MEDITATION CLASS ONE
Despite a pretty nasty snowstorm in progress, my first meditation class has not been cancelled, something I’m mostly relieved about. Due to the weather I opt to pass time in downtown Bangor until class begins, rather than going home first. I like the idea of downtown Bangor more than the reality of it. I have a real problem with cities and I’ll never fully trust them. My brain is convinced that the bad must outweigh the good when you’re dealing with a human gathering of that size, even one as relatively modest as Bangor.
But a snowy weeknight, it turns out, is probably the ideal setting in which to experience an urban area of any sort, if you’re as crowd-averse as myself. Young attractive twentysomethings who like to be loud in the out-of-doors en route from one watering hole to another don’t seem to want to engage in that particular activity when snow is falling out of the sky. Ditto for crazy vagrants, parents out to show their kids a good time by shrieking threats at them in public, and small groups of impractically clothed high schoolers emboldened by a lack of supervision. Those few outside during this time probably wouldn’t be there unless they were enjoying themselves.
Having reverified the location of the yoga studio, I enter a nearby cafe whose name I can’t spell from memory and don’t feel like looking up but which my wife tells me is pronounced “Jackamo’s” for a flavorful if costly smoked pork panini, a microscopic but appreciated bag of chips, and a very good no-frills coffee. I enjoy my food, the free wireless, and the 90’s alternative music playing in the background as I loiter, until the personable waitstaff amiably eject me from the restaurant so they can close.
My intention at that point was to go to The Grasshopper Shop (a local gift/novelty/clothing/housewares establishment that I used to love browsing in back in high school but have since not given a lot of serious thought to) in the hopes of at the very least acquiring a pen, as I had forgotten to slide one into the spiral binding of my sassy new meditation journal that I bought at Target (who, it needs to be said, does not offer the breadth of meditation journal selection one might be led to expect of such an established retailer). There was also a rather hurriedly constructed but eye-catching banner declaring “30% Off Everything!” out front that no doubt would have resulted in my buying one or two something-or-others. As it happened, Grasshopper closed up Shop at six, much like, it turns out, each and every store in downtown Bangor, except for the “4:20” bong shop (not really a place to go without a particular goal in mind) and a comic book store that I didn’t end up finding until ten minutes before class was to start.
Having resigned myself to an hour of talking to my wife on my cell phone in the car about things like coldness and darkness, I am reminded by said wife that the library doesn’t close until 8 on winter weeknights. Thanks and bye, wife! After urinating in a bathroom refreshingly free of rapists and homeless people, I thusly spend an agreeable twenty-five minutes with a fluffy Leonard Maltin book touting unheralded but ostensibly worthwhile films until making my way back to the yoga studio, where I find the lights to be off and the door to be locked.
I call the number you were supposed to call to find out if class was cancelled, the same number I had called not two hours earlier and been told that it wasn’t.
“Hey, is the meditation class really happening?”
“Yup, it sure is!”
“Well, why is the door locked?’
“The building is completely inaccessible. I’m pulling on the door and it isn’t opening.”
“Well, uh…a class is in there right now. I guess you’ll just have to go in when they come out.”
“Are you not at this building?”
“No, this phone number goes to another place.”
“Thank you very much for your help.”
More people show up and we all stifle the urge to huddle while waiting for something to happen that will allow us access to the building. Soon enough (well, not really), a skinny guy who doesn’t look like he cares about anything appears, fumbling with a keyring, and we all follow him inside. (He didn’t end up having anything to do with the yoga place; there were a bunch of businesses in there, most of them unrelated to delving into ones inner psyche.) We clomp up some stairs, encounter some coathooks and places to put shoes, and put these to use. The door to the place is closed, and no one seems to know if it opens directly into a room where people would be intently contorting their bodies or if there is any kind of foyer or waiting area. One of the braver among us ventures inside, and reports back that there is a room for us to wait in.
There are more of us now and we all tiptoe inside. The warmth and relief that the sight of a good hardwood floor provides is immediate and just shy of a little much in here. There are plants to beat the band, all over the place, mostly around the perimeter but of note is a tree dead center in the floor, placed there, the teacher later tells us, to catch drops from a leak in the ceiling. There are calming hangings artfully displayed, and everything is very clean and well organized. It does not feel like Maine. They have done a good job creating a relaxing space, neither half-assing nor overdoing it. I’m comfortable and it feels okay that I am in here.
The teacher shows up – pleasant, nondescript, mid-to-late thirties I’m guessing – and I ask if there are changing rooms. I am the only person who did not show up wearing what they intended to meditate in, and inner peace does not seem achievable in a button-up dress shirt and somewhat ill-fitting black khakis that I have been dribbling piss and farts into all day. I am directed toward a small nearby room with nothing but an easily brushed aside black curtain separating my denuded flab from my fellow students gathering in the waiting area. All but assured that someone will casually stroll in any moment and expose my pouchy nakedness and ridiculous underpants to a roomful of appalled yet strangely titillated onlookers, I spastically change my pants in record time, as though at gunpoint or competing for a sizable cash prize. I will not be doing this again.
