Friday, March 6, 2009

A Buddha and a Beer

For the truth is, however admirable mindfulness may be, however much peace, grounding, stability and self-acceptance it can bring, as an experience to be shared, it’s stultifyingly boring.

It is selfish, undoubtedly, to want to hold onto the ragged edges that make me feel genuinely connected, not perhaps to humanity, but to the people I love.

—Judith Warner (both quotes from “Being and Mindfulness," a post on her New York Times blog, March 5, 2009)

The other day in therapy, I was (in my own stultifying way) exploring my own ambivalence (which is not unrelated to Warner’s) about my continuing journey through the places that scare me to the path with heart.

“Loving-kindness, blech! I am sick and tired of being sincere, I’ve had it with being wholesome and life-affirming, I want 13 glasses of wine and 6 cigarettes!”

“Maybe you can have both,” B. says, in her patient way.

“So anyway,” I tell her, “I was walking to your office, I was thinking all this, and then I pick up the Voice to look at Rob Breszny’s astrology column. And listen to this!”

I unfold the paper as theatrically as possible, and begin to read:

“TAURUS: Your key theme for the week is "Healthy Obsessions." Not "Melodramatic Compulsions" or "Exhausting Crazes" or "Manias That Make You Seem Interesting to Casual Bystanders," but "Healthy Obsessions."

I roll my eyes, making sure the long-suffering therapist is catching that Mr. Free Will Astrology is talking directly to me. It appears that she is. The oracle continues:

“You will have to take really good care of yourself as you concentrate extravagantly on tasks that fill you with zeal. This may require you to rebel against the influences of role models, both in your actual life and in the movies you've seen, who act as if getting sick and imbalanced is an integral part of being true to one's genius.”

Oy! I toss the paper up into the air. (Thankfully, it’s now stapled, so the pages don’t fly all over the room.)

Okay, so maybe I’m stuck with the consciousness and the spirituality and the community and all that gunk. But I don’t want to lose the ragged edge, either. I go off on a long, hyperbolic rant about why my friend who just the other day was rooting for the Dow to drop—“Come on, baby, 300! Do it for me!"—is frequently more appealing than people who talk about love all the time.

If you move toward mindfulness, how do you tell a joke? Can you really not gossip anymore, ever? How can you possibly practice criticism?

Although on the other hand, I can think of two people right away who seem funny, edgy, quick-witted, endlessly good-spirited and supremely alive. In both cases their virtues seem to arise from an apparently effortless practice of observation—or attention, as they might say in the mindfulness trade. They are so alert to the world—so present—and they are so generous in offering it up. I like this! You might like that! Look at that! Isn’t that interesting? There’s nothing mushy—or ragged—about it.

In my earnest moments, I declare that I have realized that when I act out of my own fear and habits of self-protection, I can cause other people pain, and somehow, finally, I just don’t want to do that anymore.

In other words, I guess, I want to open my heart, and to try to bring love rather than hurt into the world. This is where it starts to feel icky. Who am I, Pollyanna? And where does this line of thinking end?

If I start thinking about pain, I find myself saying, I have to include the animals. It starts with the dog and moves on to the birds, and before you know it it’s chickens and cows. You’ve read about industrial farming, you finally (after years) let yourself absorb what that is, and now what are you going to do? Sometimes it makes me think about all the people who had inklings of the Holocaust. How do you know what you know and turn away without acting?

“I want a burger and beer!” I yell to my therapist.

There’s no particular resolution to this thing. Okay, I think at the end of the session, I’ll stick with this path. Later, I go out for dinner with a friend who is so kind as to treat, and I show no hesitation in consuming her out of a big chunk of her income. I have a Scotch at the bar. Then I order a huge steak, medium rare, with frites. We both drink three glasses of wine.

By the end, I do not feel well. I am just at the edge of that point where things start to spin. Luckily, I have almost two miles to walk. If the police stopped me, could I walk a straight line? For a while I follow the sidewalk cracks, and then I veer into a crust of snow.

I look up into the crisp night, see twinkling stars, and then feel an urge to just close my eyes. Lurching, I open them again, this time taking in the soft green of the traffic lights glowing along the planks of the park benches. Boy, wouldn’t it be nice to just lie down?

No, not a good idea.

I make it home, guzzle water from my new eco-friendly metal bottle with the elaborate plastic sip top, and collapse into bed.

It’s not a great night, what with a car alarm going off for hours, but when I wake up, it’s not so bad. I’m grateful. More water, a muffin, some coffee, a Tylenol. Geez, why did I want to poison myself?

I walk to the yoga center. I should feel bad, but on the other hand, sometimes there’s nothing like a hangover. Life gets too stimulating, and right now it feels good to have energy for nothing beyond climbing this hill.

When I get to class, my body does what it is asked to. It is so forgiving, so much better to me than I deserve, I could cry. Leaving, I feel as if I have been granted a reprieve. I walk home feeling solid on the earth and once again bouncing like helium balloon, buoyed by something that feels really good and clean. I want to go deeper, I want to be mindful, I want to live!

Ah, well. It is what it is.


Joan said...

Yoga on a hangover has taught me quite a bit about mindfulness. Namely, that I think the deepest communication of yogic mindfulness to be between my brain & my body. Not so much in how I communicate a yogic sensibility to other people. Like you, I find that an impossible standard to live up to, and in my case, way too much like still living in California. ;)

Roxanne said...

You are right on. I am all for Buddha, beer and wine. (A few glasses)
Is there anything wrong with that?

see you in class.