This morning I sat on my zafu cushion, pretending to cultivate bliss in quiet meditation. It is the ruse I enact most every morning: I sit, I squirm. After a time, I feel pain in my right knee; then in my left knee. Then the pain disappears; I’ve lost all sensation in my extremities, and cannot feel my legs.
I curse a God I do not believe in for smiting me; for giving me the mind of Albert Einstein and the attention span of a four year old who just ate a family-sized bag of gummy bears. To the untrained eye, I look as though I am a paragon of calm while I sit there, doing nothing other than being, with eyes closed. That is exactly how I looked this morning.
Don’t believe the hype. This morning was no different than most mornings. I was bouncing and jerking around as if on the back of an unbroken mustang; one who is rightly infuriated to have a neurotic, overweight putz weighing it down pretending to meditate when he’s actually writing out his grocery list and revisiting the delicious cake he had before bed last night – which induced a terrible gut ache that made getting up to meditate extremely taxing.
As any right-minded testosterone-laden steed would do upon realizing his back was being broken by a moron, he heaved and whinnied as if to say “get this fraud the fuck off me!” In such conditions, instilling peace and calm is no easy feat, no matter how desperately I try to hang on to the delusion I am a remotely diligent Buddhist.
I have to confess, this morning I was a tad more perturbed by the typical side-show that is my meditation practice. “What the fuck is going on?” I angrily mused. Ah well, there goes another one of the Six Perfections out the window – that of Patience.
This is not really the best tone for one’s inner voice when practicing shamatha-bhavana – cultivating calm abiding – when thoughts arrive to invade the mind. It merely compounds the disruption of a relatively minor thought.
Yeah, yeah. I ain’t Suzuki.
This morning thoughts raced in my consciousness like a meteor hurtling to earth, displacing the still, glass-like waters of my peaceful lake at dawn as it left a massive crater on impact with the ground. A giant cloud of ash and soot sent waves of discomfort throughout my body and mind, leaving them tense, twitchy, and agitated as hell.
You’re supposed to return to the breath when thoughts arrive to draw your focus away. You’re not supposed to suppress the thoughts as they come. It’s okay to notice them, to acknowledge them passing your view. You can even say ‘hello’ as they pass by, as you would when passing sweet elderly people at the park.
What you don’t do is entertain the passing thoughts. You don’t change direction and start walking wherever it is they’re going. You don’t yell at them indignantly as you do at speeding cars racing down your quiet side-street. You don’t say “what the fuck is going on,” if you can help it. If you’re like me and you can’t help it, you get it over with and move on.
But some days it can be really, really difficult. I have ADD. It’s a miracle I can sit at all, let alone abide my breath.
Sometimes, it is calm, exactly what you’d expect when meditating. It feels as though I am sitting at the beach watching my children swimming, on a beautiful summer afternoon. I am reading a favourite book, sitting under the shade of my umbrella, listening to leaves humming as they are grazed by a gentle breeze. Seagulls heckle each other, hovering joyously above the landscape, waiting for a six year old to trip and spill her bucket of French fries in the sand, scavenging an easy meal as she mourns her lunch.
Ahhhhhh. Shamatha-bhavana, indeed. This ain’t so bad.
Suddenly, a bunch of obnoxious hooligans arrives on scene to mess with my bliss. I hear the unmistakable buzzing sound and two-stroke insanity of small watercraft. It’s like twenty-one gun salute of buckshot, instantly killing the chorus of seagulls; a raiding party of lumberjacks cranking up their chainsaws to fell the trees and silence their beautiful hum. The morons, incapable of handling machines they’ve been cavalierly allowed to use in a public swim area, narrowly avoid colliding into children who swim oblivious to the danger lurking in their midst.
Then I secretly wish there were Great White Sharks in the fresh lakes where I live. Those runts wouldn’t be so happily endangering the lives of small children then, would they?
They say I’m not to be so easily pissed off by the douche-bags possessing my thoughts. I have to return to the breath. Just like that. It was such an awesome day at the beach. I have a right to be mad at those jerks on jet-skis, those meteors, those wild, untamed mustangs I deign to ride.
Usually, in spite of myself I am able to wrestle myself back the few dozen times a session I go on my mental magic carpet ride. I get distracted but not emotionally invested in the arising thoughts. I re-direct back to the breath for up to two minutes later, when I get distracted again. I get a clear mind for about a minute before I see in the distance the ego’s intruders. That’s the longest spell of peace my ADD-addled mind will allow before the ego gets restless and invites a jungle of macaques with promises of a year’s supply of bananas if they’ll come and throw their shit in my mind.
This morning, the monkeys arrived a little more randy than usual. Their all night binge slapped me in the back of my head, punched me in the gut, and shoved bunches of bananas up my ass. They left me with taut shoulders, a wincing stomach, and clenched hips and butt-cheeks. To add insult to injury, they also dragged their elephant friend along, and he sat on my chest, leaving me nearly breathless.
