Sitting and Breathing: Day 5

I’ve considered coming up with more creative titles for these posts, but meh…

Anyway, today went (in my opinion) really well. I felt sort of frenzied beforehand because I’ve imposed a lot of deadlines on myself for getting certain things done (planning to move to Europe and get an advanced degree apparently involves a lot of steps), and today was going to be my day to knock some of those things out.

Given that I work at a bar that doesn’t close until 4am, that usually means I’m not home until at least 5:30am, which means I’m not asleep until 6:30am, which means I’m not awake until 12:30pm. By the time I’ve walked and fed my dog, made coffee and breakfast (lunch) for myself, and settled into any kind of head space for getting things done, it’s already 2pm.

I put my anxiety about my to-do list aside (my realization that it was MLK Day, and many things are closed today helped), and reread the directions for the Letting-Go-of-Thought Meditation on my schedule for today. I put my dog in his kennel, set my alarm for 21 minutes out, and sat, and breathed.

In essence, the task for today was to say, breath to myself on every inhale and every exhale. When a thought or sensation arose – positive or negative – I was to label it not breath and return my focus to the breathing. I found it to be fairly easy to return to my breathing today. I’m not sure if that’s a cumulative effect or today was just a good day, but it was heartening.

Likely as a result of my time in JROTC and ROTC, I have an internal voice that calls me Farrell, and when it chides me it sounds a lot like it’s a drill instructor. Honestly, though, the drill instructor voice was pretty quiet today, and didn’t add much to my experience. The soft-spoken hippie woo woo voice that I’ve developed internally over my years of exposure to counter culture was much more chatty today, and surprisingly, more difficult to shut up.

My mind would wander to things I was upset about, hippie voice would say, “It’s okay that you feel angry.” Then I’d imagine myself in a field lightly scattered with trees, sun shining, wind blowing through my hair, and he’d say, “It’s important to stay in the moment, remember, the point of…”

“Shut up, Hippie! You are ‘not breath!'” I finally told him. Then I laughed, and focused on my breathing again. While I appreciate his input, he makes it difficult to concentrate on a given moment with his kind, considerate prattling on. We get it, you eat organic and recycle, and you dole out self-love like it’s going out of style. Thank you, now shush.

The time seemed to fly by today, which I attribute largely to my attention on each breath component, as opposed to the experience as a whole. I’ve also been able to pepper in some mini-meditations in the past couple days. I’m a doorman at the late-night bar, which means I spend a lot of time by myself in a foyer, staring out a 1′ x 1′ window.

As you might imagine, this allows for a lot of reflection. When I’m not interacting with guests, I spend a lot of time lost in my own thoughts, but last night, I also spent some time here and there just focusing on my breath and on the individual sights and sounds being presented to me. I let them enter and exit my consciousness, then put my attention back on the sensation of inhaling and exhaling (my left nostril is still fucked up, if you were wondering).

Last night, I pondered whether or not my years of exposure to hippies or studying psychology put me ahead of the pack when it comes to self awareness, but I think it ultimately doesn’t make any difference in this endeavor. The truth of the matter is that everyone – from monks to plumbers – can improve on what they’re working with. The practice of meditation is not a cure for the human condition, but a coping mechanism that we can always be better at employing right now. Or now.

Or now. Especially now. Point is, I’m enjoying this.

A Not-So-Brief Review of A Not-So-Brief Engagement – Part II

Our first romp in the grass was literally in the grass of the local YMCA, as our drunkenness gave way to the sun rising over the San Fernando Valley – clearly we were in love. Things progressed as quickly as the 350 miles between us would allow. We spoke on the phone every day, and we made frequent trips to visit one another in our respective cities. After six months or so, we couldn’t stand to be apart, so we decided to find an apartment in a neighboring town, as her artistic sensibilities, and disdain for college towns and the shackles of higher learning in general wouldn’t allow her to be in the same town as a university.

It was our first time having our own space, and I got wrapped up her hippie fun and frolicking. Our apartment was filled with beautiful antique furniture that we coated in day glow, stacks of records and books that spilled out of every shelf, and half-finished paintings and drawings that were done in varying states of inebriation. Luckily it was in a shitty neighborhood, so nobody really minded the loud young couple next door. Except that one time.

