By Emily Pawlowski
Incorporating a meditation practice into an already busy routine seems to be a common topic across national news programs and publications. It sounds easy enough in theory… but really, how and where does someone start? What does it really take? illumine sits down with Andrew Shykofsky, founder of Meditate Chicago, to discuss this and his experiences since opening his doors in July 2013.
Shykofsky has practiced meditation since 1985 and received eight years of personal instruction from two Christian master teachers about meditation and inner healing techniques. He was ordained a minister Priest, which requires teaching meditation as well as practicing meditation on a daily basis.
Meditation has become as The New York Times says, a very “fashionable” term. Everyone from the Harvard Business Review to USA Today raves about the benefits of taking time each day to sit in silence, tune into yourself and reflect. Can you tell us something about meditation that we aren’t already hearing?
SHYKOFSKY: Well, it’s great that a lot of people are recognizing that it does something positive. You have to want it pretty fiercely. A consistent meditation practice is a challenging thing to take on. People who really want it end up committing to it and ultimately, transforming their lives.
Meditate Chicago offers a 12-week Introduction to Meditation program that teaches people how to begin a routine to get there. What can people expect from your course?
SHYKOFSKY: After 12 weeks, you aren’t going to be a master, but you’re at least going to find out if you’re going to want to do it. It’s like learning a new instrument. After three months you’ll be able to play a few chords, but you aren’t going to be playing a concerto. Our course teaches you what to expect. We find that when you commit to something that isn’t easy, you bow against it. We highlight that aspect in our classes. You may feel irritable and impatient. A little bit of that is normal. When you’re learning something that is difficult, it chafes up against your ego that wants instant gratification.
Can you spot the commitment-phobes pretty quickly?
SHYKOFSKY: Certain people participate and are really engaged. Other people are stepping back and curiously analyzing it. And then there are other people, strangely, who seem so into it, but after about three weeks email me and say, “I can’t really take this on right now. I love the course, but right now isn’t a good time.” The reality is that when you take this on in the way that we’re teaching, when you go deep into yourself and see what’s up, it’s going to stir things up that not everybody wants to look at. I have a lot of compassion for that because I had to look at a lot of things that were unpleasant about myself. You do have to be courageous in facing yourself if you’re going to evolve as a soul.
Will you speak a little bit about the role that our “feminine” or “feeling” sides play in meditation?
SHYKOFSKY: Courage is needed just to get into your feeling self. We have some people who have a very difficult time tuning into their feelings. My advice is this: you can’t “conquer” meditation. You have to relax and let it unfold within you. And not everybody knows how to do this. Men in particular are used to attacking things and figuring them out, and triumphing. Say somebody goes to fix a car. Most guys will get excited and say, “OK, let me hear what’s up with the car, and then let me try all this stuff out…” They’re not going to rest until they figure it out. I think that’s just part of masculine energy, wanting to solve problems. Meditation can’t be approached that way. There has to be feeling in it, which means one has to open to their feminine side—men or women.
Also, as I remind my students, at some point you have to love meditation. You can’t just willfully keep doing it because you hear it’s good. You can think about a relationship like that. If you’re really attracted to someone but you don’t start loving him or her, and you’re just enamored with the image of the person, at some point the relationship is going to fall apart because it is the love that makes the thing grow.
What other kinds of meditation classes do you offer?
SHYKOFSKY: We have also introduced a prenatal yoga and meditation program that has been quite successful. Pregnant women engage in yoga for 75 minutes, taught by prenatal yoga teachers, and then I lead the women in a 20-minute guided meditation afterwards. Here the women focus on connecting with their baby and seeing the labor process going very smoothly. (In visualization, you aim to be idealistic.) There is research proving that mindfulness and meditation prior to a woman giving birth has a significant effect on her confidence through the delivery process—not to mention a reduction of pain—and increases probability of a healthy, smooth delivery. When you meditate and visualize things going a certain way, that has a very tangible effect on how they’re going to go.
What do you want most for your current clientele?
SHYKOFSKY: I have compassion for how difficult life is for everyone. I don’t believe that it’s meant to be that way, but we’re not given the skills or guided in the ways that will truly liberate us. I feel this compassion for people who are in quiet states of anxiety and suffering, who don’t feel loved or valued, or who overvalue themselves and become egocentric as a way to survive. So when people come in here and sign up for the meditation course, I just want it to work for them.
How do you find Chicago’s community so far?
SHYKOFSKY: There’s an energy to Chicago. I spent several years in California, and I’m very aware of the contrast. I think there are a lot of people who want to live a spiritual life. In order to be truly spiritual, you have to be growing in love, which I define as our willingness to love people, love ourselves and make sacrifices for the benefits of others. When you want to learn how to love, you come up against every obstacle within yourself—all the wounds, all the anger, selfishness and egotism.
What is one thing you’d like people to know about meditation?
SHYKOFSKY: Meditation is the real thing. If you take this on, your life will change.
illumine writer, Emily Pawlowski engaged in Meditate Chicago’s 12-week Introduction to Meditation course from January to March 2014. Here’s her take on it.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed living and working full time in downtown Chicago. Attending Meditate Chicago’s Introduction to Meditation class once a week was my great escape from daily city stressors (not to mention Chicago’s terrible, horrible winter.) I felt honored to learn this new tool that allows me to reset my mind and feel more connected to myself and others.
The classes were small and filled with like- minded, curious people. Shykofsky began each class by giving a short lesson, then leading us through a 20-minute guided meditation. Shykofsky’s lessons focus on the barriers to having a good meditation session, learning what a “good meditation session” even is and how to beat back your mind with a stick when it’s trying to distract you from the process. We had lively class discussions and I always took away several new things to think about.
The flexibility of being able to attend Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday evening was helpful because my work schedule often changed which day I could attend. I found I slept better the nights that I took the class, too.
Shykofsky is a regular guy, modest and earnest in wanting to share his technique. You can tell that he puts a lot of love into his lessons and his space as well. The meditation room itself is soundproof, (appropriately) dimly lit and equipped with wide, soft chairs, a gong and music during the guided meditation portion. The experience is truly transcendental.
The meditation he teaches can be thought of as a form of contemplation. The practice is to relax the body and rein in the mind and emotions to contemplate the deeper truth of your being and the universe from within yourself. He instructed us to meditate on practical issues in our lives as well as deeper spiritual principles, depending on where our attention was needed.
Beyond my own personal satisfaction, this was a fun thing to do with my significant other. A meditation class was outside our weeknight routine of dining out with friends, watching TV or running errands, and we really enjoyed learning about it together. Our walks home were always filled with interesting conversation about what we had encountered within ourselves or in the class.
Since taking the course, I feel less reactive to things that used to get me riled up: getting cut off in traffic, things not going my way at work, missing my train. I recognize that I don’t always have control over those things, and I let them go more easily now and get on with my day. When making decisions, I let my heart help me with the decision rather than just my intellect. Overall, I feel happier and more relaxed.
I recommend the course to anyone curious about meditation or currently meditating and looking to enhance their practice. Shykofsky is a wonderful teacher. It was truly an eye-opening and heart-opening experience.
Meditate Chicago is located at 4237 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago. See course offerings at meditatecenter.com.