Posts Tagged ‘meditation’

Attitude adjustment

April 21st, 2017

It is amazing how many people tell me, without being prompted or asked, that they wish he would die.  I’m not going to say his name, but you know exactly whom I am talking about.  Admit it, you have felt this way, too.  Just this morning I was talking to a friend and she dropped it into the conversation with about the same degree and type of emphasis that she might have used in confessing that she doesn’t like cats.  I had to admit that practically every morning when I wake up I check the news right away hoping to read of a popcorn choking incident or myocardial infarction. This does not make us better people, I said.  She said, well, but so long as it’s just him we’re thinking about, it’s not so bad. I suppose that’s one approach. For a while I tried imagining myself inside his head, so that through the magic of empathy I might be able to see him as a human being, like me, deserving of compassion the same as I am. I thought of him as severely emotionally crippled, isolated, unable to connect effectively with other human beings, suffering the pain that goes with that. I’m not that kind of person, but at least that gave me something to work with.  I know something about loneliness.  I was aware that there was a certain amount of schadenfreude in trying to connect with him this way, but it seemed to make him more real and less of a malevolent fantasy.  But then a friend I respect, a psychologist highly experienced in working with criminals, told me that he is a psychopath and he doesn’t feel any pain, at least not the kind of pain I was imagining. I pretty much believe her.  So there goes any basis I can find for relating to him, bringing him within my world of experience, and now what do I do? Empathy doesn’t work if it’s fantasy.  I still don’t want to be the kind of person who wakes up every morning wishing that somebody were dead. Maybe the answer comes out of meditation. There’s no point in repressing a thought. That just attaches you to it and gives it power. Instead you allow the thought to happen, acknowledge that it is happening, and then say goodbye to it. I wish it were that easy to deal with him: allow him to happen, acknowledge that he is happening, and then say goodbye to him. I am impatient. I want to get to the goodbye part without going through the rest. I must remember that “going through the rest” constitutes most of what we call living, and that wishing to cut to the end, the goodbye part, is in that sense a wish for one’s own death to come closer. Am I large enough to live in a world that also contains incomprehensible evil? I hope so. Remember to breathe.

Sitting

August 15th, 2011

This weekend I found myself among a group of people who were talking about prayer and meditation.  The commonly expressed viewpoint about meditation was that, as opposed to prayer, it is very hard to do.  People said, it’s so hard to quiet your mind, to turn off your thoughts, to achieve that state of near oblivion that most people seem to think is the goal of the practice.

My experience is almost the opposite.  Prayer does not come easily to me.  More to the point, I don’t think that meditation is about any of those things, no more than golf is about going out and hitting a hole in one.  It’s nice if it happens, but it’s not why we play the game.  I’ve been meditating for about a decade, now, and the hardest thing about it, I think, is that it requires patience and discipline.  Like any practice requiring patience and discipline, the more you do it, the more of those qualities you find you possess.

Basically, meditation is a process of listening to your life.  Your life in the room around you, and the places around that room, the refrigerator whirring on, a grasshopper thunking into the window, the dust dancing in the light.  Mostly, you listen to that voice in your head.  Or voices.  Let’s say “voices;” it makes my next metaphor easier.  I don’t mean “listen” in the sense of active empathy.  I’m talking about a much more passive sort of listening.  You listen to them the way you listen to people talking in a movie theatre before the show.  You’re not part of the conversation, it just goes on around you.  Well, within you, but you know what I mean.  If you start getting drawn in to the chatter, you remind yourself not to.  Just let it happen.

Even at the early stage of meditation I’ve just described, it’s surprising what can happen.  One notices things.  A few weeks after I first started meditating, I noticed lights floating around the room.  The border of the carpet I was sitting on began to glow in a strange way.  Sitting next to a room where recently an angry scene had taken place, I saw black smoke seeping under the door.  I told my meditation teacher about the things I’d seen, the lights.  I asked him what they were.  He laughed and said, “Enlightenment.”  After a while they stopped occurring.  I missed them at first.  They had been a nice distraction from the work.  You notice thoughts, ideas, feelings, patterns, urges.  You get to know what is in your heart with a clarity and comprehensiveness that weren’t there before.  Solutions to problems and conundrums appear out of nowhere.  You notice that you are somehow separate from all that, and bigger.

After a while – weeks, months, years – you start to notice when the voices (yeah, them again) pause to catch a breath or exhaust one idea or topic and have to cast about for another.  These spaces in the conversation are ever so brief, yet in them you notice there is something huge.  It is the universe, unobscured.  Or it is you, unobscured.  Take your pick.  After a while – weeks, months, years – you maybe catch a glimpse, for one of those brief instants, of what it is like when you are quiet.  I’ve had this happen, oh, maybe maybe a dozen or two dozen times.  It is a clearer taste of eternity than orgasm, but no less hard to describe.  Here is a poem, in the form of linked haiku, about that:

Sinking earthward through
layers of thought, how will I
know when I’ve touched down?

And here it is – a
creak in the wall, a sun-stroked
floor.  Wind shakes the frame.

Once or twice I have managed to slip into one of those spaces, for just the briefest instant, and look back, and see my ego, the chatterer, running around and around like a puppy chasing its own tail.  I saw what it is scared of, but I wasn’t scared.  Here’s a sonnet about that:

In its ivory cage the winged dog chases
its own tail with swoops and loop-de-loops, soars
intricately at its varied paces
past the speed-blurred bars and just-ajar door.

Drugs might help you see its flight in trails that
curlicue and dash with almost meaning,
weaving finer than the Book of Kells. But
this once at the door it stops careening,

pokes a quivering snout outside – The air hums.
Sheets of scent it had torn through now stretch un-
ending, undulating, full of what comes
him who waits.  The seconds slowly stretch. – then,

sensing immense space unflapped by dogwings
snaps back to embroidering its nothings.