Finding the silver linings

Online courses bring mindfulness and appreciation for each moment.

Meditation and spirituality teacher Ed Merck meditates in front of his computer screen at his home. — Lucas Thors

At a time when many people might look to free themselves from the anxieties and stresses of the present day, meditation seeks to bring folks into that moment, to cherish all it can offer.

Meditation teachers and spiritualists who would normally be teaching in-person classes in studios around the Island are now teaching mostly online.

Meditation and yoga teacher Ed Merck said being able to accept whatever is happening in the present moment, whether it’s a challenge, a success, or a bout of loneliness, will allow a greater appreciation and awareness of life to take hold.

Merck said that after he retired from the business and administration field, he needed to get back to his roots as a musician and a spiritualist. Merck had already attended an ashram in Hartford, Conn., and graduated with advanced music degrees from the Wesleyan University conservatory. “I really was just too absorbed into living in the future while on my business track. I really wanted to come back to the present moment, and do everything with mindfulness and awareness,” Merck said.

And over many years, Merck has taught meditation and spirituality on Martha’s Vineyard. Since the pandemic struck, Merck said, he has had to make another significant adjustment to his life by switching his classes to remote instruction.

“I have always experienced meditation, as either a teacher or a student, in a context where I can be in the same space as somebody,” Merck said. “I was skeptical at first, because I like to feel people’s energy.”

He said that he anticipated having to connect with people through Zoom would interfere with his process. But he found that while he still would prefer a real-time encounter with a class, he has grown fond of some of the advantages the online platform has to offer.

According to Merck, establishing intimacy in the group is essential in order for people to feel safe and comfortable. “These people are opening themselves up to a realm where they are more vulnerable in the conventional sense,” Merck said. “But there is a sense of closeness, because I can see eyes that are only a foot away from me. I can see into those eyes, and I can see everyone’s facial expressions.”

If Merck was teaching a conventional, in-person class, he said, he would not be able to tell how each individual is reacting to the instruction.

He said much of the change in moving to an online platform is shifting from an energetic, in-person connection to a visual connection.

“You are shifting out of one sensory mechanism and into another,” Merck said.

He also said people feel most comfortable in their own home, which provides them a feeling of safety, convenience, and openness.

Another advantage of online meditation is the reach, according to Merck. He said there are a number of people in his classes who are from Vermont, Connecticut, or other areas of Massachusetts, but Zoom makes no distinction as to where someone tunes in from. “They could be right next door to you, or they could be in Shanghai,” Merck said. There is also a greater reach for people who can’t leave their homes because they are either immobile or immunocompromised.

Merck’s specific brand of meditation is called experience-based mindfulness meditation.

This involves being in the moment, and not being distracted by the future or the past. “It really means to be with what is. And when I teach, I am not just looking to make my students understand something — I am trying to make them experience this oneness, this peacefulness,” Merck said.

The ultimate goal of this kind of meditation, according to Merck, is to eventually transfer the experiences during meditation sessions into our everyday lives so we are “living the truth every day.”

He said it isn’t his job to impart knowledge like in a lecture, but instead to guide students through an experience that will drastically change the way they see themselves and their lives.

“The only teacher in any session is your own body. The teacher is inside,” Merck said. “A big focus of this is for people to be grateful for anything that is happening in the present moment. Whether it’s a challenge, or if it is uncomfortable, those are opportunities to grow and learn.”

He said finding the silver linings in each situation is one of the primary goals of experience-based mindfulness meditation.

“If you told me a year ago that I would be teaching meditation three times a week online, I would tell you to take a couple aspirin and go sleep it off. Well, here I am now, kind of digging the whole thing, and looking at every moment in terms of what it’s offering me,” Merck said.

Meditation and spirituality teacher Elliot Dacher also teaches an online meditation course that focuses on similar elements of existence and thought. “We are looking to become part of the whole again, rather than separate. Becoming connected, rather than disconnected. If we live from that place, we can see the entire drama going on around us, and respond to it in kind,” Dacher said during one of his virtual Sunday meditation classes.

Dacher said that by not letting the chatter of the mind cloud one’s judgement, each response to a particular situation will be more genuine and spontaneous, as opposed to being centered on the self.

And his goal is also to provide people with the experience of meditation and awareness in order to immerse themselves in that space every day, and in every situation.

“Post-meditation, if I am still stuck in the position of my personal self, then if you bring awareness and presence of mind, and clarity of heart, into your daily experience, you will know what do do in every instance,” Dacher said,

He instructed his class to not ignore the trials and tribulations of everyday life, but instead block out the unnecessary commentary created by the personal self.

“If you are going to argue with yourself or with the current moment, you are going to be arguing forever,” Dacher said.

Find more information about Ed Merck’s online sessions at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Martha’s Vineyard website, or send an email to ejm646@gmail.com. To learn more about Elliot Dacher’s classes, head to his website, or send him an email at esd@elliottdacher.org.