It’s Meditation Month at Tricycle. Finally! I thought it’d never get here. It’s like a double-fortnight holiday extravaganza for those of us in the business. Except it’s not relaxing. And there aren’t any songs or decorations. And we don’t get presents. Also, meditation is hard. But it’s time to celebrate!
Many of you may have been interested in meditation for a while but have been putting off trying it. This is a great time for you to jump in and explore. Of course, it’s sort of like waiting for New Year’s Day to start a diet. Why do we do that? For me, it’s a weird combination of laziness and math. If it’s December 27th and I’m staring deep into a bag of Little Caesar’s Crazy Bread, I feel torn. I’ve only just woken up from my Christmas dinner coma and I should probably eat an apple or something. But I’ve been scarfing junk the whole month, and if we’re being honest, many months before that. Why change all that on the 27th when I could start fresh on the first and have five more days to stuff every kind of hideous trash food down my gullet?
This same breed of intellectual indolence often ruins my mediation schedule. I usually get off work around 4 p.m. on Saturdays. The whole rest of the day and its intriguing, glittery night stretch before me. It’s bursting with promise, like a box of Merlot. I could study the dharma, watch videos of my various teachers, and have a good long sit. But more likely, I’ll go to a bar with friends, watch sports, and day drink Jägermeister until politics starts to make sense.
Because it’s Saturday. It’s the weekend. I should have some fun and relax. Meditation is like a during-the-week-thing, man. I can get back to sitting on Monday like Buddha intended. Enjoy Saturday and Sunday. Do acid and play disc golf or something.
Obviously, this attitude is pretty detrimental when it comes to spiritual progression. But I’ve already established that I’m a fairly shitty Buddhist, especially when it comes to discipline. My own practice has certainly suffered a few setbacks lately; I’ve looked forward to March so I can jumpstart it.
Here’s a breakdown of my March 1st, in convenient timeline form so we can all see my staggering journey along the path:
8:00 a.m.: The alarm on my phone goes off just like I set it for. I normally get up around 9:30, but I want to sit before work. I instantly leap out of bed ready to get started.
Just kidding. I don’t do that at all. I squint at the phone just enough to reset the alarm for 8:30 and then stick my face back under the pillow.
8:30 a.m.: The alarm makes its noise again. My wife has already snoozed twice and is now stirring like she might actually get up. We both have to be at work at 10:30 and there’s only one bathroom, so the first person in the shower gets all the hot water. Whoever doesn’t get there first has Sub Zero from Mortal Kombat pissing down their back.
So I bounce out of bed. I want that hot shower, and it’s time to hit the cushion. My eyes are sparkling. If I had a tail, it’d be bushy.
Sound convincing? Because I totally don’t do that at all. Again. I paw at the phone to get it to stop and listen to my wife crawl out of bed, and then the soft sounds of all our hot water exiting the pipes.
I reset the alarm for 9 and pull the covers over my unenlightened head.
9 a.m.: Again with the alarm. I’m not actually asleep this time, but stewing in self-recrimination. Why didn’t I just get up at 8 and sit? Why do I continue to be such a worthless Buddhist? My stomach churns, but it’s the only thing moving. I’m still not up.
This practice is mental fitness and it comes with the same pain in the ass catch-22 as physical fitness. It takes a lot of energy to start, but once you’ve done it, you have a lot more energy.
9:15 a.m.: My wife is out of the bathroom and I’m confronted with the terrible question so many of us face so often: shower or meditation? I only have time for one.
I think we all know my decision.
9:50 a.m.: I’m freshly showered and as well-groomed as a pudgy, bearded, heavily tattooed guy gets. I’m still about as presentable to the public as shingles. Good thing I work in the service industry.
“Sit for 15 minutes, 15 minutes is better than nothing,” I tell myself. Silently, because my wife’s still home.
“Not by much,” I reply. “Not even enough time to get into it.”
“Well, that’s a helpful attitude.”
“I’m just saying, 15 minutes isn’t worth it. Ain’t nobody getting enlightened in 15 minutes.”
And so it goes.
10:00 a.m.: After the laziest non-stoner inner debate ever, I compromise. It’s now too late for meditation of any length so I grab a dharma book instead. When I finally remember where I left off, then reread a few pages to get caught up, it’s time to go.
10:15 a.m.: In the car I want to listen to Louis C.K. and Patton Oswalt on Pandora. Instead, I guiltily put on the Buddhist Geeks podcast like I’m fooling somebody.
10:30 a.m.–4 p.m.: There are lots of opportunities to practice at work. Difficult customers, monotonous labor, spirit-lacerating boredom, financial worries; the fun never stops. It’s easy to get swept away by daily life and realize you’ve left most of your equanimity on the cushion.
Today, I take those opportunities. Someone complains that the Chardonnay isn’t a true Chardonnay and is clearly blended with Viognier, but she wasn’t told that before she ordered. I feel the urge to slam back her wine in one gulp, belch like a walrus, then yell “Gross!” I watch it rise and persist. Finally, I watch it fall away.
With hands that don’t shake, I replace her wine, smile, and apologize. She doesn’t go away happy, but I do.
She’s one of only a few customers on a very slow day. I decide take a two-minute break. I make sure no one needs anything, and then I stand still for 120 seconds and watch my breath. It doesn’t do much to awaken me to the inherent bliss of the universe, but it does settle everything down. When I’m done, the world seems a little slower, and so do my thoughts.
4 p.m.–6 p.m.: I hate meditating in the afternoon. It doesn’t matter how much sleep or caffeine I’ve had, if my ass hits that cushion after 2 p.m., I’m worthless and stuck in a groggy, sluggish, hazy marathon of almost-sleep.
Today I don’t even try. I run some errands, and while all the other drivers seem determined to kill me, I try to remember my earlier success at work
6 p.m.–9:30 p.m.: This is usually when I do most of my writing. It’s also when I do most of my slacking. If the words aren’t coming, I end up burning through the backlog of shows on our DVR or Netflix and chilling myself.
Pointedly ignoring the TV’s sultry look, I drag out the dharma book again. With my highlighter poised, I dig in.
About 30 minutes later, I open my laptop and dive into the sweet, sweet Internet. I’m not looking up celebrity nip slips or anything, I actually keep it practice-related. I cruise around the dharma’s semi-lunatic fringe, reading stuff from all the rebels and rabble-rousers determined to keep Buddhism in America from deteriorating into a miasma of feel-good pop psychology.
As is usually the case, the Internet devours my time and I barely even notice.
9:30 p.m.–10:45 p.m.: Dinner time. I don’t eat mindfully. I watch Downton Abbey. Shut up.
10:45 p.m.–11:30 p.m.: I’m in the shrine room at last. As a secular Buddhist, I generally avoid ritual. It doesn’t have much of a role in my practice, but there’s one I’ve always enjoyed. Before I sit, I always bow to my shrine, light a candle, and burn incense in front of my Buddha. I never feel like I’m worshipping or praying, but it helps get my body and mind ready for meditation. The simple actions remind me what I’m doing and ease me into practice.
Tonight, the meditation is excellent. I’ve missed a few days, and after I’m done I have that wonderful hollowed-out feeling, like some of the internal detritus has been removed.
I snuff Buddha’s candle and stand in the doorway for a moment, savoring the faint smell of sandalwood. The house is quiet, my mind is quiet, my body is relaxed. It doesn’t always go like this. But these are the days that get you back on the cushion tomorrow.
I pull my phone out and set the alarm for 8 a.m.
Read more from Brent R. Oliver:
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