I was pitching and rolling on my meditation cushion, as if sitting on a white-water raft about to plunge over Niagara Falls. My arse was nominally in contact with my cushion, my ischial tuberosities afraid to fully acquaint themselves with Mr Zafu.
Samavritti breathing – equal counts inhale and exhale. To a count of twelve! If I don’t pass out first, it’s bound to get me back on track.
Ha Ha, it is to laugh, hapless Buddha wannabe. Mantras. Nope. Count the damn breaths. Nope, not quite. Tickle the roof of my mouth with the tip of my tongue. ‘Gawd dang, that feeels weird!’ I’m just wincing, now.
Time to bring out the big guns. Kapalabhati breath. Suck it, rogue-like, ambling mind. You’re going down!
Vanquished again. But my sinuses were clearer than they’ve been in days. You know, the smell of defeat isn’t all that bad.
Then my timer goes off. What?! It’s been twenty-five minutes already?! No way. Let me check that iPhone’s not wonky.
Usually, this tango with my mind goes on for about ten minutes before I can settle in to a relatively steady routine of calm meditation and violent distraction. Today, distraction landed a Mike Tyson hook square in my meditation’s temple, thirty-eight seconds into the fight. I remained in the ring only because I lay in unconsciousness for the remaining twenty-four minutes, twenty-two seconds.
What the fuck?!
I went through the items on my post-meditation checklist. I am not stressed about work. Things with my partner are awesome. I am not displaying any symptoms that may be distant early warning signs of cancer, this week. I slept okay, I think. I had some off the wall dreams, actually. I was naked with an erection, the opening scene in my fantasy was looking good. Until I looked around in my dream and realized I was boning in a public place, again, which made the whole thing pervy. It’s hard to feel good about yourself when you’re constantly having a dream that makes you want to turn yourself into to the cops when you wake up. So I just repress it, which usually works.
What day is it?
Cripes, it’s a Full Moon.
That’s why I wasn’t rushing off to go to my Mysore class today. Those weirdo Ashtangis don’t practice on full moons, for some arcane reason. I assume the meat-loving schlubs like myself who do Mysore yoga are the only ones totally unaware of why this is.
When people ask about it, I just say something to stem the implied ridicule in the question like, “hey, the tides react with extremes on a full moon, and we ARE, like, ninety per cent water, so …” Usually they shake their head in agreement with something in that statement. It saves me having to give a real answer, which I don’t know.
Now, I think maybe there’s something to this whole business of a Full Moon not being good for practice. I sit in meditation nearly every day, so I notice when a session is particularly shitty. Today was a side-show, as was my frenetic morning routine.
At one point this morning, I got confused about what to do first – make the coffee, get dressed, or have breakfast. So I did them all at the same time. I almost got into three accidents on my way to work. I had coffee grounds and jam in my underwear, which I didn’t discover until much later on.
Then, instead of immediately getting to work once I sat down at my cubicle, I started writing this blog post. Aha! A Full Moon makes me too frazzled to get my work done. But I procrastinate on a quarter, half and seven-eighths moon. Maybe it’s the moon just being there. I wonder if I could get a doctor’s note for this work-disrupting disease related to the moon’s existence.
This is going nowhere.
I asked my cubicle neighbor if she slept well last night. After shaking off her puzzlement at the question, she did mention her sleep wasn’t great. She then said she was snappy at her son, and extra bitchy in her e-mails this morning. She started talking about her drive to work before I cut her off and said, “I think I’ve got enough, thanks.”
Three people called in sick – on a Wednesday. A Wednesday! It’s cloudy outside, too. Could it be they are really sick? Were they barking at the moon a little well into the wee hours? Hmmm.
Another office colleague returned from her morning coffee having gone on a buying binge, grabbing one of every on-sale “food” item at a drug store chain. She generously shared her bags of sodium, sugar, preservatives and other nominally edible toxins with her appreciative colleagues. There was an explosion of excitement as we stood around stuffing our faces with carcinogens, significantly shortening our life spans. What a care-free breakfast gathering it was!
So, it may be there is something to this “Full Moon” business, after all. Or maybe I’m just grasping at straws to find a suitable excuse for another crappy meditation session. The idea there’s no reason at all for my ineptitude, besides the fact my mind is like a six year old tripping out after a gummy-bear binge, sucks. That just leaves me with trepidation at the thought of many more unexpected rides on the mustang when all I want is to sit on Mr Zafu for a pleasant ride in a canoe on a serene lake at dawn. Full moon it is.
Ambling mind, I’d like you to meet full moon. Full moon, meet my mind. Something tells me you two know each other.