Tranquility, With Fur

Cooper, sleeping

 

It is difficult to meditate
when a nervous black kitty
uses this rare opportunity
of your tranquility
to leap onto your lap
press her wet nose against your hands
curled into their mudra
and pushes her bony feet
into your thighs
in a restless attempt
to get comfortable

But once she settles down
purring
into a pile of shadow colored fur
and whiskers
with an uncomplicated contentment
rarely found
in the frantic frenzy of human thought
outside of the shade of the Bodhi tree

It is easy to know
that this moment is flawless
and it is easy to feel
with the resonant
empty
infinite echo of a purr
that for no reason at all
with no possibility of judgement
that you are loved

Caffeinated Mindfulness

Mocha !

I take a sip of coffee, dark roasted into anthracite of Arabica, swirled with the luxurious tropical tang of coconut cream. It rushes into my bloodstream, into my senses. I can’t tell the difference between the chemicals blocking adenosine between my neurons, or the psychosomatic reaction of my hot wet love affair with the aroma, with the taste, with the feel of it on my tongue.

My third eye snaps open. It was asleep. It’s usually asleep. But it’s forced open by the thunderclap of caffeination outside its window, blasting through sleep paralysis, it jolts up in bed and stands at attention. I close my other two eyes. I take my first breath. I begin my meditation.

I take my second breath. They are the long, slow, deliberate breaths of the practice. The same ones that I take when I am calm. What do I look like, to the bodhisattva ghosts that haunt the space around me? Do I look at ease? Do I look rested, because I breathe normally, and because I am not moving? Can they see the thousands upon thousands of lightning bugs that rest upon my skin, waiting to burst into action and light up the night?

I am not rested. I am not calm. There is more to peace than stillness. If nothingness is the true state of perfection, then perfection is flawed. I am a bundle of bundles of charged wires of a hundred different polarities that only exist in the dreams of electrons. Instead of a place without thought, drifting like leaves on a stream, the inside of my skull hosts so many thoughts, so many sensations, in such a reckless state of effortless agitation they are indistinguishable. They are white noise. My mind is a serene cacophony of beautiful tension.

I realize there is no such thing as silence. There is only deafness. In the quietest room in existence, there is still the background radiation of the infant universe. The scream of it’s birth. Not a scream of agony, but an agony of triumph. An impossibly massive explosion in an impossibly small instant, bursting outward from a single point of infinite inertness to a furiously rushing sea of endless potential. The loudest shouts that could ever be, so distant when they reach us that they have become a caressing whisper. If we cannot hear them, it’s because we lack calibration. Because our ears are too small.

It swirls around me, within me, throughout me. These thoughts and this noise are me, and they are not me. They are larger and vastly more important, and smaller than the Planck scale. Less relevant than a single crumb of food that cannot feed a mouse so small it suffers wave interference when it tries to pass through two slits in a scientist’s lab.

It is exhilarating. It is exhausting. It lasts forever, but when it ends, as all things end, it has written a poem in prose in my head. A distant reflection in arbitrary symbolic representation of the chaotic, tranquil, nasty, perfect glory of the experience of trying to meditate after my third cup of coffee. But I will share it anyway.

The Meditation Clock

energy place

Another 37, Day 18

Take a deep breath. Feel how the air fills your lungs and expands your chest. It is better to breathe with your abdomen than your chest, but don’t worry about that now. This moment is about awareness. The sensations of your body, and all that you feel and observe around you. Good. Now let the breath out. Don’t try to control it. Just allow it to flow out of you like water. Feel the way you vibrate with the exhalation. If thoughts arise in your mind do not judge them. Just watch them from a distance, uninvolved. Let them pass away.

Good. Now take in the next breath, and let it out. Just like this. Your thoughts will come, but they do not define you. Do not follow them, but do not worry if you have walked a few steps up that path. Just gently return to your center, to your breath. There is only your breath, and there is only this moment. Breathe in, then breathe out.

Good. Now check the time. It’s important to know exactly how much time you have left in the meditation. No, don’t worry about your breath. You can get back to that in a moment. Your breath isn’t going anywhere. Just open your eyes and look. Go ahead. Just check the time. It’ll only take a second.

No, wait, never mind. Don’t do that. It’s not important. There is no time. It doesn’t matter how much time has passed. There is only the moment. Only the breath. Right here, right now. Breathe in, breathe out. This is perfection. It is never far away, only you stand between yourself and the tranquility of emptiness. Take the next breath, then let it out. There is nothing but the next breath. No you, no self, no time. Good.

Speaking of time, you’d probably better take a look and see how much time has passed. It won’t take more than a second. Less than that, even. Light moves so quickly, and the optical systems in your brain are very fast. Just flit your eyes open for a fraction of a moment. Your phone and its timer app are right there. You won’t need to worry about it for very long, then you can get back to the breath thing, which is what is really important. Listen, you are not going to stop thinking about this until you do it. Just take a look. What can it hurt? You’re won’t be able to meditate proper until you do it. You know this. You might as well give in.

