What happened when I decided to Get Enlightened or Die Tryin’
At the beginning of this year I made a vow. If you’ve read my other columns here you’ll no doubt be aware of the fact that I’ve had trouble picking—and then sticking with—a specific Buddhist modality. There’s so much available, especially with the advent of teaching via Internet, that my attention has always been divided among the glut of Buddhist approaches that have flooded the West. I’ve snatched up every shiny object out there and fiddled with it only to become entranced by another sparkly thing close by. The sentence that best sums up my journey is probably “Ohhhh, look at that delightful thing . . . oh, SHIT what’s that over there?!”
So I’m a bad Buddhist. I’ve known that for a while. Yet I’ve never had any issues with the basic underpinnings of the philosophy. The first time I read about suffering, no-self, and impermanence, I was transformed. Those things and many other, finer details have always sublimely resounded with me.
Not so with actual practice. After years of swaying capriciously between meditative methods, I finally wore myself out. I was so disgusted with my constant vacillation that I decided to just nail it down. I was going to stand pat on one hand and play it to the end. Vipassana had always seemed to produce the best fruit for me so I vowed to do that in such a hardcore manner that I’d reach awakening lickety split-ish. It was time to get enlightened or die tryin’. Here are the five most uncomfortable things I discovered while doing so.
1. Where the hell is my free time?
The first thing I had to do after making this decision was carve out time in my daily life. It’s no different from a resolution to start jogging and get in shape, except I could keep eating Slim Jims and I didn’t have to buy new shoes. My vow to meditate—damn, twice a day?—required me to plop my body down rather than get it active. Nonetheless, it’s mental fitness and I had to find a way to cram it into a life that’s already packed with three jobs, a wife, and trivia night at the local brewery.
The time commitment was sudden and unwieldy. Following the fairly traditional format—sitting in the morning and the evening—totally messed up my personal hygiene routine. But I’d made the move to get enlightened or die tryin’—I needed to sit twice a day.
My usual carefree 25 or 30 minutes wasn’t hardcore enough, either. I made up my mind to do 45 minutes in the morning and at least that much, maybe an hour, at night. That sent my schedule into a tailspin. Instead of rising half an hour early, I was setting the alarm almost an hour before my usual time. That’s because I needed at least five to ten minutes to lie in bed and moan. My wife was a huge fan of that. “I’m so glad you’ve decided to meditate with such diligence,” she’d say, while rolling away and cuddling a pillow. “There are various things on my nightstand I can throw at you if you don’t go get enlightened in the other room.” Then it was get up or get divorced.
I wait tables and bartend at two restaurants for a living, and will have to continue until some foolish Buddhist outlet hires me to relate these ridiculous stories full-time. I often work both day and night shift, which is a severe restriction on time as it is. Not much room for hobbies, is what I’m saying. Formal sitting practice truncated that even further. Ninety or so minutes a day for meditation doesn’t sound like much, but when you have to shoehorn it into an already crazy schedule, there isn’t a lot of extra time for learning origami and air guitar.
My free time eroded quickly. My sleep schedule, already touch and go, became a nebulous thing that I just got to when I could. Which brings up the fact that . . .
2. Everyday life gets more difficult.
There’s a modern misconception that meditation is a panacea for all of life’s various travails, that the calm, focus, and serenity you cultivate on the cushion will bleed into daily existence and your worries will fly away.
I’m not here to pop any poodle-shaped balloons a nice clown blew for you, but it just isn’t true. There’s no doubt—and I repeat, no doubt—that meditation is helpful. But the notion that the practice simply flips a switch from THIS SUCKS to FANTASTIC is seriously messed up.
Meditation definitely has immediate, noticeable benefits. But it also brings some side effects that popular interpretations may not have mentioned. For example, I just asked my desk lamp if “interpretation” was the right word to use there. And, more amazingly, I waited for a response.
That’s probably not normal, but the side effects I’m talking about are a bit grimmer than that. Any serious delving into how your mind works will bring about things you may not be ready to face. Buried things, deep in the muck of your consciousness, that can break out at any time.
I was sitting over 90 minutes a day when it really got uncomfortable. Morning sits often produced a nausea that made me dread the rest of the day. It faded over time, but launching yourself off the cushion with a positive sense of well-being is one thing. Crawling off it with disturbing rumblings in your belly is another. As I’ve mentioned before, this isn’t always cosmic-flavored cotton candy and fluffy kittens. This practice digs deep into your buried shit and heaves it out into sunlight.
Most of the time, I just had to go to work with that feeling. I slung drinks, talked to customers with my happy face, and pretended nothing was amiss. Which was wretched. I also became much more aware of all the negative aspects of my persona. As I began to see the connections with what popped up in my mind and the actions that followed, I realized I dealt with the world in a deeply flawed way. It was depressing. In the midst of all the nausea and mental turbulence I kept wondering if this was working.
Again, I have to reiterate: meditation is helpful. It leads to a better life. But it can also dip you into darkness. There’s a righteous light on the other side of that darkness but you have to stick with it. If you don’t, you could get stuck in the dusk and never see the dawn.
Which is awful, because . . .
WIKK WEB GURU