What is meditation like?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

I finished my cashsoft 4 ply vest tonight, excepting the buttons (the ones I bought are too large. Damn!) But, since I'll have no camera til the weekend, I thought I'd tell you a little about what the experience of meditating regularly has been to me. I know from the outside meditation came seem really foreign, or pretentious even. For the first month, I felt silly. I still practice in privacy, though I'll have to get over it eventually, especially if I ever want to go on a retreat or live with someone again!

The closest experience I had in my pre-buddhism days was when I went swimming with a big raft in the ocean near Myrtle Beach, SC with my grandparents. I was 7 or 8, if I remember correctly. My grandfather was an ex-marine, and always trying to toughen me up. So, to scare me out of holding my nose when I swim, he flipped the raft on top of me, thinking I'd swim out from under it. I was so overwhelmed, it was completely dark and I didn't have any breath left in me. While I don't doubt it was my brain's reaction to the lack of oxygen and the paralyzing fear, I had the strangest peaceful feeling. Everything I associated with as my hands, my feet, my hair... suddenly none of it seemed attached to the part of me that was in the water. That stuff seemed to dissolve, leaving behind just the purified elements, floating comfortably in the dark, content. A minute later my grandfather dragged me up to the beach where I threw up a lot of really salty, disgusting water and my grandmother gave my grandfather the worst tongue lashing I have ever heard.

Now when I meditate the feeling is often the same. It's not that I imagine fields of flowers or world peace... instead of forcing a connection, I force a disconnection with my body, with the ground and the temperature and my surroundings. I went out tonight it was in the 40s - pretty cool. But for some reason I felt compelled out the door in bare feet and I have to admit that at first, it sucked. The concrete dug into the skin on my legs, my shoulders and back were taut with cold, and all I could think of was "Just go inside. Are you crazy? It's past midnight. You're sitting outside in the dark, it's cold, just go to bed." But, I continued to sit and dispel thought after thought, layers of the old and new slipping off. After a while the cold passed, my ankles didn't ache, my back relaxed somewhat... and I felt that same feeling that I had back then. Of being surrounded by things that couldn't touch me.

Whenever I read about people like Thích Quảng Đức, I begin to understand how you could withstand such a thing. While he is a great hero to many still, I wouldn't advise self-immolation as a form of protest. The most amazing aspect, though, is that he sat without making a sound, while burning. I have no desire to meet such an end, but I really admire what must have been a devoted practice of many years to be able to detach so well from something so overwhelming (or at least enough to not scream bloody murder.)

If you've ever thought about meditating, try it. Al you have to do is sit. That's it! Just sit, and in time, let your surroundings fall away. Don't acknowledge them or they'll come rushing back. As a friend who had a tattoo told me, "it didn't hurt because I had been practicing right before... but as soon as I thought, 'hey, this doesn't hurt,' I felt it and it hurt!" The human mind is an amazing thing.