I plump up the cushion and place it facing the window which looks out onto the garden. The time is 5.45am and at this time of year it is first light, the sky showing pink tinges amongst the grey of dawn. From outside I can hear the birdsong in layers of sound; some loud and close-by and others more distant, one in particular is persistent and overbearing. Is that a blackbird or maybe a thrush, I often think I will research it but haven’t done so yet. I do know the magpie’s voice, that raucous chatter, occasionally drowning out all other sounds from the garden.
It is so peaceful here in the mornings; the children are still sleeping, only the gentle sounds of occasional snoring giving away the fact of their presence. These token sounds seem so small that they are almost non-present, but I know that when my family are away, and I am alone in the house, the silence is startling. When I wake up on those mornings the absence of their presence is the first thing I notice. The first seconds of wakefulness are taken up with recalling.
It is too early for the neighbours to be awake, sometimes the low sound of voices comes to me through the wall. The cadence and volume rising and falling depending, presumably, on the subject of conversation and the mood. The car sounds of other close neighbours leaving for work won’t start until later, so for now the peace can envelope me. It is just the birds and me that exist in this moment.
Yes, this is my time. Worth the missed sleep of early rising. A truly deep quality of restfulness and awareness, moment by moment, all other reasons/excuses for distraction are moved into another space and time.
There’s a faint, rustling sound as a gentle breeze stirs the branches of the cherry trees, then a pitter-patter of light rainfall on the glass roof of the conservatory. The weather outlook for the day is already changing, I see grey clouds darkening the lightening sky.
I set my timer and sit down, crossing my legs as I settle. The backs of my hands are resting on my knees. As I feel the weight of my body sink into the cushion, a deep sigh escapes. I take a couple of breaths to draw a line in time. My eyes drift closed.
Today I decide to make this session about sharpening the tools, honing the point of awareness which I use to observe. For this the practise requires focusing the attention. Specifically, on the area of my face between the top lip and the nose, incorporating the nostrils, and bordered by the lines that run between the corners of the mouth and the nose.
Quite a small area, how hard could that be? The breath is allowed to come and go as it will; for this meditation there is no control of breathing, no special techniques. What we do is simply observe. Become aware of the sensations present on the skin of that small area, watching as the breath passes in and out. Beautifully simple.
My attention alights on that area as I exhale. I breathe in, I breathe out.
The funeral went well, as well as you could say these things can go. A good turn-out to farewell my sister. My reading went ok, fuck that was tough. Choking back the emotion when it came to the part about our childhood. Memory is a funny thing, the holiday place we used to go to when we were very young. There was a farm where we watched them milk the cow just as the sun began to rise. Can still recall the taste of that milk now, the smell of the farmyard.
Fuck, how did that happen? Within a second I’d lost it. Back to the point again. What was that the teacher had said? Treat the mind as a wayward child, when it wanders bring it back with gentle good humour. Remembering his soft voice, full of warmth and love, I smile as I return my attention to the area in question.
What’s going on there now? No sensations that I am aware of, a tickle in my left nostril as a breath eases out, breathe in, breathe out, breathe…
Is that invoice payment in yet? It’s pay day again tomorrow, make sure the money is in or the lads will be unhappy, might lose some if they’re not paid on time, the tax bill’s due very soon too. These things seem to come around so fast these days. The steel beams arrived yesterday, how are we going to move them around that tight corner, the biggest one weighs three hundred kilos. If we can’t get them in place we can’t invoice the job. Oh, well that’s later, what about breakfast?
Come on, back to the exercise. A slight tingle on the upper lip, no it’s gone. There’s always something going on, the smallest particles of matter are arising and passing away a million times per second giving rise to sensations. If I can’t feel them it’s because I’m not focusing. Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out. That was two full breath cycles in a row without wandering off…
Holiday this year? Probably not, with the whole family it costs too much to fly anywhere and going somewhere local is not much fun. Italy was lovely last year, no, it was two years ago, beautiful on that beach and the coffee in the café on the square, delicious. So nice, the kids loved it too. Visits to the water park and the zoo.
Yes, the zoo where the buffalo nudged the hire car. I fretted for days about returning it, I didn’t bother with excess insurance because I drive so carefully. Who would guess a fucking buffalo scratching the car would ruin my plan to save a few quid? Turned out ok in the end, no one checked the car properly at the airport. Two years ago, really? No holiday last year at all? No wonder I am so stressed. Damn, I’m off track again.
Breathe in, breathe out.
My back hurts again, the same place as before between my spine and shoulder blade. Not excruciating this time like it was before but more of a heat sensation than a pain as such, hey, perhaps that’s what pain is, not constant but a range of different feelings. Maybe if I watch it carefully I will feel it change, no, I’m going to stretch a bit just a shift of weight. There’s an itch on the back of my neck now, I can resist scratching it I’m sure.
