Tuesday, 9 April 2013

In the Monkey House

Meditation.  'Oh how lovely just to be able drift away and relax...'  Says my work wife.

But it's not like that at all, and nothing like I expected.  Sometimes you do, in fact, drift off to dreamy realms, and often I fall asleep, even sitting up.  But the idea is not to let your thoughts meander away but to simply notice them, and then draw your attention back to your breath.  Your breath, my dears, is not that interesting, which is probably the point.  What's more, when you concentrate on breathing it's remarkably hard to do.  You fall into the spaces between the breaths, the long silences between letting go of one and taking another, and sometimes those spaces seem vast and uncrossable, and taking the next breath an unbelievable effort, meaning you wait too long, and gulp it, snatch it greedily into your lungs.  And then your nose itches.  A nose that you didn't even remember you had although it's stuck there in the middle of your face, probably not (in my case) your most beautiful feature and something you try to avoid looking at, especially in profile because you look like a middle aged hen, but suddenly it's on fire, the only thing you can think off, demanding to be scratched.  You try not to.  You try to 'notice' it and then turn your attention back to the breath, that thing you do unconsciously every minute of your life, which is suddenly laboriously difficult.  If you give in and scratch your nose, you'll get a moment of relief and then your feet, those things you plant on the floor at your desk and don't move for hours while you're beavering away at the coal face of Facebook or work, or both, suddenly start to scream at you - 'move me, move me damn it' and once again, you draw your breath into them imagining them to be soft spongey lungs that can be soothed by filling them with oxygen - and sometimes they can, and other times they continue to feel as though they're in a vice and you're consumed by the desire to just move them, even just flex your toes - a desire so powerful it's the only thing you can think of.  If you're standing up, it's even worse. The longing to sit down is overwhelming, but somehow in the tube in the morning you can happily stand for thirty minutes without wanting to curse out everyone in the carriage.

This, apparently, is the point of meditation.  It's to notice your uncomfortable feelings, your 'barriers' and try and sit on the edge of them, and breathe, breathe, breathe.  Who knew I had so many barriers?  Since starting to try to meditate I've discovered I get very impatient with people talking at me, interrupting my revery, or my attempts to breath quietly, and my thoughts?  Well for a while I thought I had this meditating lark licked, as my thoughts would wave in and out like Radio 4 on a country drive, and it was easy to pull my attention back from them and sink into the breathing.  Until this morning when I sat on the tube ready to practice my usual three minute meditation and found I had a barrel of evil monkeys in my head, all jammering away at once, yacking at me about work, and chores, and worrying away at things, then worrying away at the fact that I was worrying and then worrying because I couldn't stop worrying that I was worrying.

Breath, concentrate on the breath.

But why are you so anxious?  Is it coming back?  Are you going mad again?  What will you do?  Take a Valium?  But I don't want to take Valium, I've just given it up.  Why can't I stop thinking?  Why am I so panic-stricken?

Breathe.  Breathe, damn you.

What am I worrying about?  Why today?  What's so different about today?  Nothing's gone wrong.  There's nothing particular to really worry about.  So why the hell are you worrying?


And then I gave up.  Maybe sometimes you need to think without being in a fight with yourself.  You need to think things through, even worry a little, process things, and if you give yourself permission to think, then you can switch it off easier?

By that time I was at Holborn, and the monkeys followed me up the escalator out into the street where it was pouring with rain.  Walking helps to shake them off.  But only temporarily.  They keep clinging to me all day.