Archive for August, 2009

Chapter 1. Mantras For The Modern Man.

sayulita morning

Sayulita Morning, Boys Playing Soccer 2008

Welcome to Manful Meditation.  This is a blog taken from the book I have been writing, “Meditating Hung Over”.

Flying in the face of thousands of years of Eastern thought, I have created a guide to a new form of meditation, designed by and for that under-meditated group, American men.

Today’s blog looks at the beginning of the author’s path to Manful Meditation.  As the holy holy prophet Jackie Gleason said so many times:  “And away we go”.

Chapter 1.

Mantras for the modern man

Last year I lost my job, my hair, my wife and my dog died although not necessarily in that order.

Well that is not exactly the truth.  In fact, it isn’t even close. But I always wanted to write a country western song and I never got the chance to do so. This is as close as I will get to that moment so bear with me.  Simple pleasures are at a premium these days.

The truth is that my wife loves me, my dog loves me too and my hair is still hanging in there quite well thank you.  I did lose my job on the other hand.  That is where this often strange and completely unexpected journey begins.

Somewhere along the unnatural path of personal unemployment and global recession combined with the gentle but very firm urging of many others around me, I reluctantly began a personal quest to find myself, to bring peace, contentment and spiritual fulfillment to my every waking moment.  Something that was the antithesis of what I had always believed was the nature of my being.

My journey into this world began one afternoon when my wife came home from work early and found me on the couch watching ESPN and tossing buddy biscuits to our dog Kelly.  I was commanding her to “go deep”, hoping that she could one day run a proper post pattern.  The dog was actually was making progress but my wife was not impressed or amused by this scene.  Her look said it all and I knew that after an uncomfortable silence there would be trouble.  I didn’t even offer up a feeble “hi honey.”  I knew it looked bad.

Realistically I could see this coming for weeks now.  As she looked at me with a tightly drawn expression that could only mean trouble I smiled.  She didn’t.

After an uncomfortable silence we exchanged a perfunctory greeting. Then, after launching into another discussion about my lack of progress in finding work she bluntly asked me when I was going to get my ass off of the couch and leave the house.  I didn’t have much of an answer to give her. She told me that if I wasn’t going to make any progress in the outside world maybe I should try working on the inside one. Maybe I should try yoga or meditating.  To do something.

I reacted to her suggestion in the way that many intelligent men might. I laughed.  Not an A move. Without another word she walked out of the living room and slammed the door.  Not good at all.

Later that afternoon, as I watched a rerun of the 49er’s Redskins 1989 NFC playoff and cried again over that phantom interference call on Ronnie Lott, I began to think about what she said that afternoon.  Whether it was the injustice of that call or the way she said what she said to me, or both, for the first time it all sort of hit home.

Sitting there I realized that I really didn’t have much to do any more. Most days just sort of passed from one into another, and not only was this a first time experience for me, it was a big big problem.

I knew from years of personal experience that inactivity and boredom had always been as toxic as runoff from Chernobyl to me.  I had always relied upon the businesses of my career to keep the boredom demons at bay. Now I had a 64 oz. big gulp of both inactivity and boredom to cope with.  A supersize helping of trouble.

Whether I wanted to deal with my problems or not, inside of me I knew that I needed a change.  So I thought, why not try something new.  At a minimum it would get her off of my case and give me an excuse to help fill the time.  Hey, I thought, this meditation stuff had been around for thousands of years.  Maybe it might work for me.  Best of all, it was her idea and she couldn’t fault me for trying.

So the next day I began to look over the unread books that she had lying around her side of the bedroom about relaxation and breathing while studiously avoiding the self help titles, (btw, what an industry they had, the only persons they were helping were themselves and most of them were never read).

Eventually I found a book that seemed to make sense. The tile was “Wherever you are you are there.”  Well that made sense and kind of reminded me of the title of an old Firesign Theatre album. Maybe that was a sign that this wouldn’t be so bad.

So I sat down and began to read. As I read the book the first thing that I learned that I didn’t know how to breathe.  Funny, I thought I had been breathing for over 50 years but now I was told that I was wrong. I thought this must be bullshit. It was all downhill from there. In under 20 pages I became thoroughly bored with the book and promptly fell asleep.