When I return from my frantic wardrobe change, I find that a good fifteen more people have materialized and have all taken seats in a circle on the floor. They have somehow acquired blankets and little tubelike cushiony things to sit on. I find the closet that contains these neatly folded and arranged items to my left, but am dismayed to find that these enlightenment-seeking dickbags have taken all the little tubelike cushiony things. I have to make do with two blankets, which sucks and is not the same. I also find that the only unclaimed area in the circle is of course right next to the teacher, which everyone knows is where the smelly kid sits. In keeping with the belief system of the hour, I realize that if I am the smelly kid, then I am the smelly kid, and I plop my blankets down next to the instructor, who is engaging in the not very Zenlike activity of checking her email on her cellphone.
I try to fashion a comfortable ass nest out of the two blankets, with middling success, then dutifully fold my legs into the universally accepted meditation position, which we always used to call “Indian style” but I’m guessing probably don’t anymore. Given that it’s been quite some time since I’ve played “Duck Duck Goose” (too long, really), my limbs and body in general require some reconnection with this position, and the reunion is less than joyful. My hamstrings have always possessed the flexibility of cinder blocks (I have no idea what it feels like to touch my toes), and soon I’m enjoying a constant pinprick sensation throughout my thighs. Despite the pain, it feels oddly righteous to let my hamstrings suffer like this.
So the circle is completed, and the teacher tells us that for the first ten minutes of class, we’re just going to sit here. “Do we have to be quiet?” asks a middle-aged woman who I’m not sure is in the right room. Yes, Barb, we do have to be quiet. The ten minutes is an eternity. I can actually hear my hamstrings telling me to go fuck myself. Someone’s stomach to my right keeps making silly noises. I think about how one day I’d like to turn a room of a house into a replica of an old, small town, mom ‘n pop video store, stocking it with found VHS from thrift stores and yard sales, creating perfect genre sections of 50 movies each, buying and rebuying VHS, whittling down each section until it is flawless. Then just going in the room and looking around with deep satisfaction, maybe setting up a viewing area with a small but heavy TV, a clunky VCR (preferably a top-loader), and a somewhat uncomfortable plastic chair.
The teacher strikes a small bowl made out of a rock with another piece of rock which makes a new agey sound signifying that the ten minutes are up. We all look around to verify that no one got anything out of that experience. Despite this, the room has an energy that seems to promise controlled adventure.
Teacher starts out talking about seats. She points out that the woman who asked if we had to be quiet before is using a nifty cushion expressly designed for meditation. “It’s inflatable,” says the woman. “I keep having to blow it up. I got it at Border’s.” I am unhappy with this information. Teacher asks the woman to pass the inflatable meditation seat from Border’s around the circle. This, lamentably, takes place. I practically volleyball “bump” it to the next person when it gets to me. Then the teacher decides to hand around her own (admittedly pretty snazzy) innovative meditation seat. This too is strange and unwelcome. Anyone else have anything they’ve been recently rubbing their ass on that they’d like to give an entire roomful of strangers the opportunity to handle and examine? I watch everyone carefully to try and catch someone in the act of nonchalantly sniffing the teacher’s meditation seat, but either my eagle eye fails me or we’re a relatively well-adjusted bunch up here. Were I teaching a class, I’m not so sure I’d implement this method of ice-breaking, but then again I’m new to all this.
This being the first class, nothing terribly meaty is broached. We’re gonna try to do this, you might wanna buy this book, when you get home you should give this a shot when you get a chance, we might have someone else come in and talk about something or other. We go around the room and introduce ourselves. I make an exceedingly lame funny that nonetheless elicits a fair amount of laughs. The girl to my left mentions she is here to deal with stomach problems, probably explaining those noises from before. A big, Mexican-seeming chiropractor is there to access new parts of his mind. A high school girl is stressed out (and dressed like the world’s most laid-back underage prostitute). A psychiatrist and his wife are there. He wants to be more of a help to his patients, who are beginning to bum him out. Wife declines to chime in. Another woman is afraid of becoming an “empty nester” because her daughter is going to be leaving for college soon. Said daughter is taking the class with her to keep mom company. So far only the psychiatrist, who is never not smiling, stands out as a potential wacko to watch, and maybe the woman with the Border’s seat who apparently equated “meditation” with “rowdy gabfest”. Teacher spends a few minutes introducing us to the book that accompanies the class, an item I have neglected to purchase but now may having gotten a look at it. It comes in a cool slipcase.
Finally, to close out the class, we actually do it, we meditate. The teacher mellowly intones calming statements about breathing and focusing and everything in life being simultaneously vital and no big deal. Most of my classmates close their eyes, but I take my glasses off and leave my eyes open. I immediately feel like something different is happening. Twinkling and tingling. Teacher advises us to accept any sound we hear rather than attempting to block it out, just let it happen, and as if on cue some yutz in one of the adjoining businesses immediately begins singing, of all things, “Bump and Grind” by R. Kelly, in an intentionally overwrought but robust baritone: “MY MIIIIIIND’S TELLIN’ ME NOOOOOOO!” By some miracle, I am able to recognize the humor without cracking up and destroying the trance. It helped that my mind really is tellin’ me no. I can apply the lyric to the situation at hand, so that it becomes a statement of fact rather than the most unexpected and hilarious thing I’ve heard all week. Minds don’t really want to meditate.
