Head trips

January 22, 2010

Stumbling away from my cubicle at lunch time, blurred with boredom and fatigue, I find myself in an elevator going down 31 floors.  On the way, my fellow passengers are all deeply involved with their phones – texting, scrolling, listening…  I look at people doing this a lot in NYC, on the sidewalk, the train, in the lobby, and I think, “What are they doing?  Calling their kids?  Checking Twitters?  Texting a girlfriend?  Looking at the stock quotes?  Reading a Shakespeare sonnet..?”

Personally, I am happy with my primitive cell phone that I rarely use.  I have no desire to be connected, not when I am away from my work/desk, anyway.  This is not a criticism – I just don’t fathom the attraction this activity has for all these people so much of the time.

I made my way down Broadway to my favored cold-weather lunch time nap location, Trinity Church.  Inside, a service is going on, and I find my way to a padded bench in the back corner and settle in.  My attention is caught by the wonderful voice of the minister giving his homily on theodicy, the existence of evil and strife in God’s world.  Why is there tragedy like the earthquake in Haiti?  Does God cause it, let it happen?  Very few people are at the service, but the minister speaks very well – I can accept everything he says by simply jettisoning the God-stuff.

Religion does offer something!  A quiet place, a haven from the idiotic swirling frenzy of talk, arrangements, markets, advertisements, gossip, bad news, celebrity…the stuff of workaday life.  Drills down to the essential, witnessing love, a larger mission to give meaning to life, compassion, the inevitable arc of living from birth to death, all that universal stuff.

He finishes, some organ music, and I dimly sense people going forward…to take communion?, shake his hand – no, the hand shaking happened a few minutes ago… I drift in and out of sleep for fifteen minutes and awake, somewhat refreshed.


The Unbearable Pain of Mindfulness

April 6, 2008


The goal of enlightenment, mindfulness, being-here-now, is much sought after these days…perhaps always. Many associate it with zen or other varieties of Buddhism, and eastern religion. It is, I think, generally discussed as a state that partakes of bliss – certainly a cessation of earthly pain. Odd, then, that it is so hard to attain; that our minds and beings seem to actively frustrate our attainment of the state. Perhaps we don’t want enlightenment?

I am beginning to suspect that mindfulness is so difficult to achieve not only because it is difficult per se, but because we actively flee from it, just as some flee from love that they claim they want. Like love, mindfulness can bring pain, terrific pain?

I am lying on my bed – I have no obligations – I am free to do what I want. I need think of nothing – do nothing. My free time, free to attend to the moment, appreciate the here and now…My mind is racing like a formula one car engine, but not in gear, a high pitch scream – - “What shall I do?” Most times, I would dive into a book, do some chores, clean, watch a movie, kill time surfing the Net, read the paper, but at this moment, I don’t feel drawn to any of that. Just sit and attend, observe yourself observing the universe…and what happens? A high pitched whine as of an engine running at full-tilt without load…will it explode?

To simply spend such times attending to the what-is is so painful, so disorienting, so explosive in its energy, the tendency is to rush to fill the time with something more trivial that will get the mind in gear and discharge its energy safely. Perhaps that is the real difficulty in mindfulness. Not that we cannot stop the incessant chatter of our minds no matter how much we want to, say we want to, but that we do not want to!

The alternative is to be left naked, still, simply sitting and observing the nature of what-is at the moment. The light filtering in from the window. The complexity and simplicity of the tree branches. The calming geometry of my room. The rebus of my history that is the clutter of knick knacks around me. The then and the now…The unfathomable indifference of everything to the trivial thing that is me. The weight of the universe pressing down on a single point on my head where my mind perceives it and comprehends it…without a reciprocating care or concern. It’s too much to bear!! Where is that crossword puzzle!!


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