During each of the current days I am #meditating during this mini-#Buddhist, at-home #retreat, I #contemplate what it means to be human. I examine the emotional, physical, interpersonal, mental experiences I am familiar with myself and then I attempt to empathize or at least sympathize with others’ experiences as deeply as possible: the pains and pleasures, sorrows and joys, defeats and successes, fears and hopes, worries and excitements. What motivates every being is clear: each of us wants to be happy.
However, as I know for myself and observe in others, we often are extremely inept, even self-sabotaging in our attempts to achieve happiness. Furthermore, this happiness is only ever temporary. Impermanence is a fact of existence.
Spending so much time and focusing so such keen attention on humanness intensifies my recognition of these failed attempts on my own part and for others. Also, I become more acutely conscious of my failures to acquire even a bit more comfort.
At the pool, I have my “favorite” swimming lanes. These are the ones I prefer because of their proximity to the inflow jets, which act like those in a hot tub. The pressure from this inflow eases the tightness in my back when I hang in front of it. Or, these are the ones I like because they’re closer to the ropes and have more room around the “lane” (this pool, for unknown reasons, does not rope off lanes, only sections). Or, I like this or that lane because, when I do the backstroke, the line on the ceiling’s architecture exactly matches the line I am supposed to follow that represents my lane (which is faintly painted on the pool’s floor), so I have a fighting chance to stay in my own lane (appreciated by all).
Seems so silly, so trivial, so selfish and absurd when I lay it out like this. Yet, as I enter the pool building every morning, I feel a tightness in my chest and my breathing increases, signaling anxiety. Worried questions hum beneath the surface of my thinking: “Will I get a ‘good’ lane?” “Will I get a lane at all?” “Will the people in adjacent lanes bump into me?” Luckily, swimmers can pre-select our lanes as soon as we arrive, before we get into our suits. My anxiety is relieved as soon as my lane is chosen.
I am told the policy is to choose the lane I want and show my choice by placing an item on the floor above it, signaling that this lane is taken. Then, I go change and return to my “saved” lane and get in to swim.
This system works well enough, usually. When I get into the pool area, I choose a “good” lane, which is empty. I put a kickboard down and go to change. But, yesterday I approached my saved lane and saw that someone else was swimming in it. I waited until she was at the wall and I tapped her: “Excuse me,” I said, “You’re in the lane I saved.”
“Oh, no,” she replies. “There was no one here when I got here.”
I pointed to the blue kickboard on the floor in front of the lane and say, “This is my kickboard. I put it here a minute ago and went to change.”
She looks at the kickboard and up at me and says, “You’re supposed to put something else on the kickboard. How do I know that it’s really saved and not just abandoned by the previous swimmer?”
I look at her, dumbfounded, feeling my anger and irritation rising. This stupid, selfish woman is ruining my swim and my swimming time is elapsing as I stand here and discuss her mistake with her. I am also laughing at myself, inside, and pitying her. But, I am mostly fuming. “I don’t have anything else to put there. Just me.”
“You could have have put your goggles down,” she says.
“Look,” I say. “You made a mistake. Please just find another lane.”
“You could find another lane,” she points out.
“I could,” I say, “but this is the lane I saved and you didn’t. So, please move.” Now, I feel as if we’re in grade school arguing over who got here first. I feel ridiculous, but this is the lane I like, remember? I really prefer it.
“Oh, fine,” she says, irritably. She moves to an adjacent lane and swims off in a huff (I didn’t know that was possible, but she did it).
I get in the pool, hang in front of the jet which is now “mine” and feel horrible. Terrible. Anxious, embarrassed, selfish, tight, ridiculous. What kind of a Buddhist am I? A shitty one, obviously. Completely self-absorbed. Small-minded. A failure. Am I happy now, in my favorite lane? Of course not. I feel bad.
I want to apologize. I want to give it back to her. Even that seems silly. I just swim, meditating on humanness and foibles, mine especially, as I swim.
Eventually, I get into the rhythm of it and calm down. I look over and notice she’s gone already. She probably only swims 20 minutes to my 45 and I could have just waited.
Feeling even more ridiculous and small, I continue my swim. I attempt to offer myself compassion, tenderness, amusement. My attempts are mostly failures.
Few choose the Tibetan #Buddhist or other culture’s #Vajrayana path, even though it makes it possible for practitioners to attain long-lasting, many lifetimes’ happiness in one lifetime. Why? Because we practitioners become unflinching observers of our own minds and behaviors. We commit to, we must continue facing ourselves every day, all day (and all night), in every situation, not just while “formally” meditating. It’s frightening, or at least humbling, to notice day after day what I have not achieved after meditating on this path since 1996. Sheesh.
I have a long way to go in my practice. Good to know. I plan to keep going. And, keep swimming.
#Meditation: it’s not for wimps.