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. As I’m running down the street, I’ll check my phone and search my bag for my bus card. When I reach the corner, there’s a stretch of two blocks before the uphill dash to the bus stop. Welcome to my meditation path.
The two blocks of concrete sidewalk reminds me to slow down, hear the kids shouting in the nearby schoolyard, and notice whatever needs noticing that day. To walk the two blocks takes less than a minute.
Ignoring the alarm and not meditating is easy, but to get from Point A to Point B, I have to negotiate the space between. I have to walk the two blocks, so I’ve made a practice of it. I’ve created a practice space.
I’ve done this before. 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 door was enormous, with room for a couple of people and their luggage in each compartment. Sensors made the ungainly 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 moving again. 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 as he waved a taxi forward.
This was around the time I started to study Buddhism in earnest. I had read about turning suffering into 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 coat on the woman in front of me, or happiness after 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 ushered guests in and out with a calm sshhh sound. I felt a moment of nostalgia for my old tormentor—my teacher. I walked a circle where it once was.