DAVIE, Fla. — For 23 minutes in a darkened room, I meditated with Ricky Williams.
Never conscious the man helping me achieve transcendence is one of the NFL’s most spellbinding figures, I sat, palms up and serenely, in an intimate group of eight. Golden flames appeared on our heads. Brilliant light pulsated from us into the earth.
Not literally, of course. That might take a few more sessions to master.
Yet for a moment here and there, I actually felt it.
“If you can get one second of that peaceful feeling,” Williams told me afterward with a knowing grin, “it’s a good meditation.”
For the past five Wednesdays and continuing as long as anybody wants to experience it, Williams has extended an open invitation to meditate with him in a quiet classroom on the Nova Southeastern University campus. It’s where he’s working on his undergraduate degree. He might get into osteopathy. He charges no fee to stop by for some oms.
Mystifying is that more people don’t attend. He sends out frequent reminders of the time and location on his Twitter account. You’d expect a handful of lookie loos or die-hard Dolphins fans would show. But on this Wednesday, only eight people participated. That’s the most so far, and the main reason Williams called the session his most energetic.
The idea of opening the door to such a personal endeavor would seem counterintuitive, but Williams explained, “For me, [meditation] is like food. It’s spiritual food, and I need to be fed. … If I didn’t share this passion with people, it would be a sin.”
His Wednesday sessions are another example of a deep compassion Williams is showing more readily in public than before. He recently revived the Ricky Williams Foundation to help disadvantaged youth. He raised money for Haiti after the January earthquake.
“I’ve found I’m very passionate — in one form or another — alleviating people’s suffering, whether it be emotional suffering, physical suffering, mental suffering,” Williams said. “The act of giving is a very healing thing.”
Williams’ sometimes infamous quest for inner peace has lasted years and probably will continue forever. His name still conjures immediate references to smoking marijuana, NFL suspensions, personality disorders and his abrupt decision to leave the Dolphins in 2004 to find himself.
His unusual choices have exposed him to ridicule. He acknowledges that inviting people to meditate with him for free each week makes him vulnerable to more typecasting as some wacky new-age guru.
“Worst case, people make fun of me. Best case, people come,” Williams said, not wearing robes but a golf shirt, loose shorts and sneakers. “The truth is, I’m not hurting anyone. I’m not doing anything bad.”
He meditates every morning, before practices and before he heads to the stadium on game day.
“I just go into the game very clear, with that balance between focus and relaxation,” said Williams, who remarkably rushed for 1,121 yards last season as a 31-year-old.
In his Wednesday sessions, he shares the same meditation technique he practices every day: “Twin Hearts” by Master Choa Kok Sui.
For those not receptive to strange concepts, meditation can seem kooky. You must abandon concerns of how others might react, a difficult proposition for some.
Our session began with a brief introduction from Williams about what we would do and definitions of terms we would encounter. We spoke about the law of karma (what you give, you receive) and chakras (a point of spiritual energy such as the heart, head or hands).
To prepare our bodies for meditation, Williams led us in light exercises to loosen up. I broke a sweat not because the shoulder rolls were too vigorous, but because I’m woefully out of shape. We shook out our muscles, sat and focused on deep breathing as the lights went off and we eased into deep thought.
I went into the classroom with a decent idea of what we’d do. I practiced meditation in my teens as a desperate form of treatment for migraines that began when I was 8. Although the tactic didn’t work because it’s difficult to clear your mind when it feels like somebody is burying a hatchet in your skull, I’ve always lamented discontinuing the practice because of the everyday benefits I recognized.
“The more you do it, the more you see your life in different aspects,” said Carolina Ayala, who has meditated with Williams for two years and took part in Wednesday’s group. “You are super calm. You are able to have a clear mind and make good decisions with no problem. In relationships it helps you a lot because you’re more loving and aware of the people in your life.”
The meditation began with acknowledgment of higher spiritual powers, vague enough to accommodate any religious belief — or lack thereof. Then we purged negative thoughts by recalling a particularly happy event.
“Re-experience the exquisite feeling of sweetness, of tenderness and of love. You are smiling. You are filled with love and happiness.”
The objective was to generate positive energy internally and in thoughts about others — from loved ones to society in general.
As I thought of the birth of my daughter, I felt my first transcendent moment of the session. But meditation takes practice, and constantly wondering if you’re doing it right is distracting. I repeatedly opened an eye to sneak a peek at Williams to see if I was maintaining the correct position.
We then raised our hands as if we were about to deliver a chest pass. We imagined holding a miniature Earth. We focused on emanating feelings of peace, love, hope, faith, kindness.
“Allow yourself to be a channel for divine peace. Feel the inner peace within you, and bless the Earth with peace. Radiate this peace into the Earth.”
I struggled to fight through the occasional thought that popped into my head, but all was calm.
“Imagine a golden flame on your crown. Feel the quality of the golden flame. Feel the love, the peace and the divine bliss radiating from this golden flame.”
For the next few moments, we reached the most critical point of meditation — and the most stereotypical for those who’ve only seen it on television. In between the drawn-out intonation of “om,” the common Hindu mantra that symbolizes absolution, we searched for total mental clarity.
“Be aware of the interval and the stillness between oms. Be aware of the stillness, the golden flame.”
Williams described the purpose in common terms afterward: “Sometimes, either right before you fall asleep or right before you wake up, when you’re in that in-between zone you might get an answer to a question you might have. As you meditate more you start having those experiences more.”
We slowly returned to a more conscious state. We delivered more blessings to family, friends and community and offered a general appreciation for the moment.
Then the lights came on — the ones in the room, not the one in my brain.
I didn’t find any answers this time. My synapses remained too active with disruptive thoughts, mostly about how I was going to write this story.
Williams instructed me to go back to my hotel and write it immediately. He said he notices a significant improvement in his writings after meditation. I disobeyed my guru, regrettably. I had to meet friends for dinner.
Sure enough, when I finally sat down to write, I had trouble getting my head around a story about meditation. Too many cluttered thoughts hindered my ability to explain the value of clarity.