There have been two experiences in my entire life which have lent themselves to a still brain, and one of those two is having a tattoo done. I’ve heard about the endorphins released by the pain of a tattoo, some people getting some sort of high off of it, giddy and manic, but I had the opposite result.
It’s like I’m the queen of paradoxical effects.
The other experience, incidentally, is NOT sex. In fact, I’m a terrible partner because my brain is anywhere EXCEPT in the moment, which really doesn’t make it different from any other of my every day moments.
Focus, like everything else for me, is a work in progress, I guess.
For my first tattoo, an unwitting gift from my parents for my fortieth birthday (“A tattoo?! I thought you were buying yourself a freezer!” also, “Thanks Mom and Dad!”) I had chosen a feminine derivative of the Fool card from the Gilded Tarot deck, illustrated by Ciro Marchetti. and I wanted her big. Very big. As if she were to begin a back piece that would be a story.
Which is kinda what I have planned. Bandage fluff and all:
I had put it off for so long because I was/am still kinda deathly afraid of needles. As the hour grew closer, my anxiety level soared to the point that I thought I was going to stop breathing; I even had a designated driver. But I sat. And sat. And sat and sat and sat.
Four and a half sitting hours.
After the initial “What the shit? Everybody lied! This does so hurt; what the hell am I doing? I want to get the eff-ewe-see-kay out of here now!” my brain did the most wonderful thing ever:
It lay still.
It was QUIET. Or at least it whispered rather than screamed.
Sure, the occasional bubble of thought showed up, but I had this feeling of just watching it float right on by. I was detached, merely an observer–a non-fidgety, non-leg-shaking observer.
It was glorious.
I had the thought that I might be able to achieve that state once more without wearing half a week’s salary. Eureka! I’d just meditate. Just. I’d just meditate, as if it were that easy.
I tried as long as I could; I was so very, very frustrated. So, I practiced like maybe three times. Four times, tops.
Fast forward about four years later, and I tried again. As part of this life 2.0 concept, I started meditating again, and I’ve been at it for nearly five months now. So, yay.
I have not found enlightenment—even after nearly 150 days!!— nor have I found the secret of life. I still can’t manage to ignore the mosquitoes or the dogs barking at the sun on the porch or a car driving by five miles away.
But I have discovered two magic words:
Two syllables, almost elegant in their simplicity.
I know that we are not our thoughts; we are the thinkers who have those thoughts. Many–if not all–of them are habits, not really all that different from sleeping late—no more and no less than habit. We just tend to identify with our thoughts more than other habits.
We are not our thoughts any more than we are not the act of tying our shoes.
I had a moment of frustration—just one moment in a long line of moments of frustration where meditation is concerned—and one of those not-so-fleeting thoughts was that meditation—at least for me with my very-monkey-mind, is in essence the art of starting over. Since starting over is my superpower, maybe I’ve gotten the gist of it after all.
I will inhale, attempting to quiet my mind, but I’ll have a thought, and that thought becomes seven becomes forty-nine:
talking me down the road and over the river and through the woods and to grandmother’s house–dashing through the snow to the Fight Club but no one is supposed to talk about Fight Club, that’s because it’s located in Wakanda and Walter White is the government agent trying to help T’Challa and Kevin Smith has taken the Iron Fist—thank GOD—so Loras the Knight of Flowers will finally, finally shut up about his freaking Chi but I haven’t had a really good po-boy this year have I even had a bad one? Man would I love a half-shrimp and half-oyster po-boy—you always have to get it half-and-half because most of the time, the oysters aren’t cooked right, and at least you’ll have half a shrimp po-boy.
So there’s that.
It takes me a bit to realize that my thoughts have run away with me again.
And then I exhale. I’m certain I’ve been holding my breath this entire time and, for the merest moment, I am able to inhale without the run-on-sentence-from-hell attaching itself to my breath. But as soon as my lungs push that breath out, my mind is off running again.
But I then I inhale again, starting the process all over again.
But then one time, NOT at band camp, something happened. Some part of me or the mosquito that’s biting me or the breeze whispers “Come back.”
That’s it. Just “come back.”
And lo and behold, I did, my mind settling for two heartbeats, a single moment had stretched just one heartbeat longer. Perhaps more importantly, I didn’t have to wait to exhale to find attention for my breathing again.
It’s only for a moment and then my brain is off again, but that moment is real.