Thursday Thoughts, Meditation, and Mindfulness…
The Little Lay Buddhist Who Could…
I’ve been meditating, on and off, for about eighteen years now. I’ve been practicing mindfulness since I was a child – I just didn’t know I was doing it. I’d lie on the grass in Gelli Park (soon to feature, along side little ol’ me in an upcoming edition of BBC Wales Live!), close my eyes, and watch the veins in my eyelids, feel the warm summer breeze on my skin and listen to the sounds of the wind in the trees, the birds in the sky, the children playing…and some cunt with a disk-cutter.
I don’t know what it is with Valleys Folk ™ but unless they can hear a disk-cutter, tile-cutter, or some other kind of saw in the background then it ain’t summer. Fuck you and your swallows.
That was me meditating when I was a kid, that was. I discovered The Dharma Bums, Alan Watts, and all that shit in my late teens, as you do, but I was also a software nerd and so fell in love with Hackers by Stephen Levy and the whole culture that formed back in those days around Berkeley, MIT, the Homebrew Computer Club etc.
I happily rolled along with completely the wrong idea of what Buddhism is for a couple of years and then one day, coming back from a training course in Bristol and quite by chance, I picked up a copy of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche. After sitting in the summer sun in the front garden of our then-home in Maesycwmmer, I was reduced to Paltrow-level blubbing by the sheer force of kindness, compassion, and empathy in the book. Rinpoche, embodying the Bodhisattva spirit, I guess, had produced a work of gentle strength and raging compassion. I decided to dive deeper.
I checked out a few introductory texts, The Elements of Buddhism by John Snelling is one that I particularly enjoyed. It contains a sound introduction to most schools of Buddhism and is a short, easily digested reference, perfect for the interested layperson.
I’m a perfectionist, in the pejorative sense. Unless everything is in it’s place and all the ducks are standing to attention, to self-indulgently mix a few metaphors for a while, I can’t start shit. This is one of the major end-of-level baddies I’m gonna have to smack the shit out of in order to progress. Writers’ Block like you would not believe.
This perfectionism insinuated itself into my search for further guidance, reading, and like-minded folk. (Those among you of a Buddhist persuasion will have already noticed that I was – unknowingly, at the time – searching for what some of us call The Three Jewels: The Buddha, as personified by a ** teacher; The Dharma as encompassed by the teachings of The Buddha; and The Sangha, the community of lay and monastic Buddhist practitioners). My perfectionism hindered my acquisition of knowledge: during one sincerely silly five minutes I found myself hesitating while deliberating over two schools of Buddhism because one wore brown robes and the other, the cooler, more Zen-like black.
Madness, but I was a young man.
Once I’d gotten over my childish Western desire to pick something that would bolster my own view of myself and my ego instead of challenging it, I met with a group of Ch’an (Chinese Zen) practitioners in Cardiff. I practiced on and off with them for some time, with long periods of absence, my perfectionism and frustration thwarting my attempts at any kind of long-term, committed practice. I wasn’t ready. I’m still not ready. I practice nonetheless.
In one episode of Porridge, after The Miracle of The Missing Echo, Bunny Warren tells Fletch,
“I was brought up a Catholic. Not a very good one but something like this, well…makes you think, don’t it?”
That’s how I feel about Buddhism. I tell myself that I do my best, but…
Meditation, that’s what you need!
I’ve read a lot of Buddhist literature over the years but it’s all just words, really. I found that when my anxiety was too great to meditate I could calm my mind a little by doing something repetitive. Eric S. Raymond once said the same thing about programmers who often will do mindless, repetitive work just to clear out their internal desktop. My mindfulness tool is and always will be music. Sometimes it’s rudiments on the practice pad and sometimes it’s scales on the bass. Some people lift weights or sand wood or hit golf balls. Anything that gets you ‘into the zone/groove/moment/flow/whatever you like to call it’.
Once my mind has calmed a little and the internal fire alarm has died down to a distant dinging, I try again to meditate. Sometimes it works (although ‘works’ isn’t the right word – maybe ‘happens’ is better) and sometimes it doesn’t.
There’s a quote attributed to His Holiness The Dalai Lama that goes something like:
“You should try to meditate for an hour each; unless you’re really busy, in which case you should meditate for two hours.”
True or not, I like it. It pushes back against the damaging belief that the harder you work, the more you’re worth as a human being. That’s all kinds of bullshit. You don’t really have to meditate for two hours a day, though (when would you shit?) Any meditation teacher worth their salt will tell you that even five minutes a day is better than nothing.
Give it a try. It won’t hurt you.
I used to work for a mindfulness charity and was once privileged enough to speak to a group of mostly middle-aged men who were all struggling in their own way. Naturally, being working-class lads from the valleys, they were dubious about all this ‘tree-hugging, hippy stuff’ but they listened to what I had to say and I’m happy to report that they all said they’d like to know more and sign up for a course. Sometimes you just get the best days, y’know?
It isn’t for everyone, there’s nothing to be afraid of, there are incredibly benificial side-effects in most cases and no-one need know you spent five minutes sat bolt-upright staring at a wall.
I’m up to 63% Happy on MoodScope now. Some of the advice they gave was:
…take a little time to try and pin down precisely what’s been going right, so the good times keep on coming.
- I’m working hard and almost have the spine of the show sorted.
- I have reached out to professionals (counsellor, GP etc)
- I have reached out to family and friends, come clean, and explained
what’s going on and how they can help.
- I’ve allowed them to help.
- I take my medication, I meditate.
- I read and I write more than I ever have before.
I need to add better diet, supplements, and training to this list and I think I’ll be on my way.
I started this post this afternoon but then HippyTaff turned up. I kind of lost the thread of what I was talking about but I hope this is of use to someone and maybe I’ll pick up the threads in future posts.
p.s. You may have noticed the Amazon links. I’m not trying to hawk you anything, I promise. Everything I recommend (and there will not be much) is because I honestly think they might help. Feel free to beg, borrow, or steal them but if you would like to help me eat then Amazon send shit very well packaged, so I’ve heard. Possibly too well, but that’s for another