Thursday, August 22, 2013

A meditation on meditation

Define "meditation."  The workings of the mind; a thinking through of issues, ideas; what introverts do.  Re-define "meditation." Sitting, letting thoughts go, detaching from one's emotions. Write a sentence in which you use both meanings of the word. The sentence will fall apart in your hands, like wet drywall, refusing to wall in or wall out. White dust on a bathroom floor.

Malaika King Albrecht, whom I know from her exquisite writing on Alzheimer's, quoted Pema Chödrön yesterday on her Facebook wall: "You can cruise through life not letting anything touch you, but if you really want to live fully, if you want to enter into life, enter into genuine relationships with other people, with animals, with the world situation, you’re definitely going to have the experience of feeling provoked, of getting hooked, of shenpa. You’re not just going to feel bliss. The message is that when those feelings emerge, this is not a failure. This is the chance to cultivate maitri, unconditional friendliness toward your perfect and imperfect self."

Define "shenpa": Chödrön writes an essay on the word here. Usually translated as "attachment," she calls it a "hook," a "sticky feeling," a "tightening." (Good teachers translate translations into literal feelings, those that work inside the body rather than on a cloud.) "We never get at the root, which last night I was calling the scabies. The root in this case is that we have to really experience unease. We have to experience the itch. We have to experience the shenpa and then not act it out."

When we adopted our daughter from a Kathmandu orphanage, she had scabies. She scratched and scratched, legs, arms, body. We had to apply poison to her skin to kill the insect intruders. So one of our first acts of parenting was to poison our daughter. The better for her to "attach" to us, in the positive way that word is used in parenting. "Attachment parenting" is considered a good thing in the magazines, while "attachment" causes suffering, according to Buddhist teachings. The sentence falls apart.

Early this summer, I did some Buddhist shopping (meditation and capitalism are eerily aligned) and purchased a meditation cushion and a mat. They are a lovely maroon color that my cat loves; some days we meditate together, he and I. Equilibrium was what I sought, but equilibrium was not what my sitting brought. At the Diamond Sangha in Palolo, where I went for a refresher in meditation technique, I had an intense urge to run screaming from the zendo. On my own cushion, I find my meditations punctuated by grief, by scheduling, by Tinfish ad copy, by compositions like this one. Intruders all.

What surprised me most, however, was that these meditations freed up anger. It is not my anger, I know, but an emotional field. I do not feel that yet! Anger is energy, anger rides on waves of energy like a Carlos Beltran 400-foot home run into the body's upper deck. Anger does not answer to no. Anger fills the chest and means to explode, plasticity to everyday flexibility. (See Catherine Malabou.) I've found myself acting out, announcing my anger to colleagues, my husband. My mind has roiled with the usual poet-editor-angers, the no-one-notices-my-good-work self-pity festival. My feelings have not hurtled with such speed since my depression/anxiety disorder were successfully treated and my mind slowed to a liveable pace, a walk instead of a jet pak.

But as Chödrön points out, "we have to experience the shenpa and then not act it out." As Malaika writes, "it's called practice for a reason." Define "practice." The OED has it as: "The actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method, as opposed to the theory or principles of it; performance, execution, achievement; working, operation; (Philos.) activity or action considered as being the realization of or in contrast to theory." And I love how this sentence also crumbles, a broken tower of babel, as it juxtaposes the application of belief or theory with the contrast to theory. It is the operation of theory when theory falls away. It is the rain that comes after the clouds, as in Mānoa Valley, when the rainbows borrow a ride on the mist. 

There is so much at which to be angry. I'm pissed off that everyone else is angry, too, the BMW drivers, the entire species of lone gunmen, radio shock jocks, my kids. Twenty-TWO new condo towers in Kaka`ako, really? Our neighbor loudly curses her kids mornings and evenings. I'm angry at Ralph Waldo Emerson for telling us in "Self-Reliance" that we are powerful, that we should never conform, that "nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles," so that when we discover we are without power or control, we get angry. I'm angry at the notion that "the triumph of principles" is where we need to go. Then again, if Emerson had one more sentence, he might well undo this one.

1 comment:

Jaimie Gusman said...

Amen. Thank you - feeling this too.