No, no, no, that’s no good. This is a willpower exercise as much as anything. What does it say if you can’t make it through just a few minutes without consulting a clock? Okay, that helps. Good, good. Now back to breathing. Let the breath in, feel how it suffuses your being. How you are the breath, and the breath is everything, and the breath is nothing.

What if the timer already went off but it didn’t make a sound? It’s happened before. It’s a cell phone app. It’s unreliable. Dammit, you shouldn’t have thought that. It works 99.99% of the time. Why did you have to go and think that? Now you have to open your eyes. You have to check. You’d feel like a jackass if you just sat there meditating for too long. Wait, no you wouldn’t. That would be fine. Just have a little faith. You always do this. You always worry about the time and it’s always fine. Just let it go. Just take a breath. Breath in, breath out. Good.

Okay, you’re not going to stop thinking about this. You only got two breaths in, that time. It’s getting worse. You’re going to have to give in pretty soon. You already know this. Look, you’ve put up a good fight. You’re no Shaolin master, here, but you’re on your way. Isn’t that half the reason you meditate, anyway? You think it’s going to give you superpowers? But a journey has to start somewhere, and you’re paying your dues. But you’re only human. For the moment. So just do it. Just open your eyes. Take a peek. Okay, you are doing it. You’re going to just do it. Right in, right out, get it over with. Are you doing this? Yes, you’re doing this. You’re just going to do it.

Oh holy Christmas in July, that feels so much better! That wasn’t such a big deal, was it? Now you know. It’s over and now you know.  You have five minutes and forty three seconds left. That’s not so bad. Now you don’t have to worry about the time anymore. You get to focus on your breath again, just like Buddha would probably tell if you if you were listening to one of his guided meditation videos. Breathe in the universe, breathe out the fickle illusion of your transient. Less than six minutes left. There’s no chance you’re going to worry about the time again. Not very much chance at all. Feel the way the air floods into your lungs, as if that is where it desires to be. Don’t worry about the time. You’ve totally got this. Just focus on your breath. There, just like that. Just like that. Good.

The Memory of Stillness

Morning stillness

This music teases me with the memory of stillness. Of peace and tranquility. When I remember it I can almost feel it. Almost.

A fire cracks and night birds call out their cry. It’s called song, but it’s not really song. Sets of notes in sequence. It’s less melodious than song, and more beautiful.

My head hurts too much to be calm. There is too much fire in my throat. When I relax from distraction I remember all of the bills I haven’t paid. All of the potential clients I haven’t reached out to. All of the dreams that fester in the unventilated basement of my mind. Dreams never die, but you don’t have to die to decompose. If something can’t die, that just means it can keep rotting forever.

The notes of the music sound. They resonate throughout my brain. Through my skull and my bones.They raise the hairs along my arms and the other exposed places of my skin. A long, held note, accompanied by others. It is soothing in a deep way. A way that feels fundamental to all of existence. The background-radiation mantra of a meditating universe. Are we its thoughts? Are we the tiny distractions that dance into its conscious awareness and prevent it from focusing on its breathing? We are significant only because the universe cannot concentrate. How can we achieve peace, if our very form is that of a disturbance to the universe?

Yet it tempts me. It tries to pull me in with it. If only I could let myself go. If only every part of me could resonate with the notes. I’d have to stop moving. Stop running inside my own brain. Stop spinning the wheel of the mill, round and round, to turn the wheel that is grinding nothing. That’s all it would take, says the music. Just stop. Just rest. Then you’d be calm. Peace would be yours.

My brain won’t let me. It refuses to believe. What if I’m a shark? What if the moment I stop moving the oxygenated water will cease to pass through my lungs and provide my breath? What if the moment I stop fishermen will snag me in their nets and cut off my fin for their soup?

We’re all moving forward all the time. The earth hurtles through space, we hurtle through time. The arrow of time was fired from the bow of an angry archer who thought only of his target. He knows he cannot recover the arrow, so what does it matter if it splinters into shards against the wall? Life needs to keep growing or it dies. So do economies.

We are biological machines and the moment you turn us off you can never turn us back on. It’s a poor design that would never work for a vacuum cleaner. But we’re more complicated. So defined by our complexity that we’ve become addicted. We have to keep growing. We have to keep adding complexity or we calcify, then freeze, and then die. But we don’t stop growing. Not really. Our dead, useless machines become a rich bed for other organisms. A place for millions of other complexity addicts to get their fix.

I’m scared of peace. I’m scared of calm because it’s motionless. It’s adrift. And because it’s meaningless. Perfect peace has no purpose. The Buddha said that the ultimate goal is nonexistence. If you do everything right and achieve the purest and highest form of peace and stillness, you die. Fully and completely. You achieve perfection through meaninglessness.