Teacher drones on and on pleasantly, the gist of it all appearing to be that everything is important but nothing really matters. This is pretty comforting. It’s like, “Thank God I own this ‘Beverly Hills Cop’ DVD, and what difference does it make whether I go to work tomorrow or not?” The soothingly intoned reassurances coupled with the warm overhead lights and expertly stained floor results in me zoning out real quick. The twinkling and tingling continue. What is most difficult here is an ongoing internal argument: Am I really meditating or is just a combination of trance-friendly components that’s causing me to feel like I’m abnormally at peace? Whatever the case, my usual desire to check out what everyone else in the room is doing is really not there at all. Maybe that’s because I’m pretty sure they’re all sitting still with their eyes closed, and that’s not terribly interesting to look at. In general, it feels something new is happening, but I question it throughout, and it’s hard to stop. My mind’s telling me no.
Teacher hits the weird bowl with the rock, and we are done. Those of us who have brought journals take some time to scribble down a few things. This is not so much the automatic writing that my friend Joe can tell you about (although I intend to explore that as well) as it is quickly jotted notes that aim to sum up how we feel that particular bout of meditation went. Things we noticed and felt. Being that you’ve just snapped out of la-la land, however, the disassociative choppiness of automatic writing is unavoidable. This is what I wrote after my first try:
Light. Hamstrings killing me. Wanted to laugh @ guy singing R. Kelly but was able to recognize humor w/o laughing. Feel like it “worked”. Distracted by imagining sounds of Matt + Joe’s voices. Kept eyes open but took off glasses which seemed to work. May try eyes closed next time. Back feet + hamstrings all hurt. Need to be better @ sitting. Shimmering quality – result of lights or meditation? Surprisingly easy to mostly forget stress.
Workmanlike observations here at the outset. Matt and Joe are two of my best friends from college, and for some reason I heard Matt yammering in one ear and Joe yammering in the other; neither of them saying actual words, just complete gibberish in their very distinctive respective tones of voice. It was initially like they were trying to distract me, but given that what they were saying was meaningless nonsense – “gabbita blabbita bluhblubhbllblt gluhbhllbgglb” – I could assign it my own meaning, and soon enough I was deriving actual encouragement from their unexpected “presence”. As it happens, the act of assigning meaning to everything is something that meditation seeks to curtail, according to the teacher, but this early on it served as a convenient crutch. It’s really interesting that Matt and Joe both “showed up” for this class, but given that they’re both very important figures at different points in my life, it makes sense that any type of serious introspection would access those guys in some form, however insanely distracting that form may have been.
Teacher tells us we need to try to meditate every night from here on on, and take notes. Not sure how this will play out at home with the baby and clutter and whatnot, but it feels like such challenges are probably necessary to actually get this stuff to work. You can’t be a professional wolf-killer if you don’t have a bunch of wolves constantly attacking you, that’s how I look at it. With the first class under our belts, teacher immediately turns to me and asks about Freddy, who I brought up in my silly introduction earlier. I say he’s doing well, almost nine months, trying to talk and crawl. While we make small talk, it would appear that all the middle-aged women in the class are lining up to talk to the teacher, all looking as though they have the most wonderful news to share with her. I leave her to it, picking up my blankets and putting them back in the closet.
Outside the storm has calmed down considerably. The streets are still pretty empty, but I narrowly avoid having to bumble my way through giving a raggedy-looking pedestrian no doubt inaccurate directions to somewhere or other when another unlucky soul passes him first, and judging from his flummoxed mannerisms is probably doing no better a job than I would have. I sympathize, and I mentally thank him for taking the hit. Though I suppose if it had been me, I could have said, “It is not important that we reach our destination, but that we gain wisdom from the journey. I think Hammond Street is over by that store that sells the robotic sex heads, but I’m not totally sure. No, actually I’ve lived around here all my life, but I don’t drive much, and when I ride I mentally play complicated movie-related games rather than paying attention to what roads the driver is taking. Namaste!”
There is quite a bit of snow to brush off the car, and I do a very thorough job clearing it all away. The air is crisp and I feel alert in it. I start the car. From here I am not sure of the best route to use to get home, as my station wagon does not like steep hills, and the most direct route involves driving up what essentially amounts to the side of a cliff, and at this point probably a slippery one. I decide to take an unfamiliar street that appears to point in the general direction of home. This turns out to be an unenlightened route, one that forces me to double back almost half the distance I drove in order to avoid having to get on the interstate, as my station wagon does not like going over 45 miles per hour. Normally getting lost like this, especially in my home state, causes me to freak out and whimperingly rattle off every obscenity and racial slur known to man, but the snow is pretty under the streetlights and the buildings are interesting on this unfamiliar street. I feel very good about this first class, and am excited to make my way home and tell my wife about it.