A Trip to the Meditation Room

By Taylor Steinbeck

At 8:55 a.m. this morning, I set out to track down one of the few peaceful spots in the hustle and bustle of San Francisco’s Financial District: WITHIN Meditation. WITHIN’s meditation studio offers 30-minute guided meditation sessions focusing on mindfulness—the practice of being conscious of the present moment. Like the characters in Small Mouth Sounds, I had some trouble embracing stillness at first (especially since I had never meditated for more than ten minutes before). 

WITHIN Meditation. Photo by Taylor Steinbeck.
When I arrived at the meditation room, I slipped out of my shoes and plopped down onto one of the cushions. A group of other meditation newbies filed in. Our teacher, Hannah Knapp (also WITHIN’s co-founder), began the session by asking us to close our eyes and listen to our surroundings. Located on Sansome Street, WITHIN’s cozy studio is tucked between busy alleyways, so whenever a bus passed, the thin walls shook. Initially, I found this off-putting, but Hannah instructed us to welcome the noise: “Let the sounds wash over you like a wave.”

Just as I was beginning to find myself immersed in my environment, I was brought back to my body when my stomach let out a gurgle. I hadn’t eaten breakfast. Another distraction came in the form of a latecomer, who scurried into the room a few minutes into the meditation, not unlike Alicia’s tardy appearance at the retreat in Small Mouth Sounds. As I started to worry that I had lost hold of my meditation mojo, Hannah reminded us, “If your mind wanders, just gently bring it to your breath.” Inhale. Exhale. Back in the zone.

Hannah asked that we set an intention for the day. In Small Mouth Sounds, the six characters also set an intention for their five-day retreat. In the play, the teacher defines an intention as “a mantra. Your private wish. A hope for yourself.” For that day, my intention was to accept joy and to observe the beauty around me. As we breathed and thought on our intentions, Hannah said again and again: “Breathe into your intention. Breathe out what does not serve you.”

The cast of A.C.T.'s 2017 production of Small Mouth Sounds. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.
With the ding of the meditation chime sounding the session’s end, we slowly opened our eyes, departing from our meditative states. Hannah thanked our group for choosing to start the day with stillness, and one by one we left the studio. When I returned outside to the busy streets of Downtown San Francisco—amongst the shoving and the honking and the jackhammering—I felt a sense of serenity I'd never experienced in the city.

Interested in experiencing meditation for yourself? A.C.T. is hosting a free meditation workshop led by Spirit Rock meditation Center teacher Dawn Scott. This InterACT event will be held in The Rueff at The Strand following the December 3 matinee performance of Small Mouth SoundsClick here to find out more information.

Small Mouth Sounds runs until December 10 at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater, 1127 Market Street. Click here to purchase tickets through our website. Want to learn more about mindfulness and the production? Order a copy of Words on Plays, A.C.T.'s in-depth performance guide series.

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