The red-coated man was waving across Main Street. It took me a moment to realize he was waving at me, and another to remember who he was. When I did, I waved back enthusiastically. It’s been over a decade, I thought. I was running late and didn’t have time to cross the street to say hello. Hopefully my smile conveyed how much his remembering meant to me.
Most meditation books suggest setting aside a specific time each day to meditate—clearly good advice. I meditate every morning. The alarm rings, I get out of bed, drink a cup of coffee, and sit my butt on the cushion. Except on the days when I don’t.
If I haven’t slept, or don’t feel well, or wake up in a screw-it mood, I stay in bed and omit the meditation. I’ll wait until the last possible minute to get up, throw on some clothes, and hurry out the door. While running down the street, I’ll check my phone and search my bag for the bus card. When I reach the corner, there’s a two block stretch before the uphill dash to the bus stop. Welcome to my meditation path.
Though it takes less than a minute to walk, this sidewalk is my reminder to slow down, hear the kids yelling in the nearby schoolyard, and notice whatever needs noticing that day.
Oversleeping and not sitting on a cushion is easy, but it’s impossible to get from Point A to Point B without negotiating the space between. I have to walk the two blocks so I’ve made a practice of it. This stretch has become a designated meditation space.
Years ago, I used to cut through the Marriott to get to my job on the other side. The trouble began when the hotel installed a revolving door. It wasn’t the standard kind with room for one person in each section and a bar to push. This revolving cage was enormous and had room for a couple of people and their luggage in each compartment. Sensors made the whole thing revolve.
In theory, the door was a good idea for a busy hotel. In actuality, it was a nightmare. If anyone pushed the glass to go faster, the door automatically stopped. And paused. For what seemed like forever, as we waited, until, eventually, the whole thing started slowly revolving again. Samsara in steel and glass. Usually I was running late and the delay enraged me.
I began to dread each weekday encounter with the door. It broke often. Seeing the Out of Service sign, I’d exchange knowing looks with the doorman, immaculately dressed in his red coat, red hat and black polished shoes. He’d smile at me. He could smile even while blowing his whistle and waving a taxi forward.
This was around the time I started to study Buddhism in earnest. I read about using suffering as a teacher and decided to give it a try. I turned the revolving door into an object of meditation. As I approached to door, I attempted to let go of whatever stupid thought I was thinking. While walking through the door, I brought my attention to how I was feeling—whether it was frustration at the delay, desire for the paisley dress on the woman in front of me, or happiness from the doorman’s warm hello.
The time inside the revolving door was about five seconds if things went well, up to 30 seconds if they didn’t. When I made the door an area of awareness, it stopped being a daily irritant and became a ritual. The shift was little and life-altering.
I arrived late for the meeting, but it went well. Afterwards, I walked back to say hello to the doorman, but he wasn’t there. Neither was the big revolving door. In the remodeled lobby, a sliding door now efficiently ushered guests in and out with a calm ssshhhing sound. I felt a moment of nostalgia for my old tormentor—my teacher—and walked a circle where it once was.