There’s a game called the “Dude v. Fuck Game” – you watch The Big Lebowski, and each time someone says “Dude,” the Dude Team takes a shot, and each time someone says “Fuck,” the Fuck Team takes a shot. She and I decided to play by ourselves with a bottle of rum, that in all likelihood we shoplifted from the nearby grocery store. I don’t remember who was on what team, and really it doesn’t matter. This game was likely to kill us both if we kept going at the one shot pace, so it soon became half a shot, then a quarter, then just a sip.

“I have to tell you something,” she said about three quarters of the way through the movie, her voice quivering with the fear of what might come next. “I cheated on you.”

It felt like I got punched in the chest. Hard. The wind left my lungs and I made every attempt to unhear what I heard. As the air filled my lungs again, so too did the kind of anger that only youth and half a bottle of rum might allow for.

“HOW LONG AGO?!” I finally got to after a run of ranting.

“Six months, maybe? I’m not really sure. I was really drunk, and it was just the one time, and I regretted it right away, and I couldn’t tell you!”

“Damn straight you couldn’t! I never would have moved in with you! I could have avoided all of this!” The yelling wasn’t cutting it anymore. My arms started thrashing around – I threw things, I broke things, I punched things. I have a distinct memory of pushing her against the fridge, but I was blinded by rage and too much alcohol, so I don’t recall much else.

There was a pounding on the door. I could see red and blue lights flashing through the window. “Open up!” I sobered to the degree I could and opened the door. I was immediately taken onto my porch and put into handcuffs. I hadn’t hurt her in any physical way, though repeatedly calling her a “whore” probably didn’t feel great emotionally. We each explained our sides to the story.

“I know you’re hurt right now, son, but is this really something you want to go to jail for? Because that’s where this is headed.” The police officer took a kinder approach than I expected. Maybe he was used to seeing so much worse when he arrived at scenes like this, or maybe he felt pity for me because he had been in a similar situation, either way, his approach was appreciated.

I was let up, and the rest of the night was quieter. As it has the tendency to do, love conquered our negative emotions. We resolved to work it out – we knew that with grit and determination and willful ignorance we could make it work. Dammit, we were better than all those other couples, and this would just be another shining example of how true that sentiment was. Love was all that mattered, and we definitely still had that, at least. “Love is all you need” and shit, right?

“Sooner or later you’re going to have to face the fact that you’re a moron.”
– The Dude

Let Your Mind (and other parts) Run Free

I went into last night not sure what to do about the rest of my trip. Las Vegas had strippered me out of the vast majority of what I had intended to spend while traveling, but I still wanted to make the trip memorable, and entertaining. Do I just go straight to Chicago? I’ve got plenty of experience being poor in just one city. Do I soldier on through each planned waypoint in the face of my poverty? I couldn’t decide.

With all that on my mind, I had forgotten (on purpose) to write down which campsite I was occupying on my registration card. Honestly, I didn’t think anyone would check, but I’m glad the attendant did, because in our overly-long-you-clearly-don’t-have-many-people-to-talk-to-and-neither-do-I conversation, he mentioned that there was a hot spring not too far off. He warned me that it could be fairly “hippie-dippy,” I pointed out the “The Dude Abides,” shirt I was wearing, and assured him I’d be fine.

This morning, I started walking more or less right when I woke up, having learned a heat-related lesson from the Grand Canyon. Audiobook of choice for today: Theft By Finding by David Sedaris. After walking for two hours and some change, I was about to turn around when I saw a hat bobbing in the distance. I yelled out, “Hey, do you know where the hot springs are?”

After a moment of confusion, she finally spotted me and told me they were right below us. After convincing their dog, Dixie, that I was not a danger to her family, the male of the younger couple pointed out exactly where I could climb down, and which hot spring was the warmest. Ya know, my initial assumption was that they were a parents/children grouping, but they just as easily could have been swingers with a large age gap.

I made my way down the hill, then made sure that Dixie and the swingers had left, then cracked open a beer and disrobed (pictures upon request). While standing there in the glory of nature I thought, you know what’s cheap? Nudist resorts are cheap! With a new sense of purpose, I put my clothes back on, and headed for my vehicle. I caught up with and passed the swingers, but having confused and startled the older woman for a second time, I chose not to ask any clarifying questions as to the nature of their relationship.

I write to you from a resort just south of Denver, my tent set up, and my clothes in my car. Next stop: another spot recommended to me by the older couple (they’re all older couples) near Kansas City. More to come!