Some time in the fall, I fell off the meditation cushion. I didn’t even actually have a cushion; I sat in a large armchair with my legs crossed, trying to keep my spine straight. It was a good practice for me, that meditation. My mind wandered away like an escaped helium balloon and I caught the string again and again, pulling myself back to the moment, the breath, and the stillness. With every breath in I felt the ocean tumbling onto wet, firm sand; with every exhalation I felt the water rush away, rattling tiny shells and stones like a beaded curtain.
In the fall I got busy with a new job and the start of a new school year. I began missing the morning session of quiet focus because I was too busy. It delayed my shower, I rationalized, and there always seemed to be something more pressing to do. By Thanksgiving I had gone from daily practice to a kind of guilt-induced and awkward session once a month. There was no flow, no ease, and no slipstream into a consciousness greater than my own. I snuck glances at the timer. Long after I stopped meditating I would try to remind myself to stop thinking backwards or forwards in time, and to be present. Sometimes it worked, but sometimes I could not stop myself from gnawing some old bone or catastrophizing about the oncoming train.
Considering this particular failure of discipline, I wondered why I had not gone bat shit crazy. It’s difficult to live in my head; I have both the anxiety and distorted perspective of the truly insane and the cool rationality necessary to refute any argument that life is, in fact, good. I spin thoughts frantically, embellishing slights, fretting over the future, and discounting all that is warm and comforting. I have resisted the efforts of therapists, pumping a mental fist at my triumph over psychobabble only to realize that I have basically shot myself in the foot. In meditation, I found respite, and when that ended, I should by all rights have suffered some awe-inspiring backlash of suffering.
Cooking dinner last night, I understood. For maybe an hour, longer than have I ever properly meditated, I was so absorbed in my work that I lost track of time. I diced, I sautéed, and I watched the eggs for the moment when the inner circle was white and firm before I flipped them. I listened to sitar music in my warm, spice-infused kitchen, and thought of nothing but the work at hand. It was, in fact, meditation. I ceased to exist, all of my spinning stopped, and I was part of the process, the eye that judged the translucency of the onions, the hands that scooped and sorted, the tongue that gauged saltiness. Taken out of my head, I rested, balanced, and emerged with a pan of really good hash and an even keel.
It also happens when I write. I can’t write and worry about my parents’ 50thanniversary dinner, the dandelions in the yard, or whether I accidentally hurt someone’s feelings in an e-mail. I am un-distractible, indestructible, and totally present at the keyboard. When I’m finished, I feel lighter and cleaner. There is no cushion, no following of the breath, simply immersion into a space in which my mind is channeled wisely and constructively.
I am planning to start “sitting” again; it is not only good for me but also an important part of my spiritual life. I was thinking about buying a fairly expensive, buckwheat-filled cushion so that I could sit more authentically. It seemed, for a time, that I might be more effective and dedicated if I had the right stuff. In the end, I don’t think it matters. I could spend the fifty bucks on a cushion, a boning knife or someone to clean my house while I write.
Or I could just give it away on the street, and get back to the work at hand, needing nothing more than I already have.