It has been one of those extraordinarily busy days, a day in which I have bumbled from one task to another not quite getting around to what I want to do. But there are bunnies in the garden and 30 bottles of wine resting in the cupboard under the stairs and I think that counts as a worthwhile day. My bones are aching. I sat down to meditate and I could feel the lumpen, misshapen bulk of my body: the left shoulder all collapsed, the ribs bunched uncomfortably under the bauble of fat that is my belly, the base of my spine aching, the balls of my feet feeling bruised and raw, my hands all dry and papery. This is my life, my self and my body. I said a quiet thank you between the count of my breathes, expressing my gratitude for all that I have which is nothing but this collection of errors and missteps, the aging, broken and unappealing mass of flesh that is mine and without which I could not think nor write nor make anything. Life is like this: imperfect, a compromise, a making do with the finite time and resource and capacity we have to do anything with anything.
I have been thinking today about the gulf between intention and impulse, about the primacy of desire and the ability to satisfy it so easily, and thoughtlessly, via the internet. I have been thinking about buying a zafu, a meditation cushion. I have been meditating more regularly. I have also been thinking about clearing out, decluttering. These two desires are not at odds, not inconsistent with each other. I might mediate more, but have fewer things. The meditation cushion is £18, not a huge sum of money, but my impulse to buy it does not guarantee I will meditate more. If I had to buy a meditation cushion in person I would think about it more carefully. They’re heavy and unwieldy, and if I bought one from the Buddhist Centre it would likely cost more than £18 and with good reason. The internet makes it possible for me to buy without thinking. I could buy just by clicking and the act of buying and the act of owning are separated by a distance in time which allows me to buy more things that take time to arrive. I want to meditate more, but waiting for a cushion to arrive is not solving the problem. Then, whilst waiting for my wine to filter (an act which might take a small eternity) I sat for a while on my beanbag watching the slow drip, drip, drip, relentlessly slow and it occurred to me that my beanbag would make a perfectly good meditation cushion. Nothing acquired, nothing lost, cash in the bank, resources spared. My intention is met, my impulse avoided. Sometimes we need to just sit by and think for a while before acting. This didn’t used to be such a ground-breaking concept.
Out on the lake the wind whips up the waves, sending out kayaks bobbing crazily up and down. Behind the protection of the islands, all is calm. It makes for a strange contrast: cold and warm, effortless and effortful. The body is pitted against itself and against the wind, the movement of the water, all stronger than our pitiful arms. Yet it is exhilarating: water in our faces, our clothes soaked through, the warmth of the intermittent sun, the motion of the water, the incessant pull and thrust, the relentlessness of it all. We see islands, the interplay of light and shadow on the hills in the distance, the glistening of the water. We grow tired and cold, yet the spirit is never dampened.
Yesterday was a terrible day, a day of failures and wasted time and I was tired in a way I haven’t been in a long time, tired as an expression of dismay, of resignation, at the things life throws at me. This, I thought, is suffering and I had to laugh at myself because it was not suffering at all, or if it was it was a kind of self-inflicted suffering which comes from false hope and expectation and disappointment rather than the kind that comes through actual loss or grief, or a catastrophic injury or starvation or war or all those other terrible things going on out there in the world outside my comfortable bubble. But yes we had driven all day to no purpose, and yes we had expended considerable time getting nowhere and doing nothing and time, that precious, nebulous substance ran through our fingers like air and no matter how we grasped at it we couldn’t capture it. And the meaninglessness of it all seemed overwhelming, like one of those days of relentless rain that seems to flow and flow without end, and my tiredness made everything insubstantial like a beautiful landscape glimpsed through opaque glass so full of promise but so broken-up that I could only imagine it and dream.
Yet it is always meaningless, all this activity, all this filling of time with endless nothings that are lost the instant we go to sleep or turn our attention to something else, something absorbing. Not to mention death, through which everything we are is lost entirely and only the echoes of what we’ve left behind remain. And what will I leave behind? Not that wasted day, not all those hours spent in cars pursuing dreams, but rather a handful of people I’ve connected with, the people who have shared this meaningless car journey with me. They are all that matters, so why do I expend any effort on anything else? All my stuff is meaningless, the words I read are meaningless (except in so far as they make me connect more meaningfully with those around me), all my anger and dismay is meaningless, all the disappointments in the world count for nothing. I should let it all go. What use is all of this stuff, all of this activity, if it does not make me happy, if it makes me churlish and grumpy and a little bit pathetic?
Cwm Idwal. The mountains rise around a lake, creating a craggy bowl blasted with shadows and light. The water on the lake ripples like shards of mirrored glass. Everywhere there are signs of collapse: boulders torn down the mountain side, cascades of tiny shards of rock and slate. We clamber up the hillside, mounting great boulders, moving with all of our bodies, hands grasping moss and grass, crushed bilberry like blood in the palm. Mist in the heights gathers like a menace but the shadows are pleasingly cool, out in the light the heat burns the salt on the back of my neck and the air is too unforgiving. We cross waterfalls, sit restful on rocks overhanging the water. There is silence here, and the sound of our breathing loud in our ears. My heart beats, and I feel it.
It is dark, and even though it is evening the darkness is unwarranted. Rain starts to fall. Thunder rumbles. We open up the windows and let the fresh scent flow in, the rattle of water bouncing off the pavement is soothingly rhythmic. Finally, the air will clear.
At the end of the tunnel was a door.
At least, that’s what they told me,
the people, the people in the darkness whispering
all around me.
I believed them,
I had to, they were all that I had,
I couldn’t have made it without them,
yet I have made it to the end of the tunnel
and I cannot see a door.
I have reached out my hands
to the dark wall, I have quashed my fear,
I have reached and I have touched things I never thought I would,
but the door,
the door is not there, or
if it is, I cannot find it.