Detours Along The Road To Enlightenment

Writing recently about the meditative value of dishwashing made me think about my own rather haphazard attempts to sit and meditate. I never did practice it consistently enough to form a habit, but it did increase my self-awareness. I became clearly aware of all the reasons (“excuses” is such a judgmental word) why I wasn’t very good at it.

First of all, there’s the sitting. Oh, I can sit, all right. I’m a great sitter. Give me a good book—or even a mediocre book—or some Sunday crossword puzzles, a notebook and a pen, or a computer with internet access, and I can sit for hours. Sitting quietly with nothing to occupy my mind? Not so much.

Then there’s the music. I’m sure you’ve all had the experience of getting a song stuck in your head and not being able to get rid of it. Well, I’ve come to realize I always have some sort of music going on in the background. Normally, I can tune it out because I’m busy thinking, or talking to myself, or listening to the voices in my head. But let me settle into a chair to meditate, and up comes the volume. It’s not easy to find enlightenment when its soundtrack is a full brass band playing “The Beer Barrel Polka” or “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

Also, for those of us who share our lives with other people who are at various stages of enlightenment or lack thereof, there’s the problem of interruptions. I have plenty of private time now, but back when I was seriously trying to meditate, my kids were still small. I would meditate early in the morning before they got up. This might have worked better if my daughter, even at age four, had not been a morning person.

I remember one morning especially when she got up early. I heard her come into the living room, where I was sitting in the rocking chair with my eyes closed. She didn’t rush over to jump into my lap, or turn on the TV, or even say good morning. Instead, she tiptoed across the room, climbed into the other chair, and settled down to wait quietly until I was finished. The problem was, she was working so hard at being perfectly still and quiet that I could practically feel her vibrating.

The sweetness of her respectful silence is one of my favorite memories of her as a little girl. It was also the high point of all my experiences with meditation.

Since then, I’ve decided that moving meditation works better than sitting meditation for me. Walking, for example. It keeps my body occupied but requires no real attention from my mind, other than looking both ways before I cross a street. It would be embarrassing, after all, to be run over by a bus or a beer truck along the road to enlightenment.

And of course, there’s always dishwashing. One particular benefit of this type of meditation is that it solves the problem of interruptions. If I’m standing at the sink, up to my elbows in soapsuds, I can count on being left in peaceful solitude until the last kettle is sparkling clean.

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