In the middle of ordinary life

March 30, 2017 § 3 Comments

Other people’s words about … meditation

While I was [at Maharishi’s meditation course in the Alps] I managed to meditate for up to four hours a day, but back home it all seemed difficult again. And then, gradually, as I listened to the lectures it dawned on me that meditation was for recluses or people inclined that way. Prolonged practice could only result in a detachment from life that, although it might be better, I didn’t want. I didn’t want to become indifferent to anything, and as I watched those closest to Maharishi it seemed to me that they had this desire, gift, need — however you want to put it. I wanted to be in the middle of ordinary life trying to make the best of it even if — I could see more clearly now — it entailed my making the same mistakes many times. I didn’t want to give my life to anyone, I wanted to have it and use it and be an ordinary householder. So gradually I stopped. I think of Maharishi with great respect and affection, and I am sure that there is a spiritual hierarchy in which I am merely on the lower rungs. That was it.

from ‘Slipstream
by Elizabeth Jane Howard

I’ve written before about how I tried meditation recently (again), before deciding, finally, that it didn’t work for me. I don’t want to bore you by repeating myself endlessly on this blog; please feel free to read my older posts about the topic if you’re interested. (You can find them, for example, here and here). Most particularly, what has worked for me, post-meditation, has been learning to spend my days looking outward rather than inward (about which, more here and, in a funny way, here.)

I do particularly like Elizabeth Jane Howard’s spin on the theme, though. That’s why I’m revisiting it today. Perhaps, when she wrote the words above, meditation wasn’t considered to be the cure-all that it often is now; perhaps, for that reason, her words were less transgressive than they seem to me as I read them today. Still, I find her words wise and humble and filled with gratitude. Ironic, isn’t it? Those three things — wisdom, humility, gratitude — are all things we are often told we may develop through practising meditation.

Tea for one —
an ordinary pleasure,
all the more worth treasuring for its ordinariness

Like Howard, the older I get, the more I realise how attached I am to life — and how much I want to stay attached. My days are filled with petty, mucky angst, and I like them that way. Yes, I have bad days — days when my head aches, and my stomach churns, and my throat crawls with a hot kind of sickness and I can’t figure out why; days when my thoughts seem fevered and panicked and tumbling and disconnected; days when it takes all my effort to get dressed for work, and go in, and sit at my desk, and stay seated there, and stay still, oh, just stay still.

Still, even as I wait the bad days out, not knowing how else to get through them, I find myself wanting, in my strange, fierce way, to hold onto them. Because, like Howard, I want to be in the middle of ordinary life trying to make the best of it.

It’s about honouring life, really, isn’t it? That’s what I want to strive for. That’s all. That’s really all.

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