There were birds outside, I heard them though I couldn’t see where their song was coming from. I was aware of them, and in being aware of them it felt like somewhere, out the window, in one of the countless trees they were looking right at me and singing their songs.
Of course they were really singing to each other.
From the basement, 2 floors down came the distant rumble of the washing machine tumbling the t-shirts and underwear of one of my neighbors. Then it abruptly ended, the way only machines can end, before the spin cycle started a similar but distinctly different rumble.
Its not that the washer was particularily loud or that I was bothered by it (or the birds). I was meditating. I sat in my underpants, my belly slightly hanging over them (not as much as last month) my legs crossed in front of me on a large black cushion called a zabuton. My ass was planted on a smaller round cushion called a zafu. I tried not to control my breathe.
It was, like always, annoyingly difficult at first not to make each breath come in or out, to count them or to breathe deeply or shallowly. I was searching for my “natural” breathing, and, of course, you cant ever really look for anything and expect it to behave naturally. I once read that the very act of observing a thing changes it, we dont know whether a tree makes a sound when it falls in the forest, but we can be sure that it sounds different if we are not there to hear. So I stop trying and I stop stopping trying.
After a few minutes I forgot about breath and my chest began to rise and fall of it own, unregulated accord. Of course my body knew exactly how much breath it needed and exactly how much force to apply to my diaphragm to get it, my brain just got in the way of a cycle that had begun with that first screaming breath as a newborn and will only end with my final breath. In either case, my brain has (or had) damn little to say about it. I think that might be the deep not-so-secret of meditation, we are only trying to undo all the entanglement and confusion that that 5 pound lump of tissue creates.
Its not really his fault, you know. (I think of my brain as a him for some reason) Its only repeating patterns that have been pressed into its folds over and over and over for my whole life. So I sit here and try to teach it new lessons. Day after day I gently show my brain understand that not everything it comes up with is necessarily true, that in fact much of what it decides is going on is really just a result of all those years of patterns and training. I try to teach my brain that I am not the only thing in the universe.
I try to teach it that there isn’t really even an I to know this.
Out the window a helicopter whirs in the distance, i hear it and my brain in some shadowed corner of my head whispers “helicopter” but I’ve been sitting for enough years that my brain doesn’t follow it up with a wondering where its going or replayingthe opening scene from Apocalypse now and all its helicopters. Ive taught it at least that much so far. Its enough to note what is going on, there doesn’t always need to be a story to go along with it.
My CD player comes to the end of the 15 minute track it has been playing. 14 minutes and 59 seconds ago it played one chime of a recorded gong and I sat on the zafu and began trying to stop thinking of birds and breath and helicopters. I don’t recall where in that time period I forgot about trying to think or not think and just began being still with myself, I but I do know that a couple times my brain coughed up some bit of static or another. It tried to tell me that remembering to draw a dragon today was terribly important or that my dog really needed to get a walk before going to work. I just let it say what it had to say, just like I let it hear the birds or the washer and went back to simply sitting there.
As my CD player reaches 15 minutes on its silent track another chime sounds and I stretch my back a bit, another chime and I stand up. My knee is a little stiff. By the third and last chime I am already across the room and turn off the CD player. I don’t even hear the birds (though they are certainly still singing,) I cant hear the thrum of the washer and the helicopter is long gone, I’m pulling on my pants and trying to decide what to eat for breakfast. My brain is once again squawking a line of things to do, worry about, accomplish, remember, and plan for.
These days that squawking no longer drives me like it used to. These days I believe less and less that everything it tells me is the truth about who I really am and that everything it comes up with need to be played with and turned over and over like a worry stone.
In a small way, the lesson has been learned.
The lesson has been learned despite the thought balloons floating everywhere. Its taken years but there is inside of me a piece of that stillness. An awareness that I am connected to all this, everything. That I am, in fact, not separate from everything itself. I am as much a part of that bird as it is a part of me and we are , the bird and I, its song and the helicopter and the underwear in the washer and the dirt that gets washed out of the underwear into the drain.
And we are the drain too, dont forget.
Its in that part of me that is still and at peace with everything, because I sat for 15 minutes.