True perfection has to be meaningless, because meaning requires that there be something more than what is there. You bite into an apple and it makes you feel good because you know it is organic and locally sourced. That is meaning. But if you take the perfect bite of the perfect apple none of that matters. The sensation of joy is so singular that it requires something else. Maybe later you’ll remember whether there were herbicides used in its growth, and maybe that will matter to you. But if that is in your mind while the sweet flesh lingers on your tongue, if meaning matters in that moment, then the moment is incomplete. It’s imperfect.

You can never understand perfection, and you can never understand calm. Not while you are there in the middle of it. Understanding is a disruption. It requires an outsider who is not part of the experience, standing and watching. Taking notes because they wish desperately to comprehend an experience through reduction that cannot be comprehended because of reduction. Because the act of ratiocination is an extra element that does not belong. It, too, needs to be removed if you want to achieve stillness.

It is hard for me to trust what I don’t understand. To cease moving is an act of faith. I’ve been there, and it’s beautiful. No, it’s that deeper place that beauty is built upon. If beauty is staring at a mountain shrouded in fog until tears line your eyes, then stillness is the mountain. It doesn’t need you and your emotions to be magnificent. It just is.

I’ve been there, and It Is. I know this. I know how I feel when I am there, and I know how beautiful I feel when I come back. Yet still I’m afraid. Afraid to stop moving. Afraid to stand still. Because I understand something. As far in as I’ve been, as much as I have slowed down, I have not reached the deepest part of the well. I have never achieved complete calm, or absolute stillness. I have brushed my fingertips against perfection, but that is all. Because I have come close enough to figure out something that is true, magnificent, and terrifying.

If I enter that place I might never come back.

Stillness leads to death not just because we must always grow. But because everything we love, all of our joys and hopes and dreams, they are imperfections. They are illusions. We desire them only because we have never drank of perfection.

If I want to be this person that I am–this fake, illusory person–then I need my suffering. I need the stress that is the inevitable result of movement. You cannot run forward without burning energy and creating waste. Entropy is exists is all reactions, and so only non-reaction is perfect. But all meaning comes from reaction. Meaning is a waste product, but it is also the source all beauty, all joy, all magnificence.

This music tempts me. It sings its few notes of stillness and they are all that is needed. It whispers to give up my fear and step into the still waters. It doesn’t matter if I drown. My lungs and my breath and my entire being won’t matter once bathed in that total perfect.

I will approach, because the feeling is sublime. But I will not listen to the whispers. As I step into the place of calm and stillness, I will keep a tiny fragment of fear in my pocket. Just enough that I will always return. I will always choose to continue to be a person, even if that is flawed and imperfect. Because there is value in this flawed and addicted universe. There is magnificence. There is meaning.

I don’t want perfection. The illusion is too beautiful.

Shredded Thoughts

155/365: Cheese Grater

If you see the Buddha in the road, put him through a cheese grater.
–A Meditation

Inhale

So I’m meditating now, and I think that it’s…

Exhale

wonder if my timer is going to go off, because I’ve never…

Inhale

thinking too much? I’m probably thinking too…

Exhale

the moss arrows in Thief are pretty green. I guess moss is green, so…

Inhale

really not sure about that timer; what if two hours pass and I haven’t…

Exhale

I come up with my most creative ideas while walking. Or while in the shower. According to both researchers and friends of mine this is a very common occurrence. I think it has to do with the fact that the universe is perverse, and these are two situations in which very few people carry a pen. If creativity is the chocolate of the mental world, its cascading fountains seem most likely to appear whenever you are on a low-carb diet.

Meditation is a great example. If I have an intractable problem or creative tangle, there’s no way to catalyze my brain into actively trying to solve it than sitting down to meditate. The desire for no-thought is apparently really an invitation for every thought in a 5 trillion neuron radius to show up for the part. And they seem so productive. So interesting!

But you shouldn’t believe it. They only seem that way because they’re taboo. Unwanted but still desired. The forbidden fruit in the cognitive garden. And because you only see part of them. Because while meditation may appear encourage thinking, it’s an illusion. A trap. The thoughts are only there because meditation wants them to be there. Because meditation is hungry. Hungry for thoughts. In its advance stages, the meditative mind resists thoughts.

In its more primitive stages, however, it shreds them.

I can feel it happening. I can almost see it. Guides on meditation almost always instruct the seeker to watch thoughts as they form and let them pass. But you can’t just let a thought pass. Not really. All you can do is hack it off at the source. Thoughts only exist to the extent that you form them. They are like pasta coming out of an extrusion machine. They keep going until you pull the lever and make the noodle-guillotine hack its way right through them. Then you boil them and eat them with red sauce.

It’s not a perfect metaphor.

To meditated imperfectly—and the vast, vast majority of all meditation done is imperfect—is to take a knife to your thoughts and slice them into tiny little pieces, so they fall through the grating in your mind and don’t pile up and consume you. We spend a lot of our time consumed. Practice, then, is the art of sharpening your knife, to cut your thoughts into finer and less jagged pieces. Maybe, if you keep going, and if you’re lucky, you’ll eventually have a knife so sharp it will split thoughts from all the way across the room.

Is that enlightenment? I don’t know. I’ll let you know when I get there.