A BOW, A BOWL
Ethan had practiced meditation for a long time but he would not say he was good at it. As soon as he got relaxed, sleep sucked him down a black hole. Even if he napped before sitting or drank two cups of coffee, snozzola. Once in a while he stayed awake the whole thirty minutes, awake being a relative term. Though his head wasn’t rolling around on the stem of his neck, his mind was a tar pit he trudged through until bong, there went the bell.
Teachers said it, and it was true that practicing in a group is more conducive to staying present, and so Ethan, having heard about a meditation center within walking distance, showed up on Saturday morning. Little did he expect the place, a former Radio Shack, to be packed with chattering people. It was like a damn meet-and-greet. Fortunately there were two rows of zafus off to the side. Ethan walked through the tea-sipping crowd and bowed and sat down on one of them. His mind was cranking overtime; there he was, goody-no-shoes, showing these idiots what practice is about. God he was such a twerp and a hypocrite. He sat down anyway. Marinated in self-hate was better than making chitchat.
Soon enough it got quiet. Ethan and his volcano of self-criticism quieted down too. The cushion, him, the fuzzy space ahead. Just the cushion. The moment. The breath. And the guy flexing his feet and wiggling his toes in the most repulsive pea-green socks ever. Ethan understood the agony of having a cramp but when you’re sitting you’re supposed to be at one with the sensation of pain. If you really need to flex, you do it in a subtle way that denotes reverence for the privileged silence.
He wasn’t the only one being inappropriate. The gangly guy who had tapped the baton on the ringing bowl at the start conspicuously rolled his shoulders and his neck, showing everyone what a flexible spine he had. Ethan was sure he would get nothing out of meditating in this place, with this crowd. As soon as the bell sounded, sayonara. Done in silence.
Surely fifteen minutes had passed, but it was hard to tell. In his usual life Ethan was expert at telling the time without looking at a watch. He was never off more than five minutes. But sitting time was full of warps and woofs. Two thoughts happened in such conjunction they were almost simultaneous. 1) Fifteen long painful minutes to drag kicking and screaming into the exhausted past. 2) Only fifteen more minutes to actually practice. To have a tiny awakening or two.
Was that an oxymoron, a tiny awakening? Any aperture, no matter how small, has a view of the infinite. Isn’t that what he believed? But the point was: not to have beliefs, any beliefs. Beliefs got in the way of being present. Where he wasn’t. Where was he? Not in the present. He turned his attention back to his breath.
Ethan was aware of breathing, not breath. Not his breathing but the breathing of the guy in the awful green socks. Not quite snoring but the preliminaries. Getting louder. The energy in the room began to eddy around this guy’s chuffing and burbling. Ethan, as we know, had his own issues around sleepiness so he could feel enormous compassion for this clueless guy. Ethan, at least, had never snored, as far as he knew. It was such a juicy moment in which to practice he was a little disappointed when the guy woke himself up and sat up straight and the room was silent again.
Probably ten minutes left. Maybe eight. Enlightenment can happen at any moment; teachers said that too. That was a belief, wasn’t it? If teachers could have that belief, so could Ethan. Then why couldn’t it happen in one of the moments that composed the next seven and half or so minutes? Weren’t those moments as potent as any? It could be this moment. Or this.