When I was a teenager and things were quiet in our house I used to lie on the living room carpet and gaze up at the ceiling. This was a guilty pleasure since my dad frowned on such laziness. He had a Protestant work ethic, without actually being a Protestant. I wasn’t really thinking of anything while lying there; just ‘being’, as some might say. I was pleasantly absorbed without being completely lost to myself as I often am when watching TV or reading a book. Then someone would come home and I would quickly get up and act all Protestant and busy myself with something.
Being constantly busy is okay but it sometimes feels like life is just one damn thing after another. There is always something to do and even when there isn’t my brain whirrs away automatically. And while I have no desire to spend my whole life stupidly gazing up at the ceiling, neither do I want to just mechanically do stuff like a wind-up doll. Instead it would be nice if there were some way of keeping the nice relaxed feeling I used to get while gazing up at the ceiling while actually doing something useful.
I think the feeling of just ‘being’ is a state of mind meditators try to achieve. They do this by sitting cross-legged and eyes-closed on the floor, ringing a little bell, making a pointless circle of their thumb and index finger and observing their breath. While there is nothing wrong with any of this they still look foolish and pompous to me. Surely there must be a less ridiculous way to relax your mind?
While being busy comes fairly naturally to most of us, just being doesn’t. I suppose gazing up at the ceiling is one way of practising but there is always the risk of drifting off into thinking and then into sleep. Yet the other extreme is to be an automaton, just doing things for the sake of it. Mindless habit gets you from your bed in the morning to your bed at night, year in year out.
So though meditators might have discovered a way to relax their minds while staying awake, I feel they should be a little less po-faced about the whole thing. They seem to take themselves awfully seriously. If they could just cut out the daft tinkling of bells and the finger and thumb nonsense then I and some others might be more receptive to what they are doing.
While it would be nice to be and do at the same time I still have my doubts about the whole enterprise. My first doubt is that ‘being’ might of its nature be, like relief, a temporary feeling that can’t last. The second is that ‘being’ may be just some hippy fantasy, something that impressed me in my impressionable youth and now can’t quite grow out of. It may be simple navel-gazing that soft westerners do when most of life’s challenges have been taken away by the welfare state. All that now remains is to ‘chill’ until death.