I’ve been sitting in this cafe for an hour. Came here after parking the car, attempting a little James Taylor transcription on the guitar, walking over to visit Nich at Phono Select, stopping by Body Tribe to visit Allyson Seconds’ dogs Lulu, who likes me, and Hank, who’s still too bashful to move into my zone, and then I left there and walked a block up 21st to the Weatherstone. Ordered a salad and and a mocha, sat down, pinched my flab and decided more exercise might be a good thing, and why not walk to McKinley Park for a couple laps around, then home. What the hey. No. I need to write something.
Because a writer needs to write, like a guitarist needs to practice his chops and a ballet dancer needs to dance. So here I go. The last few years have been years of subtraction: First my marriage, then work, then a bunch of material things, then some core ideas about myself, like someday I will record an album of my songs or someday I will find someone who is really compatible with me or, most importantly, someday my now-grown-up daughter will want to have even a half-hearted relationship with me. Life is short, I’m not sure what matters and what doesn’t matter anymore. I know what I want to matter, but sometimes the world at large has other ideas, and one must flow with the current.
This life I lead isn’t so lonely, really. I mean, I must have gained some kind of oneness with the Great Whatever from four years of daily Buddhist meditation, because I don’t feel acute pangs of neediness; it’s more like what the Brazilians and Portuguese call saudade, which I’ve heard described as the longing or yearning for the loving bliss of the past. But Buddhist practice, in part, enables a person to move beyond that hankering for a state in the past by repeatedly bringing the attention to the present. So that’s life for me: a seesaw ride that alternates between the present moment and recurring waves of saudade. I don’t live much in the future anymore; I’ve kind of let that go. I’ve even stopped dreaming. Well, almost.
I had the coolest dream last night. The first part of it I remember (there may have been a preceding part I can’t recall now), I was in a big auditorium with a bunch of people. I think it was an recovery-type meeting or something. I got tapped by someone to share my thoughts, and I began going on about how people in AA talk about how they “don’t do relationships well” and stuff, but that I question that position as kind of a self-imposed limitation. There were people around me who were ignoring me, and I was upset that they were not validating me. I may have had my guitar with me, and I was asking them to be quiet so I could speak my piece and maybe play something, but they engaged in loud conversation which drowned me out. So at some point, I went to a corner of the room, and there was a woman sitting on kind of some steps, and I grabbed my guitar case and, I dunno if I asked her to accompany me, but we left together. She was this very pretty dark-eyed woman who I know from this place I visit some mornings on my way to work. So then we were riding in a vehicle like the one I drive, but it was hers, or her family’s, and she was letting me drive; it had like a Hemi V8, and I remarked something about how it had a lot of power and I was really digging it. I found myself driving on kind of a limited-access highway out of town, and she asked me if that was the way I wanted to go, and I said no, it didn’t have to be, and soon there was a place where I could drive up a berm and get back onto a city street to head back toward town, and I did. At some point, I reached over and touched her hand, kind of ran my fingertips across her palm and fingers, and she reciprocated and looked at me affectionately, and it felt very nice (that was the extent of any physical contact in the dream). We pulled up at this 1920s bungalow where an old roommate was living, and we walked toward the narrow driveway between this house on the left and the house next door, and we were greeted by a big calico cat. Actually, two cats, one a female and one a more dog-like male (which I understand male calicos are rare) and I think they followed me back, with my lady friend following, too; she was quite amused by the cats. There were one or two kinda sketchy hippie or druggie guys I didn’t know in the back, by a garage, and it was a mid-morning spring-like sky just after a light rain, so there were like old hibachis and microwave ovens and other things stacked up all around, and they were dewy or damp from the fresh spring rain. One old hippie told me that someone — the government? aliens? — had changed the lock and that my key wouldn’t work, but when I looked at the back door into the house, it had one of those long-loop padlocks, and the padlock was open, just looped through the hasp on the door. And that’s where I woke up.
It was a pretty nice dream, really. Anyway, maybe I ought to post this and go walk to the park? —Jackson Griffith
Postscript: The music clips here are by my good friend Sport Murphy, who in my humble estimation is a brilliant songwriter whose music I wish I could gift to everyone I know, that some of thos friends might grow and throb with ardor for his music’s many charms, like I have.
So today marks four years since I learned how to practice Vipassana, or Buddhist insight meditation. I’d been going to a Buddhist meditation group for a few months, but what I know about sitting still had come from learning Transcendental Meditation in my late teens, and then having a friend show me some mantra-based Hindu meditation techniques. When I took the class, which lasted eight weeks. I’d heard people talking about how they started and really liked the effects produced by the practice, but they couldn’t keep it up or find time after a while. I made a decision that I would meditate every day during the eight-week course, and then after it finished I kept right on going.
So what’s different? I don’t know. After getting conditioned by all the marketing pitches for TM, I still figured I’d get instant results, and that virtually overnight I would be transformed into this ueber-groovy person who sailed through life’s problems like a warm knife through butter. But it wasn’t like that. It was a lot more like learning to play a difficult song using guitar tablature — changes, when they would come, would be almost glacial.
