Thursday, 1 October 2015

Wedding zen

On 19th September I got married. As you can imagine (or as you may remember from your own big day) the wedding was quite a roller-coaster-ride of events and feelings. In this article, I'm not going to mention the months of planning, decisions, discussions, and bookings. I'm also not going to mention the jittery, energy-filled week preceding the big day, or the plans for how to get various members of the family to the wedding venue on time.

What I'd like to discuss is how the day itself went, how I felt, and in particular how I think my yoga and meditation practice affected things.

"The day"

On "the day" my alarm went at 6:30am and I straight away sat on the floor of the hotel room for 30mins meditation. I remember feeling quite calm and trying to stay present with my attention in my belly, whilst being aware of my room-mate (a good friend of my mum's who had also come from Sweden for the wedding) moving about and using the bathroom. I was actually quite surprised that I was this calm! This friend was desperate to visit Stonehenge (not far from the hotel in Salisbury where we were), and this morning was our only option since we were too late the night before. So after I'd finished the meditation we had a quick breakfast and headed out.


Me at Stonehenge on the morning of my wedding
Getting out of the car in the visitors car park, the cool freshness of the air hit us. Neither of us had worn enough. After watching the stones silently appearing out of the mist as we approached, we then spent a wonderful half-hour circling the henge, taking photos, and drinking in the stillness of the 5000yr old monument.

I'm sure it was a fairly unorthodox way of starting a wedding day, but in hindsight it worked out really well! Out of town, and away from any stressing family!

My practice has taught me how to stay focussed on the moment in hand. I was able to be present at Stonehenge, feeling the atmosphere, whilst not letting my mind wander onto thoughts of the wedding.

Venue preparations

We got back to the hotel at about 11am. Over the next few hours things began to ramp up in both external activity and internal activity (in my belly)! We started moving stuff over to the venue from about 12:30 and all the preparations and decorating had to be done between 1 and 3pm, with guests due to arrive at 3:30 for a 4pm start.

Strangely enough, I found putting on my suit really helped me stay relaxed (see my previous article on the widsom of specific clothes). Once I'd got my shirt on I didn't want to sweat (miraculously it was a lovely sunny day), and wearing the suit and nice shoes brought with it a feeling of elegance. I found that walking and moving slowly with an intention of grace (whether or not that translated into a look of grace) really helped keep things calm. Purposefully talking slowly and calmly also really helped. It was hard though, and required attention to keep things slow.

Preparing the wedding venue
When I arrived at the venue, I found them still setting out the dinner tables All the stuff we'd hired (linen, crockery, cutlery, glasses, etc) was piled together, unlabelled in a back room. The flowers and decorations were still on their way, and people started asking me what they could do to help...

It was around about this time that I became extra-aware of my belly. Notably the churning, mildly nauseous feelings deep down in my abdomen. I worked on simply accepting their presence, and continuing to do my best to walk slowly, speak quietly and slowly, and being (or attempting to be) graceful.

When we found out that they'd missed off dinner plates from the hire list, my tummy took a fairly significant somersault. But I think this is really where the years of practice started to make a difference. I felt very little sense of panic, and only a slight rising of anxiety. I was acutely aware of my churning belly, which I think helped to keep my attention low in my body and therefore out of my head. I remember feeling sure there was a solution to the problem – and indeed one presented itself fairly quickly. The venue themselves kindly lent us their plates.

The ceremony and later into the evening

Over the last few years I've developed a habit of internally checking every now and then "am I in my hara". What I mean is: is my hara relaxed, and do I have some component of my attention resting in my hara? Experience has shown this to be particularly useful in stressful times, as, when I do check, I often find my belly tense and energy up in my head.

So regularly during the wedding ceremony and all through the evening I was asking myself "am I in my hara?" – purposefully softening and relaxing my belly, and asking myself what feelings are churning around. Every time I went to the loo, that was also a great time to stop, tune in, and purposefully settle, relax and let go (excuse the pun).

I guess you could say I did regular mini-meditations or body scans. This seemed absolutely essential.

The Zen candle ceremony, representing the coming together of our spiritual paths 

I don't think the practice necessarily makes you feel calmer – because you're more aware and sensitive to all that is going on – but it does give you the tools to simply observe without getting caught up in the whirlwind. It allowed me to appreciate the moments, the feelings, emotions, interactions, and the beauty and love of the day in a way that I don't think I could have otherwise. It's about noticing the discomfort in the belly, the stress and rising energy, and being OK with it, softening and allowing.

Before the wedding, friends said to me the day would flash by. But that's not how I experienced it. Sure it went quickly – there was lots to do and lots happening – but my ability to stay in the present moment (developed over years of practice) meant I could appreciate and savour the moments and people that were there sharing it with us.

It was the most amazing day, and I love my new wife very much. Thanks to all who came, helped out, and shared the celebrations with us.

I am a member of the Zenways sangha led by Zen master Daizan Roshi, and I teach meditation, mindfulness and yoga at the ZenYoga studio in Camberwell, London. See my website for further details.

I'd love to hear from you

How do you remember your wedding day? How has your practice has helped in a stressful situation? Leave a comment below, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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