You’ve been meditating for a while. Maybe a couple of weeks or several years. There are days when the benefits seem palpable. You don’t react when your brother belittles you just like he did in your sandbox days. When the woman in yellow heels tries to maneuver her cart ahead of yours in the checkout line, you pause, then wave her forward with a smile. She smiles back with what looks like genuine relief. Angry a moment ago, you now feel good, along with, you note, a hint of superiority. A friend you haven’t seen in years remarks how you seem more forthcoming.
There are the days when meditation seems like a complete waste of time—one more self-indulgent, over-hyped diversion for middle-class Americans to assuage their sense of inadequacy. You yell “Dickhead!” louder than ever when the Prius cuts you off. You squash the harmless spider.
On the days when doubt overwhelms, when taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha seems absurd or even embarrassing, the glass of matches provides me with some reassurance.
The glass sits next to the small Buddha statue on top of the bookcase that I hesitate to call an altar. Before I meditate, I light a candle, blow out the match, and put it in the glass.
The spent matches are my evidence of meditation. No matter how good or bad the session, the match in the glass looks more or less the same. The matches reveal a persistence I often think I lack, but there they are, a thicket of them from mornings and evenings when I managed my time and self-doubt well enough to sit. When I sat to find out what would actually happen when I sat. When I could sometimes see that the resistance to sitting didn’t really exist, except in the same flickering way that the flame of the candle that the match lit exists.
Every week there’s another scientific paper about the benefits of meditation. New peer-reviewed good news makes no difference to me. The glass of matches does make a difference. The matches are abreminder of hours spent meditating—each match a yes to the question, “Will you sit today?”
The glass is full to overflowing, so I dump it out and count the matches. 454. This isn’t the first glass. I toss them in the trash, rinse the glass, and begin again.