The second Sunday since my return to Ubud signaled also a gathering just outside town, a gathering of friends at J & N’s villa and rice-field estate. After my two months’ hiatus, I missed them both (and the others) and eagerly awaited a return to their bimonthly lazy Sunday meditation and potluck lunches.
When I received the email from N, with an introduction to the topic of this week’s audio recording, I immediately tried to beg off – believing that I could find better things to do with my time (and soul) than listen to a man speak about Death and Dying. But once my lucidity returned, I realized that a Buddhist social and hospice worker would likely offer more insight than fright.
We are welcomed by the sight – that still takes my breath away – of gargantuan green swaths of rice fields everywhere. Since we all gab quite a bit, on the drive up and as we congregate outside by the rice fields, my biggest challenge – once the gong sounds – is to downshift suddenly from speeding to slow, when my mind is still reeling with sights, sounds and thoughts.
The usual agenda ensued: 40 minutes of sitting meditation (lying, in my case), followed by 20 minutes walking meditation; then repeat – for a total of 2 hours.
Since I’m irrepressibly visual, I’d developed a strategy – with images – for just these times that I thought I would put into practice. They include, in no particular order: a life-sized marshmallow; an all-white isolation cell; and the far tip of a peninsular island, with nobody around – and I mean nobody, but me, the sea and the horizon.
But first: the breath. So, I focused on my breath. In and out. The air moving into and out of my nostrils. Ahhh, this will calm my mind, I’m so sure of it…
Not so quick. First I need to figure out: what did K mean by that thing she said? And why didn’t S come today? Oh, I forgot to bring that other thing for A and H, well I must remember to ask him about the ceremony from the day before.
What about N? I really need to remember to ask him about his medical checkup. Oh, and I really want to hear more about S’s life and travels. And I mustn’t forget to ask W or V how to get my stuff on that website they’re on.
Hey, I know I brought J the article and pin.. but surely I forgot something.. oh yes, that book of poetry he lent me last time.. I hope he doesn’t mind that I didn’t bring it along.
Enough already! Get back to the breath. Ok, now hold that pose.
First slide please (visual #1): Like a skewer, I pierce a fluffy marshmallow until I am fully immersed inside this gooey, fluffy over-sized mush-ball. I am entirely covered in white nothingness, I can see and hear nothing and nobody, which leaves me no option but to finally get on with it. Clear my mind. De-pollute my mind of thoughts, worries, anxieties.
Ok, ok.. hold it right there. How’d I get out of that marshmallow so quickly, how come I suddenly find myself on an airplane (I have to remember to email that airline and remind them to give me those points)… how come I suddenly appear in the office of a woman who did some work for me last month but has yet to send me some extremely important documents.. I must remember to email her again!
Breathe, will you? Just bring your focus down to that space between nostrils and lips, keep it there, come on, you can do it… I know I should be more forgiving than admonishing, but this is getting out of hand; the monkeys have invaded en masse and completely overtaken my mind.
Maybe, if I bring up that other image, still-life-with-strait-jacket; and jettison myself right into an empty, white and spotless cell-like room, I’ll have no choice but to ward off all incoming thoughts, frets, fears – and more monkeys. That’s it, wheel me in there, will you? Click, door closes. I look around, I breathe deeply.. this could be it!
But I’m wriggling around… ohhh, it’s getting hot… hmmm, the pain really is seeping into my lower back… I really need to turn onto my side… now it’s chilly because the scarf has slid down…I’m getting hungry… I hope they put lots of colorful veggies in the salad I brought.. I wonder what kind of dessert V made (yum!)… it would be nice to have another glass of coconut water right about now.. could I slip out quietly, without anyone noticing?.. oh bummer, I’m upset that the travel writing workshop I wanted to attend is sold out… what else can I learn about death and dying that this guy is going to tell us… I hope he won’t come across like a therapist…
So I’m out of options. The marshmallow imploded (or melted me away), the isolation room apparently had no walls… True, I’ve not yet shipped myself to the end of the island, but at this rate, success seems more remote than a suntan.
I’ll just see if I can return to my breath.. at least until the…
Maybe I need to develop a new strategy.