paramhansa Yogananda:
Right behind the darkness of closed eyes are the wondrous forces of the universe and the endlessness of the Infinite. Meditate, and you will realize the omnipresent Absolute Truth and see Its mysterious workings in your life and in all the glories of creation.
This was very well received—people were actually copying it down! When the training coordinator, who was among the participants, saw that, she told the participants not to worry, that she would put my presentation on the Council’s intranet for their reference. This is how Yogananda’s name has found entry into the stronghold of the EU!
Afterwards I received many thanks and compliments from the participants. Some lingered around the room, waiting eagerly to exchange a few words with me, while others wrote me e-mails or just talked to me when they met me by chance.
I transfer their gratitude to the One who made me into His instrument during that hour. I transfer their gratitude to Diksha and Gyandev, who reflect the benefits of meditation so perfectly and who inspired me to strive to be ever a better instrument of the Divine.
I don’t know how many participants still practice the meditation techniques I taught that day, but I know that some do. And I know very few of them personally, so perhaps many more are continuing. But even if only one person continues practicing, I would conclude that the workshop was successful, for “out of a thousand, one seeks Him” (Bhagavad Gita).
Dijana (pronounced Dee-ah-nah) graduated from Online Ananda Meditation Teacher Training in Spring 2017. She is a native of Croatia.