Holding A Medi - A Guide to Meditation Pt 1

Saturday, March 18, 2017

At the time, it was hard to believe. The notion that sitting silently and just focusing on my breath for say...30 mins...could significantly improve my mood much less grant me an enduring peace. However, after battling depression for several years, I decided that I had nothing to lose by giving the suspiciously simple exercise a go. I sat on the floor and followed my friend's instructions: folded my knees, sat upright, closed my eyes and attempted to quiet my mind. At first it seemed difficult and I felt both annoyed and frustrated at not being able to gain control of my thoughts, which came as relentlessly as water rushing over a dam. I silently berated myself for my incessant mental chatter. That was just it though, I was trying and judging and forcing something to happen. As I stopped trying to control my thoughts and allowed them to pass without judgement, they ebbed and serenity washed over me. It was the first time in I could not recall how long ago that I felt such a profound peace. After the 30 minutes had passed and I opened my eyes, the feeling was still with me. Three hours later it was still with me. It was as though I was immune to worry, fear, anger,impatience and other manifestations of negative thought. They would come but they would not move past an imperceptible filter. I decided that I would meditate the next day and see if the outcome would be the same. It was! The next day too... and the day after that...Before long, I was meditating twice a day, at times for an hour at once. The strange exercise I had been reluctant to try was now something that I eagerly looked forward to doing. This was not as a result of some addiction but because I felt the markedly positive differences that the practice imparted. Things occurred with increased harmony and ease in every area of my life. Doors opened. Barriers were removed. Paths were made clear and miracles abounded. I felt clarity, discernment and  connection to the Creator. I realised that meditation is a tremendously powerful spiritual practice.

For ten years now,I have been an avid believer in know-er of the transformative power of meditation. Having experienced its benefits, I'm happy to see that more and more people are doing so too. Much to my delight, many schools around the world are incorporating meditation into their curricula.  It's also being introduced to work places by some open minded employers. Granted, there is still skepticism - which I think is often promoted to steer people away from something that could benefit not just themselves but the world at large. Nonetheless, I see many indications that meditation is being embraced. Despite all my praise, you may still be tempted to roll your eyes.  I am sure  though that if you were to practise meditation  even for just a few weeks, you would see the reasons for my enthusiasm. In case you have been interested in meditation before or my claims have piqued your curiousity for the first time,  I am happy to share what I've gathered from my experience with it so far.

Beginning with this post, I'll be sharing some tips on silent meditation. In the future, I'll extend the series to cover other forms of meditation. I hope that this guide will be helpful to you as you give meditation a chance to help you. For starters, let's dispel a few common fallacies.

 How To Meditate Silently- Dispelling the Myths

1) Meditation is not just for Hindus or Buddhists 
2) The objective of meditation is not to turn a person against his or her religion.
3) Meditation is not devil worship or "New Age" mumbo jumbo.
4)Meditation is not a cup out for those who don't want to take initiative in accomplishing things in life.
5)Meditation is not meant to be a sedative to escape dealing with life's challenges.
6)Meditation is not just for people who believe in God.
7)Meditation is still effective even when done for a short amount of time.
8) Sitting in silence with your eyes closed and limbs folded isn't the only way to meditate. There are myriad ways to do so. From taking a stroll, to washing wares, from taking a shower to eating, much of what we do can be meditation.
9)Meditation is not just for people who do yoga or are into Eastern spiritual practices.
10)Meditation does not require perfect thoughts or perfect attention...just for us to be present.

Photography Credit:Sammy Sampson 

Travel Diary: Ghana; Market Adventures Pt. 1

Friday, March 3, 2017

When I think of shopping in West Africa, markets immediately come to mind - boisterous, colourful chaotic places where a person can find  a dizzying assortment of goods. During my recent visit,  the markets in Accra matched this profile (to varying degrees of intensity). The Accra Arts Centre is on the mild end with Makola and  Kaneshie  being on the more intense end of the spectrum. With that said, if you are new to African markets, I suggest easing your way in gently...Well, as gently as possible.

