I get a lot of ideas for blog posts while I’m doing yoga. Some would say it is because my brain relaxes and stops talking. Others might guess that I’m lucky enough to have uncommonly profound yoga instructors. Normally I’d go with both of the above, but not today. This post comes from my mind’s refusing to agree to do what it is told.
I am instructed to be totally present in the now. This is a common prompt in a yoga class, but problems begin when we are asked to reflect on what keeps us from being so. “I know, I know” the eager student in my head clamors. She likes getting answers right. “I replay scenes from the past, and I concentrate on tasks and I worry about the future.” But another voice in my head speaks up, and it is less anxious to please.
“Just how effective a human being do you think you would be if you didn’t focus on getting something done?” it asks. “Performing tasks that enhance your chances of survival, and even add to your comfort, is what buys you the freedom to sit around and chant om and do this other shit.”
This particular voice has a bit of a hard edge, but I think it makes a good point. I spend a lot of my day performing tasks that range from spraying stain remover on my laundry to interpreting seismic signals on a computer screen to keeping my car on the road. It is true, this focus on the minutiae of everyday life occupies a lot my thoughts, and as I focus on successfully performing a task, it takes me out of the here and now. Yet, it puts food on my table, keeps me safe, and enables me to wear clean clothes. In short, it makes me a functional human.
But do I want that to be a bulk of my existence? Henry David Thoreau said “Our life is frittered away by detail.” Am I frittering away too much of mine? I’m ready to hold a robust internal discussion on the subject when my inner mind intervenes, hushing the talk and putting my focus back on my breath.
I’ve been doing yoga now in some form since college, and a few years ago I added qi gong to my daily routine. Yet it was the research for c3 that taught me the most about meditation. I had to learn quite a bit before I could write a scene like this.
Jampa walked up to his favorite rock to meditate. No, it wasn’t his favorite rock. He wasn’t supposed to have a favorite rock. All rocks were fine. If this rock were occupied, he did not want to risk disappointment and worse yet irritation with its occupant. He chose this rock today because it was an effective place for his meditation, and as a young monk in training, Jampa knew that meditation was important.
As he slowed his breathing and concentrated on the Eight-Fold Path, he felt himself slipping into the deep trance for which he was known. Those far older than he marveled at the discipline with which Jampa could let go of the chatter in his mind and the speed with which he could move into the intense contemplation that was the realm of the dedicated Buddhist monk. The truth was, no one had ever taught him the technique. He had been doing it for as long as he could remember.
Jampa had little memory of living with the traveling caravan that had dumped him at the monastery door, but he thanked them every day for the mercy that they had shown him. He was told that he was six or seven years old at the time, and had been purchased by the caravan months earlier to fetch water and do chores.
The men complained to the monks that once they started their journey westward they discovered that the little boy was often useless because he would unexpectedly go into these deep trances. They wished to make a gift of him to the monastery.
The monks had, of course, accepted the gift and made the little boy one of their own. Thus, Jampa had received his name, and had become a devout Buddhist and a citizen of Bhutan before he was eight. For over five years now he had successfully hid the real secret behind his meditative abilities from the men who taught him, and who luckily thought that his going into such a deep trance was a powerful religious thing.
So I channel my character Jampa as my breath slows and softens, as my muscles relax, and as all my internal arguments cease, at least for the next hour. One last bit of analysis flickers from a deep corner of my mind. Perhaps this temporary peace is useful too? Yes, I answer softly. I think that it is.
(As for what my monkey mind had to say about focusing on the past — see my post Bring back the good old days? on my z2 blog. For thoughts about focusing on the future, see Prepare for the Worst? on my d4 blog. And find out what my yoga instructor thought the problem was at Are you performing, or performing? on my y1 blog.)