Let’s see. As for those glacial changes, I am a lot calmer and more comfortable in my skin. When something traumatic or sudden happens, I seem to have a moment in space where I can decide how I am going to respond. I still respond stupidly sometimes, but that’s my decision. I’m more thoughtful and anchored in the present moment, and less prone to daydreaming. I can bring myself into the present moment quite rapidly whenever I drift away into the future or the past, just by connecting with my breath.
On the downside, I’ve become a lot more cerebral — perhaps too much so, I think. So I’ve taken to working on some other practices with the objective of opening my heart to others, and becoming more warm and generous and loving and compassionate. Also, that cerebral nature has diminished my old rapid-fire sense of humor somewhat, although when I really want to, I can still turn the laughs on. So I think maybe it’s time to join a sketch comedy or improv workshop to hone those skills a bit. And I still get emotionally wounded to an exaggerated degree — “butthurt” is the popular appellation — as any reader of this blog or anyone acquainted with me knows. But I believe that today I’m more focused on my part in whatever is triggering the emotional upset, so instead of pointing fingers of blame, I try to look inward toward causes and conditions.
I guess the salient thing to remember is that I practiced every day even during the most difficult portion of my life, that two-year period when I was out of work and homeless and on the receiving end of a lot of help. Perhaps sitting in meditation daily helped keep me from losing my mind, or going off the deep end, or deciding to end it all. I certainly flirted with the idea of personal oblivion more than once, because things were so hard. But meditation, and practicing a recovery program, and getting physical exercise from riding my bike everywhere, I am convinced kept me going when I might have given up.
So will I continue to sit daily? I’d guess so, at this point. Kind of a habit now. no? —Jackson Griffith
Summer messes with my sleep patterns something fierce. I can’t sleep. When I finally do get to sleep, I have weird dreams. Most of the time, those dreams evaporate into the mists of waking consciousness, sometimes leaving an emotional aftertaste and, sometimes, not. The dreams of winter are different, but I can’t tell you what’s different about them right now because I forget.
What I remember this morning was that I was cleaning up, and I had this inner urgency to do that because there were larvae in my living space. I glanced into a bathtub, and there were 20 or so giant maggots, your basic housefly larvae but the size of small thumbs, wriggling about. I went to another part of the house, and there was a corner that was swarming with mealworms, or larva-stage beetles, and then when I was in the kitchen, there were moth larvae moving about in the cabinets. I instinctively knew to grab a large plastic bag, which was shiny white, and I went to the bathtub and scooped up all the maggots with a dustpan and dumped them into the bag and, after that, hosed out the tub. And then I went to the corner where the mealworms were crawling, and I brushed them into the dustpan and dumped them into the bag, and used a small vacuum to suck up whatever was left. And then I went to the kitchen and, realizing the moth larvae had infested bags of bulk grain I had, I threw all the bags of grain into the big white shiny bag, and I brushed everything clean. I walked through the house, satisfied that I’d gotten everything, and then I asked someone who was there if I should burn the bag, and they said, no, just sealing it up would most likely do the trick by depriving them of life-giving oxygen.
Later on, I was having a discussion with this guy I work with about God. He’s a Mormon, and he was saying something like, “Well, you Buddhists don’t believe in God.” And I started explaining the concept of dependent origination, which posits that everything emerges from causes and conditions, which is one of the things the Buddha taught. But I added that my own spiritual experiences in recovery have led me to the conclusion that there’s some kind of benevolent intelligence at work that steps in when we open ourselves up to its presence and handiwork, and sometimes even when we’re not overtly looking for help. Maybe, I added, God is like an ant colony, with billions of ants of limited intelligence working together to compose something far smarter and greater than each individual. Then we got into talking about the nature of God in relation to man, and I had to admit that the Latter-day Saint idea of eternal progression, or that a man can become a god, with his wife as Mrs. God, on another world or in another dimension wasn’t something that resonated with me, but neither did a heaven with angels singing and clouds and harps. More like: We’re just like a glass of water pulled out of the ocean, and when we’re done, the water goes back into the ocean, and maybe little drops of us end up in a lot of other glasses, combined with a lot of other drops.
Sorry if that sounded like babbling. It probably was. Dreams make no sense to me. —Jackson Griffith
Guess I should make note of the three-year anniversary of me beginning the daily practice of Vipassana, or Buddhist insight meditation, here tonight. Actually, I took the first class on Monday, July 30, 2007, so tomorrow’s the anniversary. Anyway, I’ve managed to sit in meditation every day for three years, which is kinda surprising for such a historically undisciplined lout as yours truly.
I’d like to go into detail about expectations and the almost incremental or even glacial benefits, but there’s something else I’d like to get on about this evening instead. Suffice it to say that I’m probably calmer and less rattled and slightly less inclined to get butthurt over marginal stuff. With special emphasis on the word slightly. I still can be quite the maroon in the Bugs Bunny sense.
Anyway, more on this subject later in the weekend, perhaps. —Jackson Griffith