She’s really dead, I was there at the hospital shortly after it happened. The first time I have seen a dead body and it was my sister, there was no way I could get out of that one. The fear as I approached the door to the ward, how would I react, I had to be strong to support her daughter, fuck this is a big one.
Weird feelings, thoughts woolly inside my head like I’m not actually here, but I am pressing the entry buzzer and the door is opening, I am walking into the ward, I know which room she’s in from the visits earlier in the week. Those were tough, she was in a terrible state, the series of strokes following the cancer treatment destroyed her. There was nothing left of the person I knew, the time she looked at me as if I wasn’t even there, straight through me. My tears came then, unstoppable like a tap had been turned on.
Fuck this, come back to the practise, that’s what I am sitting here for, breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out, don’t become attached to things, don’t run from things, experience everything as it is, as it is. The only constant in the universe is change, allow all to change, observe and do not react. Breathe in, breath out.
There must be sensations in that small area, but I can’t feel anything. Occasionally I think I’ve got something, but it is gone so quickly I’m not sure.
I wonder what emails arrived since yesterday, a pile of junk I’m sure, but what else. Why do I still receive emails from the same companies that I marked as junk yesterday? How do they get around that, what’s the point of having the junk box when it all seems to go to my inbox anyway.
That client who loves a list, guaranteed there will be one from him. The title will be further instructions and there will be loads of pointless detail that isn’t required yet. Tomorrow there will, no, this afternoon there will be an update of this pointless list when he’s had a couple of hours to think it over. Fuck it, when can I chuck this in, when can I go for my hammock in the jungle and not do this rubbish every day. My life is not fun, I don’t like living my life any more.
Come on, back to the point, back to observing and not judging, breathe in, breathe out, my legs are going numb now. The timer is going to go off really soon, it must be soon, should I check? Did I set it properly? There was that day a few weeks ago when I set it but didn’t start the clock, almost missed the meeting….
I’m going to die one day, and my kids are only young, how old do they have to be to be ok with their dad dying? Maybe if the youngest is thirty-five that will be ok, she’s only five now so that would make me, eighty five. Fuck, can I do that, what kind of state will I be in then.
I have some serious aches and pains now and I’m only fifty something. They love me a lot my kids, perhaps I could make them love me a bit less and then it won’t be so bad for them. No that’s bullshit, the loss is the same even if you dislike the parent that dies, isn’t it?
Well I’ll know soon enough when my mum goes, difficult relationship that one, some issues going on for me there. She fucked off when I was young to ‘do her own thing’. That actually used to be a thing that people did, she’s been absent a lot through my life too. Would it make a difference if that became permanent? I think not much, but I can’t know that for sure.
I don’t have much practise time left this morning so I must get back to the point….
The timer goes off and releases me.
There’s a story about the Buddah, how he chose not to enter Nirvana until every being in the world was free from suffering. Remembering this story, it is my habit to finish my meditation by projecting love and compassion to all people and all things. Placing the palms of my hands together I hold them in front of my heart centre and direct my thoughts outwards into the universe.
To make this an effective exercise I must find the people with whom I feel animosity and send them love. This is sometimes difficult, but I persist. Experience has shown that this will bring me peace in a way that nothing else can.
Today there’s the list man, I choose to believe that he means well. That the persistent hassling is just an unconscious manifestation of his anxiety with his existence. In my mind I see him smiling and happy, his irritating wife by his side.
Next there’s the people who ripped open the side door of my work van and removed many of the tools that I need to earn my living, it cost me thousands to replace them. This is a tough one, it takes quite some effort of will not to sink into hate. But as I look back on my own less than blameless past, the question of Karma arises. Then I know the forgiveness must be real, because this exercise is about me not them.
They are living in the world of stuff, dominated by the illusions of that place. Anyone who is stuck in there deserves only compassion. Still hurts though, but pain is human stuff and will pass.
It’s important to remember that change is the only constant in the universe.
It’s important to remember that this too shall pass if I observe and do not to react.
Finally, there’s my sister. We didn’t get on very well, there, I’ve said it now. She didn’t like me much and I didn’t like her. Therefore, guilt about not feeling bad is my predominant emotion, and that’s pure negativity. Guilt, like resentment, must be released before that poisonous shit kills me too.
There is some sadness too, after all, someone I have known for over fifty years has died, but there’s also much relief. Relief that her suffering is over, and that our interactions, usually stilted and painful, are a thing of the past. I am ashamed of that feeling of relief, but it’s best to be honest with myself. Above all else, to thine own self be true.
As I move past these ideas and feelings, back to the truth and reality of the universe, waves of love and peace pass through me into the void. From my deepest and highest self, I wish the same peace for all, myself included.
As I leave my driveway on the way to work, a car pulls into my path causing me to test my brakes. My first reaction is to shout abuse at the driver. So, I haven’t achieved enlightenment yet then! Oh well, there’s a subject for tonight’s meditation.
Dedicated to my sister Lisa 1960- 2019.
Love and light.