It’s day 107 of my current meditation streak. It took until day 90 for me to notice an internal difference. Change is subtle.
Time takes on different proportions. The distance between a thought and its expression gets longer. For example, I want to talk less about other people for gossip’s sake and to not say things about people that I wouldn’t say to them directly. You probably never gossip, but I have to make an ongoing commitment to be mindful of what comes out of my mouth (or my fingers on a keyboard). Backseat driving other people’s lives is such good sport. Diagnosing what other people could be doing better in their own lives is so much easier than steering my own wild course.
“My lifelong and core belief, right after the conviction that I was defective, mildly annoying, and better than everyone else, was that my help was helpful,” writes Anne Lamott in Almost Everything: Notes on Hope. Indeed.
After more than a hundred days of sitting on the cushion, I catch myself. I think, “Why do I want to say that? Is it necessary? Helpful? Kind?” Here’s my personal revolution: I then throw away whole sentences before they are formed into words and unleashed on the world.
There’s more. I literally think fewer thoughts that need to be thrown away before they exit my mouth.
I notice other less practical effects of this meditation streak; energetic, ethereal effects. Yes, I’m going to cross the border into mysteries-of-the-universe land.
Two weeks ago, during this streak, I tried out a new series of guided meditations that aim to put the meditator in touch with the energy of the universe, the connectedness of each of us to everyone and everything else. The meditations guide me to sense the space around me and the vibrational frequency of the life that inhabits my body. Not what I think of as my here-and-now-flesh-blood-and-bone-I-can-see-and-touch-it body, but my body as part of a greater web, in which all the possibilities of my body exist. These are meditations intended to lift the veil, to offer me a glimpse of our ultimate oneness.
These new meditations have resurfaced four particular experiences I’ve had, each of which marked me profoundly and each of which I have tried to dismiss as products of my overactive, too-suggestible imagination. They are not. I am prepared now to accept them as real glimpses (momentary and ephemeral) behind the veil that separates this physical, material world we experience with our five regular senses from the world we can experience as a wave, a vibration and a frequency.
This is the story of the first one of those moments, which gifted me an oh-so-fleeting experience of my connection with all living creatures.
I was in India with two friends. Every morning we went for a walk, because the air and streets were too clogged for running. This morning, we walked the mangy paths of the Udaipur Rose Garden and Zoo for almost an hour.
The roses were bloomed and gone, but the puppies were in season. They gamboled everywhere, tiny mongrels melting our hearts. There were street dogs all over in India; so interbred that they were one uniform shape and size. The biggest difference between any two dogs was the extent of their disfigurement. The dogs scavenged for food, snatched sleep on pillowed mounds of decaying vegetable peelings and rice. The puppies were different: Still perfect, glossy, agile, eyes bright, oversized ears cocked.
Outside the garden, the streets were a cacophony of taxis, cars, bicycles, motorcycles, auto-rickshaws, scrawny cows and hand-pulled carts piled high.
We saw a lone puppy standing at the side of the road. Black, with a white belly and two white paws, he stretched his neck out, took a few tentative steps, then backed up. Then again, forward and back. Finally, he bounded forward with a light spring.
An oncoming motorbike tried to slow and swerve but was boxed in. The front wheel of the motorbike rolled over the puppy, turning its white belly up to the sky.
For a split second, the world went blank. Then I turned away, my hands over my eyes, screaming, feverish with suppressed sobs, wanting to throw up, wanting to be the kind of person who runs into the heart of things; the kind of person who scoops up the fatally injured puppy into my arms; the kind of person who does what needs to be done; the kind of person who carries the puppy to the edge of Lake Pichola and drowns it in the gorgeous shadow of the floating palace to ease the creature’s misery.
When I uncovered my eyes, I saw one of my friends, her eyes reddened and swelling with tears. Then, like a stuttering, time-lapse film reel in my mind, I saw the baby she had lost two years earlier, when it was no bigger than my thumb. I saw that thumb-size-being grow instead and be born. I saw my friend holding her daughter’s hand, taking her to get her ears pierced. I saw the tiny gold hoops in her child’s perfect earlobes. I saw these things as if they were happening somewhere, somehow, with great love.
I turned to where the puppy had been, but it was gone. Run off, my other friend said. I could feel the puppy in my stomach. I knew that the animal was out there somewhere; its back broken, its innards punctured. The puppy was in some alley, tucked beneath a stair, cushioned by an accumulation of garbage, curled in on itself, panting shallow breaths, waiting for death’s release.
All day I felt the puppy’s suffering like a second pulse, radiating through my body. A drumbeat holding me responsible for the puppy, for all the suffering in the world, the vicious cycle of economic development, the growing poverty gap, environmental degradation, the whole circumstances and mindset of a world that creates a stray-puppy season in the Udaipur Rose Garden & Zoo and fills the streets to choking.
The puppy wouldn’t let me avert my eyes, wouldn’t let me console myself by saying the problem is someone elses’
Look. Look at me, you coward. The dying puppy was in my ear.
By the next day, the veil had dropped. I was locked back into the opaque world of form and substance. The memory of the experience was like fizzy water gone flat, the faint soapy aftertaste of bubbles. Almost immediately, I started to doubt what I had seen and felt.
Over the years since, I’ve thought about that puppy and the jittery film reel of an alternate future. It’s my body that remembers the feeling of being inside and part of the world, not separate. Sometimes I feel the residue, a shadow tremor. Mostly I’ve pushed the experience away.
These new meditations rustle the veil. I have felt un-worthy to receive the puppy’s message. I’m beginning to understand that my worthiness is irrelevant. I will let myself contemplate the connection I felt to every living energy. In all its suffocating weight and enormous spaciousness.
Oneness is as gorgeous and infinite as we can imagine. At the same time, oneness is crushing agony.
Just like love.
I can’t chase after connectedness. All I can do is keep stripping away my armor, baring my chest, offering my heart.