Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Meditation for Beginners, Part 2: Cool Wantings.

In almost every extracurricular activity I had undertaken as an grown-up, I have a tendency to hero worship the teacher.  Today was only my second day in Meditation Class, and already I notice it happening with my meditation teacher, Kelly.

"Kelly is so COOL," I'll sigh silently to myself.  

"I know," says another voice inside my head.  "Maybe you can be friends!!"

"You think?" says the original voice.  "I don't think I'm COOL enough."

I bring this up because this morning in meditation, I very strongly recognized how much want plays a major theme in my thoughts.  Basically, every thought I think in meditation falls into two categories: Things I want, and things I have but do not want.

The trouble began even before Kelly started talking.  We were setting out our blankets and yoga mats, arranging little meditation spots on the floor for ourselves.  I saw a girl with an awesome arm tattoo.

"I want an arm tattoo," I thought.

Then, in walked a woman with tawny, tan skin all over her body.

"I want tan skin," I thought.

Just behind her was her friend, a really beautiful, extremely pale girl with an ivory face.

"I want an ivory face," I thought.

My wanting is this free-floating thing that lands on shiny new objects whenever presented the chance, seemingly without any inherent will of its own.  Sometimes it is repulsed and moves in the opposite direction, like whenever Ross makes something with fish sauce, and because I know where fish sauce comes from (rotting, putrid fish carcasses) my mind immediately announces: "DO NOT WANT."

Then Kelly started talking, like she does before each meditation class, and I instantly felt the Want to be Cool like Kelly! feeling rise up.

"Good posture will help you sit for longer in meditation, I've been known to sit for eight hours a day," she said.

"I want to sit for eight hours!" I thought.

"So I was dropping my son off at school yesterday ... " she said. 

"I want a son!" I thought.

Ok ok, she actually said those things last week.  But I was thinking about them again in this morning, while she was talking and doing her Kelly thing, as I mentally checked off a list of everything she's ever said that is cool and that I want also.  

The most persistent, loud wanting thought I ever have is wanting to be a writer.  A real writer.  The kind of writer with a book and fancy magazine articles and high literary awards and maybe retreats to the MacDowell Colony that I can thank/brag about later in my book's Acknowledgement Page.  "Thank you especially to the MacDowell Colony, for providing me a quiet cabin in the woods where I could really write."

But then at the end of Meditation Class today, Kelly said the coolest thing ever.  It seemed profoundly simple at the time, but now that I'm sitting here thinking about it, it's getting more slippery than it was this morning.  So I'll try to quote her verbatim.

"Do you all know Byron?  Byron Katie?" Kelly said. "I love Byron Katie.  She's one of my role models.  Anyway!  She came out of this deep depression a few years ago, and had a profound spiritual awakening, and talks about this revelation she had about her thoughts and thinking.  She realized that she was NOT thinking, she was being thunk."

What this means is that we're not exactly in control of our thoughts, even though it feels like we are.  (I think.)

Rather, our thoughts are shaped my external forces, like culture and societal rules and our families and our friends.  But mostly society.  And that this big, soupy mass of society washes through our minds and programs the way we think about things.

For example: If I were living in 500 BC rather than 2011, I wouldn't care about becoming a famous and important writer.  Because almost nobody read.  Instead, I would probably care about becoming a basket weaver, and not only that, but the very best, most artistic, most respected basket weaver I could possibly be.  I would have the most badass baskets in the village.  

And then, when my village created an award for baskets, the PEN/Faulkner Award for Outstanding Achievement in Baskets, I would wring my hands and stress out and go to bars with my basket-weaving friends and try to get them drunk so they would tell me all their basket secrets.  "Oh, so you don't use straw?" I'd ask, and then I'd go home and steal their idea and apply it to my own basket.  Then, I'd submit my basket for the award and wait on pins and needles for the results, while pretending not to care at all.  "Oh, Outstanding Achievement in Baskets?" I'd say.  "Somewhat pedestrian ... that."

This all came to me during my meditation this morning ... when ... I think we're not supposed to be thinking.

But you know what?  A side effect of this meditation business (besides getting to spend time with Want to be Cool like Kelly! Kelly) is that it's actually making my thoughts clearer.  It's oddly easy to write after I come home from class.

And that's pretty cool.

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