A post in which Stephany tells a short story.
One…two…three…where was I?
One…two…three…I missed a breath. I’m supposed to count every breath all the way to ten? I think it’s ten breaths, ten times, and then I count down for ten breaths, ten times.
One…two…three…can anyone else get past three? What if I’m the only one that can only get to three? Did I just fail life?
One…I’m doing this wrong.
I stop counting, but I keep my eyes closed. I stay seated in the lotus position and I don’t move, because I’m a little afraid of the Monk that is overseeing this meditation retreat. This was stupid. I should have tried meditating for a shorter amount of time before I jumped into a seven-hour meditation marathon. See, I hadn’t planned on doing this.
When I arrived at the Buddhist temple complex this morning, I’d come to take a tour of their art collection. But when I walked into the information office to sign up for a tour, they thought I was there for the all-day meditation retreat. I was about to correct them, until they handed me this excellent robe to wear and informed me I’d be going into meditation hall that is off limits to the general public. How could I say no?
Hours later, I’m still in the lotus position under the giant gold statue of the Buddha, and there is nothing relaxing or comfortable about sitting lotus. After an hour of sitting with your legs twisted like a pretzel, you begin to lose all feeling in the lower half of your body. When this happens, sitting lotus becomes somewhat tolerable.
The Monk tells me to keep my back straight, but supple. I’m not supple. I’m stiff, cranky and I’m sweating through the robe. I should have taken off my clothes and only worn only the robe like the Monk instructed. But at the time, there was no way I was going to wear some random robe with no protection underneath. Why don’t I follow instructions? It’s so hot.
Where was I? Right. Back to meditating. One…two…and now I’m told to focus on “emptiness.” I immediately ask for clarification:
ME: Excuse me, how do I focus on emptiness? It’s empty, so…?
MONK: Emptiness is everything.
ME: It’s everything, so it’s something?
MONK: It’s nothing
ME: But everything is empty?
MONK: Yes. A seed cannot grow into a tree unless there is soil, water and sunlight. The tree does not exist without these other things. The tree’s true essence is emptiness.
ME: Am I the seed or the tree?
MONK: Neither. Meditate on it. Stop talking.
ME: Will do. What? Oh, right, I’m still talking. Sorry.
I try to think about “emptiness,” and I suddenly find myself thinking about Kung Fu movies. I wish the Monk would refer to me as, “young grasshopper,” and that thought instantly fades to a feeling of guilt, because I’m turning this spiritual experience into a pop culture stereotype. Where was I? Crap, I’m meditating –
One…two…three…oh, come on. Who can’t pay attention for three seconds?
With each moment that passes, my mind travels further and further away from contemplating “emptiness.” I start to wonder if Kung Fu legends David Carradine or Bruce Lee ever had this problem. I don’t remember them meditating in their films. They did Kung Fu and were bad ass.
And as I think about David Carradine being a bad ass, I remember he died of autoerotic asphyxiation in a hotel room in Bangkok. That seems so sad and lonely. Maybe he should have meditated.
The Monk loudly strikes a wooden block three times. I hear the people around me shift. I think this means the meditation is over. I open my eyes and the Monk announces, “It’s time for walking meditation. Keep your eyes lowered.”
ME: Won’t I run into things? Walking with my eyes lowered?
MONK: You will be all right. Concentrate. Stop talking.
I get into a single-file line with the other people participating in the meditation retreat. The Monk strikes the block three times. Everybody around me closes their eyes, so I do the same. We walk outside into the hot afternoon sun. I try very hard to concentrate on my breathing and not run into the person in front of me. I sweat more with every step.
ME: Excuse me, is this supposed to be so uncomfortable?
MONK: Yes. Life is sometimes uncomfortable. Stop talking.
We walk up and down the central courtyard in a single file line. Up and down. Up and down. I’m hot, I’m sweaty, but miraculously I do not trip. I don’t bump into a single thing. Is this what happens when you concentrate? Is this emptiness?
I immediately lose this thought and softly sing, “everybody was Kung Fu fighting.” I hate myself.
The Monk hits the block three times. We stop walking, we open our eyes fully, we bow to the temple and the meditation retreat is over.
MONK: How do you feel?
ME: Sweaty, hot and confused.
MONK: It will pass.
ME: Do you know if David Carradine ever meditated?
MONK: Stop talking.