Presence of Mind
|As rapid as water runs, so does the present become the past.|
Presence… it's not just on of Led Zeppelin's least favored albums; it’s the elusive white whale of my pursuit of tranquility.
I want to talk about meditation; it's something I've played around with for 20 years now, yet I never feel like I can say, "I practice meditation." "Practice" infers some ritual progression that's an essential part of my life. I instead feel like I wrestle with meditation.
Gary Snyder and Jack Kerouac "practiced" meditation, at least if you are to believe what they wrote. Reading about Kerouac's visions while meditating in in the pines of North Carolina or on top of Desolation in the Cascades depicts the beauty and goal of meditation. I'm afraid I have yet to acquire any existential inspiration from my meditation unfortunately.
So I want to talk about the painful side of meditation. That seems to be the side with which I'm most familiar. While many practitioners out there cherry pick their experience, like Alta did when posting on Instagram this season, I'm going to share my struggles. I think we could use some frustrated depictions of meditation. I want to make those of us struggling with monkey minds feel a little better. Think of it this way, it would be like, if after you assembled that model Sherman tank as a 13 year old, and felt disappointed when comparing it to the picture on the box, you could flip the box over and see another image, this one with blotchy paint, airplane glue smears and a gun turret that will spell death for any enemy… provided they approach you exactly straight on.
Ironically, if you were to take my unofficial definition of the term "practice": making mistakes in the pursuit of perfection, then I do practice meditation, much in the same way I practiced trying to catch fly balls as a kid. After misjudging yet another pop-up off my dad's bat that went over my head, throw my glove in disgust.
|My makeshift altar on a trunk full of old Playboys.|
Sure, when meditating, they tell you, "let things flow in, and flow out, then come back to the present." Sounds easy, yet I see things flowing in and desperately run around trying to shut the windows and doors, hiding behind the couch like I do when the missionaries come around, squinting my eyes and saying "Go away thoughts, I'M TRYING TO BE TRANQUIL GOD DAMMIT!"
A few weeks ago, I was asked to be "present". I tried, but I explained to the person that when I close my eyes, focus on my breath, and "be present" -- I don't feel calm. I feel like I'm trying to grasp water. The "present" surrounds me, plentiful and for the taking, but without a bucket, I'm stuck trying to grab it up with my hands.
I've mentioned in previous posts that, when trying to calm my anxiety, I think of a rock in the middle of a stream -- the future and past constantly running past this rock which just IS.
|By the time you see the future, it's already the present.|
When I thought of the rock, the water, oncoming and receding events, it all seemed so ridiculous. Being present is like stopping time, not really possible. It lasts only as long as it lasts.
But that doesn't mean we can't "be" present. Equanimity surrounds us. It is always there, just like the stream flowing around us. Tranquility is as close as us, we are a part of it. Tranquility isn't something we possess, it's a current to which we belong.