Where was the story line?  Where was the narrative?  How much crap about looking inward could I possibly deal with?  I dind’t enjoy the laundry.  I didn’t enjoy going to the bank. After I woke up a few minutes later I went quietly (but happily) back to the living room couch where Kelly was waiting for me, tail waging and ready to play. After all it was Wednesday and that meant a day game even if the Giants were playing the Pirates.

That evening when my wife came home she found me as usual on the couch (for those who care the Giants were losing 4-1).  She asked me about my day.  I turned down the volume on the TV and told her that I had been reading about breathing and meditation.  But before I could tell her how miserably it had gone and how I couldn’t stand it, I saw something in her I hadn’t seen much of since the grim job reaper visited me last year, a smile.  And then she walked over to me and hugged me. I clammed up and didn’t say a word about the game or more importantly how I had put down the book.

It got better. She told her that she was so proud of me that she was going to cook dinner.  As she walked out of the room I was stunned.  And although I really didn’t get what was going on, I knew that this inner work thing seemed to be yielding immediate dividends.  Maybe this meditation stuff was worth looking at.  I certainly had to give it an effort, it was already helping our relationship.

So I tried hard to get into it. And failed.  Eventually I told her about my battles and to my very pleasant surprise she didn’t react badly.  Instead she suggested that I find an instructor to help me.

So I did!  I found a personal coach to help me on the ways of the East.  A real zen master who had studied Buddhism for decades.  He taught me about personal freedom, something we are all after.  I liked that. He was a good guy and even cursed sometimes during our sessions.  That helped me a lot.  He told me that meditation was tough and he was right.

I went to my classes and read about buddhas and bodhisattvas and dharma and chakras.  I learned to focus my breath until I counted to a thousand inhales and exhales and I sat on my ass till it hurt.  Then I sat again. I sat still for hours waiting for some kind of enlightenment.  Some kind of inner peace. And then I waited some more.

And nothing happened.  The coach told me that was supposed to be the point.  Nothing was supposed to be OK, some kind of perfect state of balance.  I didn’t get it.  I was supposed to let my gaze go free, to look at the sky, the birds the wind and not to judge.  But try as I might I couldn’t stop thinking about other things.  Something was wrong. Something was missing from this new found journey into a spiritual life and without it I couldn’t make any progress.

So at wife’s urging I tried yoga.  Lots of different kinds of yoga.  I never knew there were so many kinds of yoga all with names that could not be pronounced. I stretched and grabbed my ankles.  They hurt.  I thought I would pull all of the muscles in my body at once.  I twisted myself into pretzel shapes and even tried to stand on my head. I fell over.  Instead of fining inner peace I found inner soreness and a new found love of ibuprofen.

Then I went to a Bikram Yoga class that was the equivalent of taking an intense cardio-workout inside of a boiling pressure cooker.  After class I nearly passed out driving home and almost wrecked the car.

But if anything I am not a quitter.  So I kept trying. I sat.  I waited.  I meditated.  I breathed.  I controlled.  I stretched. Still nothing.  And I wanted to quit, I was sick of the nothingness of it all. But as I got more frustrated my wife was more encouraging than ever. “You are doing great” she would say. “Yes dear, I would answer, “you are right.” Even though I knew that I wasn’t.  And she was so happy about this!  Happier than I was! So I kept going every day to classes and instructors and readings.

But something was still missing.  Something was wrong. Where was that damn moment of inner peace?  Why was this so hard for me?  As much as I tried to enjoy those empty moments of meditation and relaxation for me they were simply and unalterably boring.

Within a few moments of sitting down and breathing my mind would wander off quickly and then permanently. Despite all the teachings that I read and instructions that I received that you were supposed to embrace these wandering thoughts and that this was really OK my mind would never wander back to emptiness and instead stuck somewhere between the dismal state of the GS Warriors and last nights episode of Family Guy.  My thoughts remained as random as my web research looking for a job.  This was getting me nowhere.  And I couldn’t tell my wife about my struggles.

But whether I liked it or not, inside of me things were changing and I didn’t even know it.  As I pushed on I felt the beginning of a shift happening that I could not put my finger on.  I felt that a change was going to come.  I found myself playing that beautiful haunting Sam Cooke song on the Ipod over and over those days without knowing why. A change is gonna’ come.  And then without warning it did.

To be continued

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