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Entries in craving (2)

Monday
Jan092012

Coming Back

The snow gods have been unkind to our favorite mountain spots so far this winter, but Saturday brought our first few inches of the new year.  A few inches of snow is the difference between what's the point? and wheeeee!  A few inches of snow makes everything new again. 

Here the snow is too dry to even make a decent snowball.  Every single flake holds its distinct shape.  I was the first one on the cross-country trail yesterday morning, and the snow fluttered and parted around my skis as the sun broke through the morning clouds.  The snow is still too shallow to cover the remains of the summer grasses, and it's too light to weigh them down.  How much does a snowflake weigh?  I skied past a dead tree that fell last week.  Was there one snowflake that did the deed?  The tree just couldn't take the weight of one more snowflake?

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I wonder if this is how moods work.  Life piles on, and you're strong, but one imperceptible thing you probably don't even notice gets added to the load and suddenly you're sinking under the weight of it. 

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For a while now I've craved silence.  I've turned off the radio, except for the classical station occasionally.  I put all the CDs away.  The cacophony of kids over the holidays actually hurt.  I sit every morning and meditate in the dark, feasting on the quiet.

But I noticed this weekend that my ears are hungry.  I want headphones, and dancing around the house, and singing loud. 

This feels good.  This feels like coming back.

Tuesday
Dec062011

The Buddha and Chekhov's Gun

Here is a true story:

I signed up, about four years ago, for a ten-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat.  This in spite of (because of?) the fact that I had no experience with meditation.  Or Buddhist philosophy.  Or, for that matter, silence.  So I packed up my most comfortable yoga togs, drove down to a ranch south of Denver and dove into the shocking cold waters of all three.

For those, like myself, who know nothing of meditation and need it somehow demystified in order to get started, this retreat is perfect.  Each night you watch a tape of a dharma talk from the guru, explaining the philosophies of the Buddha and how this meditation technique trains your mind to understand - grok, really - what he was talking about. During the days you sit (A LOT) in meditation, following the guru's specific instructions about where to focus your attention.  It is a demanding practice and sometimes painful (we were sitting for 10 or so hours a day), but not esoteric.

In fact the whole experience is so concrete - predictable, I guess - that the guru, in the very first night's dharma talk, tells you exactly how it's going to be in the next ten days.  He says that the second day and the sixth day are going to be very difficult, and I (naturally determined to be the teacher's pet, even though the teacher is in India and communicating via VHS tape) think I'm going to nail this. 

And then the second day, and again the sixth day, your mind is very unruly and it's impossible to focus on your breath coming in and out of your nose and you find yourself thinking What the hell am I doing here?  I should just go home and curl up with my sweetheart.  And eat a steak!  And drink a beer!  Yeah!  That makes so much more sense than sitting here.  This sitting in meditation?  This is not for me.  A steak and a bee -- I wonder what Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are up to?  Are they going to have another baby? They could have adopted a whole other baby while I was sitting here!

And then you notice that you're thinking about celebrity gossip while you're supposed to be focusing on your breath coming in and out of your nose and you think Oh Em Gee.  I am suppose to be meditating and I'm thinking about Brangelina.  I must be the shallowest person who ever signed up for Vipassana.  I'm doomed.  I should just go home and eat a steak.

But somehow you persevere and you start to understand something about the power of training yourself not to react to every little stimulus that you encounter.  All the guru's talk about how the root of our human suffering lies in how we are always in the grip of craving or avoiding really starts to make sense.  The meditation is coming along and then one day you get it.  I mean really really get it.  In a moment it just clicks and you feel exactly what he's been talking about even though he, even with his long experience, didn't have the word for this sensation that washes over you.

When I imagine myself in this moment, Julia Roberts is playing me and there's a peaceful smile on her face and light is pouring out of her crown chakra even as everyone else in the room is silently trying to get to that place.  In real life in that moment I thought Wow, WOW.  I want to feel this way for the REST OF MY LIFE.

WRONG ANSWER. 

Crown chakra extinguished.  Sensation absent.  Utterly gone.

HAVE YOU LEARNED NOTHING ABOUT CRAVING, ROBBINS?

So with that little Buddhist smackdown I did learn a thing or two about craving.  And I got sent immediately back to Square One, where I spent the remainder of the retreat trying to regain an elusive toehold in my earthly nirvana.

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There is a point to this story, other than to indulge in my new pastime of ritual self-humiliation on the Internet.  You saw me hang the pistol of meditation on the wall.  Or maybe the pistol was the craving.  I don't even know if this thing is loaded, but I promise to fire it in the next couple of days.  We'll see if it has any kick.  It's probably safest if you stand back.