The first record I ever became obsessed with was the Beatles’ Let It Be. Music wasn’t a part of the house I grew up in—not that my parents were against it, they just weren’t interested. When my older brother got a record player, I’d sneak up to his attic room when he was out and listen to his collection of 45s. Let It Be was the one I played over and over and over.
At the time, the message escaped me. Like most kids, if I had a scab, I’d pick it. If there was a puddle, I’d jump into it. The song made me sad, though I wasn’t sure why. Or why, if it was sad, I continued to play it.
As an adult, I fear inaction—a particularly American anxiety. If I’m wondering whether or not to do something, my default position is that it’s always better to do than not to. I regret the things I haven’t done, rather than what I did, no matter how bad the outcome. Continue reading Listening to Let It Be
I In the anxious hours of the night, I took a bath, pouring a capful of lavender bubble bath into the running water. I hoped the scent and the warmth would finally lull me to sleep. I’d felt tired when I went to bed at 10. Now, at 2, I was wide awake and exhausted.
I soaked for a while, a warm washcloth over my face. The water felt good, and then less good as it cooled. Eventually, with some effort, I rose into the cold air and pulled the rubber plug. Water rushed noisily down the drain.
Back in bed, I picked up my phone, found a Buddhist podcast, and hit play. I placed the phone where another pillow would have been, had there been anyone else in bed. After the familiar throat-clearing sound, Joseph Goldstein began to speak in his deep, nasal, New York voice. He spoke slowly, with space between each word. I curled in, listening to what would either be a thoughtful dharma talk or a doorway to sleep.
Another insomniac night with Joseph Goldstein. The next thing I remembered was the sound of the morning alarm.
My New Year’s resolution is to consume less Buddhism in 2020. Rather than slashing calories or signing up for a spin class, my intention is to reduce my intake of all things Buddhist: to read fewer books, limit the number of podcasts I listen to, and, except for my simple timer, avoid meditation apps. For years I’ve gorged on all of the aforementioned. I’m a not a glutton in other areas of my life, in fact, I’m a skinny minimalist. Continue reading Consume Less Buddhism
I don’t smoke, but finding the smoking shack on the first day made me smile. After unpacking and making my bed, I explored the grounds of the retreat center. The shack was at the edge of the woods in back of Shanti House. (Yes, the dorms have annoying Sanskrit names.) Almost hidden, the structure looked like a wooden bus stop. Continue reading The Smoking Shack
But is life as it appears in a fly so very different from life as it appears in a human? —Sharon Salzberg
Was I a hypocrite for rescuing the bug? It was a Wednesday, not that that mattered. I was halfway through a six-week retreat and, aside from laundry days, each silent day seemed more or less like the others.
During the morning walking period, I shared the basement with two other yogis. One was a heavyset guy who reminded me of an old boyfriend and the other was a slim guy with a moustache who looked like young Adolf Hitler.
I usually like walking meditation, and though I was trying to practice earnestly, I wasn’t connecting with my steps. My distracted mind was trying to remember all the lyrics to “Muskrat Love,” the wonderfully sappy Captain & Tennille song from 1976. Suddenly, as my left foot was in midair, a blur of movement startled me. A bug scuttled past as my foot fell awkwardly to avoid it. Continue reading What to Let Live: A Meditator’s Guide to Insects
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.
Meditation always seems like a good thing to do, except when you’re actually doing it. Then it can seem like a boring, uncomfortable, complete waste of time when there are clearly more important things to do, buy, watch, eat and read.
While “meditating” today, I put together a list of time-tested ways to avoid actually meditating.
My story is like most others. I started to meditate because I was in pain. I was 29 years old and in a relationship that kept me constantly off-balance and unsure of myself. It was a cold New England January. I was depressed, though I didn’t know much about depression at the time and didn’t recognize my own condition. My depression was energetic, rather than lethargic. I felt like I had coffee running through my veins, keeping me awake all hours of the night with only black thoughts for company.
Sitting isn’t easy, so setting a specific amount of time to meditate helps me maintain a consistent practice. I started off using a kitchen timer, but it ticked, so an audio-engineer friend created “songs” for my iPod with a gong at the beginning, silence for 10, 20, 30 or 45 minutes, and then a gong at the end. This was in 2006, a year before the first iPhone was released.
When I bought an iPhone in 2011, one of the first apps I downloaded was Insight Timer Light. I upgraded to the paid version later, for the advanced options. I can’t remember what it cost, maybe $9.99, but it seemed like a reasonable price to pay for an app I used almost every day.