[Getting away]

Dear Donagh,

I'd love to be able to get away from it all at times and meditate, as you are always recommending.  But that would be a bit of a luxury as far as I'm concerned.  It’s very hard to explain to someone who hasn’t a family how hard it is to get away.  My mother is living with us, and as soon as I get the kids out to school it’s time to get my mother up and give her her breakfast. There’s always something calling.  I'd love to be able to cancel everything sometimes and go into myself and forget everything.  Maybe when the kids have grown up I'll be able to do it, but they’re still young.  In the meantime is there anything instead of meditation that I could do just to have a bit of space?  What would you recommend? Rosemary

Dear Rosemary,

I can only imagine the pressure there must be on you when everyone wants a piece of you, and you can't find time to rest.  A great many people everywhere are in a similar position, and there’s an urgent need to find some practical way of living with this.  

Mind you, meditation is not about getting away from anything.  What we try to get away from soon catches up with us, and it may have become worse in our absence.  Meditation is about going fully into whatever we are doing.  What makes work especially difficult is the resistance to it that we create by wanting to get away from it.  To be half in and half out is the most exhausting arrangement, because we are fighting ourselves.  This seems to be true of everything, not just work, as I'll try to explain from an experience I had recently. 

In January my pottery workshop was burnt to the ground in an act of vandalism.  The kiln, the wheel, as well as all the glazes and slips, all the tools, the shelving, a great many pieces of pottery, and a valuable CNC router… everything was completely destroyed.  I was thankful that there was no loss of life, and that the fire had not spread to another building, but it did feel like a small personal ‘ground zero’.  It hung over me like a dark cloud for a few days, and I was reluctant even to look into the blackened shell.  But soon I realised there was no escape from it.  I could dream about it as it used to be, but this blackened ruin was the new reality.  So I took a stool with me and went in and sat there to meditate.  It was different from every place where I had ever meditated: here there was nothing aesthetic, everything was black and twisted.  Instead of the smell of incense, there was the stinking odour of a building that was first burnt to a shell, and then drowned by the fire brigade.  That's when I thought, ‘This is ground zero’.  But it was still above zero, because who appeared at the opening where the window used to be but the young man who had burnt the place down!  Far from being remorseful, he was proud of his work, and he took the opportunity to hurl abuse at me – as a representative, I suppose, of all the clergy.  His real enemies, as I knew, were people who had treated him badly in his early days, but he was glad of any target, especially a soft one.  ‘Now it’s ground zero,’ I said to myself.  After he left I sat in the reality of the ruins, and after a long time the distinctive ‘shift’ that happens in meditation happened.  The weight was strangely lifted and I was free.  I had experienced this ‘shift’ many times before, but it is always new.  It is the distinctive thing that happens in meditation.  It happens when you don’t try to make it happen.  It happens when your acceptance is total, when you are fully in rather than half-in and half-out.  It happens when you stop trying to get away.  Adversity is the best teacher. 

Though it was different from your case, it is also a bit similar.  How can we devise a practical way of dealing with pressure?  Start with your mother.  If she is quite elderly she will be slow-moving.  Match her pace; be slow-moving with her.  This will make it easier for you to do things in a relaxed way, free from the shrill urgencies of children.  Many people today call this ‘mindfulness’.  It’s just meditation in action.  Let everything you do be unhurried and your mind undivided.  Do just ‘this’ – this particular task: like finding her glasses, or her slippers, or walking with her.  Don’t see it as one of a long list of jobs you have to do, but just this.  You’ll find, I believe, that it won't take anything out of you.  What takes it out of us is our battles with ourselves.  When your children come home from school… well, that’s the honours course.  That will be harder, but be on the lookout for moments when you can relax completely into what you are doing. 

I hope this can be of some practical use to you, Rosemary. 


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