Meditating

I sat down at 5:55 pm. Just now, at 7:08, it was over. A few minutes before, some unknown part of me knew that was true, and my eyes opened. I took the wooden mallet in my hand and tapped the side of the singing bowl. A pure ring started as a solid tone and then slipped into a wave … and slowly faded into silence. There’s a moment when I know the tiny vibration is no more. I tapped the bowl three times.

“Should I write about this?” a small voice calls out in the night. “Nobody’s going to understand. Some folks will see your words as ‘hogwash’, as mom loved to say.” It was a funner word than “ridiculous”. Oh, what the heck, I’ll start writing and you the reader can react as you will. I see now that I don’t need agreement about my meditation experiences. If you don’t like it, I’m sure you’ll find something else to read. What’s clear is that I want to share what my last hour was about.

I’ve meditated for fifteen years or so. Sitting for an hour has become ordinary, certainly not an achievement. For the last month, another version of ordinary has been consistently showing up. Within minutes, or perhaps even seconds, I can’t speak. I think of my favourite phrase – “I love you” – but I can’t say the words in my head. I get to the “I” and there’s an extended “ah” that shows up. If I open my mouth to say the words aloud, they don’t come. Today it took maybe ten seconds for me to slip into this realm. It appears to be a signpost that love indeed has embraced me.

If you can slip in, you can slip out. And that happened today. Without any thoughts showing up, I saw “I love you” in my head and they were said, easily. I smiled. And that smile made me happy. Holding on to some cool state is not the way life works. Tonight I said “Bye bye” to the sublimity, trusting that it would return in its own good time. Sometime later in the hour, it did.

I haven’t had many thoughts during meditation recently, but when they come, sometimes in spurts, I like welcoming these old friends. Grunting and groaning, trying not to have thoughts, is a fool’s errand. I’ve been that fool many times. But not lately.

Even when it’s impossible to speak, there are nuances. For part of the time, I felt a wave flowing behind my eyes. I was being carried on that wave, feeling the pulse. Then there was a spell of “shimmering down”, the sense of something bright falling from the top of my head down my face. Later, as if by magic, both of those disappeared and what was left was stillness. No movement at all, no thoughts, and yet keenly feeling the presence of my bedroom. It’s tempting to see cessation as the goal, the shining peak of the whole climb. In my experience, though, there is no goal – no better or worse. There’s simply choosing to sit, and being open to whatever comes by.

At one point tonight, it felt like I was waking up from a deep sleep. My head had fallen way off to the left. As I brought myself back to vertical, I felt a sharp pain in my side. I didn’t remember falling. In some other sessions, I’ve had the sensation of jerking myself out of sleep, the whole body jolted. And now I’m smiling again. Meditation is such a delightful mystery.

So that’s how I spent a recent 73 minutes. I’m grateful to the psychologist who introduced me to meditation way back when. I’m grateful to the Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts, the site of several silent retreats. And I’m grateful to … what? I don’t know. But whatever it is, it’s here. Time to smile once more.

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