You may want to first visit the Accra Arts Centre, which caters primarily to tourists. There you can practise your bargaining/negotiating skills, obtain a feel for the local market etiquette and gather many souvenirs for yourself and others. The Arts Centre is aptly named considering that it houses a plethora of arts, crafts/ hand made goods. As you peruse the stalls, you will find piles of fabric including Ghana’s iconic kente cloth, sculptures, masks, beads galore, drums, brass wares - both modern and antique and many other items. I could be wrong but from my observation,  compared to the other venues, the Arts Centre has the best selection of arts and crafts in Accra. (I don’t think I took enough photographs  to give you a good idea of what the place is like. Hopefully, next time I can make up for that.)

As I mentioned previously, relative to places like Makola and Kaneshie, the atmosphere at the Arts Centre is mildly tempered. The vendors are generally polite and professional, happy to offer their best service but not in an overly aggressive manner. You may even experience that if a vendor you’re visiting doesn’t have an item you would like, he/she may run off to find a neighbour who has it. I witnessed this several times and each time I found the sense of community refreshing. Of course, each person was intent on making  sales but I had the impression that the overarching belief was that the success of one was the success of all. Most vendors also seemed pleased to have someone from another part of the African Diaspora patronise their businesses. Several of them confided in me that they felt a special connection to their AfroCaribbean and African American guests. In such a positive environment, it was no surprise that I ended up befriending a few of the vendors.

Another pleasant aspect of the Accra Arts Centre is that there are several coconut vendors on the premises. Whenever you feel drained by shopping or by the heat, you can rejuvenate yourself with fresh coconut water. However, should you want something besides coconut to eat or drink, there is a small restaurant/ cafe at the market’s entrance. Although I only purchased some coffee and a pastry from them, one of my new friends, Emmanuel informed me that they also serve local Ghanaian dishes and that on certain nights, they have live music or a dj.  

Oooh! One more cool thing to note about the Arts Centre Market is that it’s located walking distance from the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum. For those who may not know, Kwame Nkrumah was Ghana's first Prime Minister and a PanAfrican hero. The mausoleum is the site where he was laid to rest. It may be a good idea to stop at the Mausoleum first to pay your respects before your hands are filled from shopping. Another option though is that you can stop by the market to note prices, take a break at the mausoleum and return to the market after. That way, you will not be impulsively buying and thus you will limit the possibility of buyer’s remorse or paying too much for an item.

This post was focused on the Arts Centre Market but I do intend to do separate posts on some other Ghanaian markets in the future. Below are some suggestions should you plan to visit. Please feel free to ask me questions regarding anything I did not cover.

Tips and Things to Note

*Negotiate prices with vendors. Offer to pay ⅓ of the price announced  and work from there.

*You will quite likely be charged more (the ubiquitous tourist fee) if it’s apparent that you aren’t a local.

*Do not show interest in an item if you aren’t prepared to pay for it.

*Browse around the market and compare prices before purchasing anything.

*Should you find an item you like at one vendor but not in a colour you would like for eg., and you find the same item in the desired colour elsewhere but for a higher price, politely explain that you saw it for less at a different stall. The vendor may be willing to reduce the price. There is no quarantee of course but it doesn’t hurt to politely try.

*Although the vendors at Accra’s markets aren’t as aggressive as those in Marrakech for eg. (my opinion), be prepared for some persistence or a bit of pushiness on a slow business day. With that said, don’t be pressured into buying anything you aren’t comfortable buying.

*Most vendors speak English fluently since it is commonly spoken in Accra (Ghana’s capital). This differs in remote areas, such as the villages to the North. However, you may even find some vendors at Kaneshie or  Makola market who don’t speak formal English fluently, but maybe Ghanaian pidgin, which is a deeply colloquial dialect of English. I would be impressed if you understood or could speak pidgin.

*Most vendors accept US dollars, English pounds and Euros. However, I think that using  Ghanaian cedis is better  because you may not receive the best rate if you use foreign currency. Plus, I suspect that the person selling you may be less inclined to inflate the price. I could be wrong though.

*Last but not least, use your manners. As in most places in the world, saying thank you carries you far. The English words for this is fine but the vendors love when you practise a Ghanaian language and the most widely spoken is Twi. So, start with Meda w’ase or Medasi (meh-dah-see) - Twi for thank you.

Photography Credit: Photos of me by Kwame Prosper
All other photos by me.