My father, who is a talented teacher, was fond of blowing my mind when I was a kid. My earliest memory of him doing this was when I was young enough to still be drinking from a covered cup. My cup had a rounded bottom, so that if I knocked it over it would just pop back up like a Weeble.
The cup was called “Tommee Tippee,” and had a picture of a bear on it. The bear was holding up a Tommee Tippee cup of his own, which had a picture of a bear holding a cup of *his* own. I was sitting in my booster seat contemplating this cup, and I said, “How many bears are there?” My father looked up and said “an infinite number.” “What’s infinite?” I asked. “It never ends,” was his reply.
Boom. Suddenly my psyche was overwhelmed with the concept of infinity. I felt the magnitude of it wash over me like one of the giant waves on St. Vincent’s Beach on Martha’s Vineyard. Perhaps my father was aware of what he’d just done, and perhaps he wasn’t. I believe he was. But he nonchalantly took another bite of his “poop cereal” (so named for its ability to make him poop) and said, “if you want to see infinity, aim two mirrors at each other.” I wasted no time going up to my parents’ bedroom, in which one entire wall was dominated by a huge mirror, and aiming my mother’s powder blue hand mirror at the big one. A door into infinity was opened for me and I gaped through it, trying to decide if it was scary or just awesome. I still haven’t made up my mind.
Another time, he pointed at a green easy chair we had in the living room and said “do you think everyone sees that green chair as the same green?” I said, “sure, ask anyone and they’d tell you it is green.” “Ah,” my father said, lifting one finger in his “I’m about to make an important point” gesture, “but you were taught that that color is green. What if, should you become able to look through my eyes, it would be blue to you?” Wow. Again, my brain awoke, and I could feel new connections happening in it. The idea that everyone could be actually physically perceiving the world in totally different ways and be unaware of it suddenly hit me, complete with all kinds of ramifications. My dad chuckled. He *knows* when he does that to me.
I think the most mind-blowing time he ever pulled that on me was when he told me that most of the stars we saw in the sky every night were no longer there. It takes light so long to get from where the star is to where we are, that by the time our eyes perceive it, the star has already gone supernova and died. Reality could never stay reality for long in the Goodenough household, and that was a good thing, because it taught my brain to be elastic both in perception and interpretation.
I have a vivid memory of walking out of Star Market in Brookline, MA with my dad. I must have been 5 or 6. I was holding his hand, and I asked him what meditation was. I don’t remember now where I’d heard the word. He answered “It’s thinking about nothing.” I spent the next several minutes trying to think about nothing, and had absolutely no success. I decided it was impossible, and that meditation must be something similar to the tricks that a visiting magician had done at my last birthday party. A slight of mind instead of a slight of hand.
I have a very different understanding of meditation now. I don’t think it’s so much thinking about nothing, as a state of being completely present. A few years back I read “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle. It really made me think about how much time we waste living in another moment besides the one we actually happen to be in. Someone in a meeting said once that people who dwell in the past are depressed, and people who dwell in the future are anxious. True peace and happiness lie in being totally present.
I’ve never had much luck with meditation. My brain is really busy. Every time I try to sit and meditate I start thinking about the past or the future. I start making shopping lists in my head, or rehashing stupid things I said or did. In 2006 when I discovered Kirtan I was totally psyched, because this was a way that I could be present while giving my busy mind something to do. Music has always been spiritual for me (as I mentioned in an earlier post), and also a way to enjoy the moment and not get sucked into the future or the past. I have enjoyed every Kirtan experience I’ve had since, whether I was responding for the leader or just in the audience blissing out.
Many people have suggested body awareness as a vehicle to being totally in the present and/or meditating. Some people say to focus on your breath. Others recommend focusing awareness on one body part after another, slowly relaxing each one. In the past week I have learned that exercise is another way of doing that. It isn’t as though no one has said that to me before. I’ve had many friends who have claimed that jogging relaxes them, or is meditative. I always thought they were nuts. But find the right way of moving your body, the one that really works for you, and damned if it isn’t the truth. Looking back, I’ve had moments of feeling that way while swimming. I get totally focused on the feel on the water on my skin, and how my body becomes almost weightless.
Riding my High Roller for the last week, I have been surprisingly and delightfully present. First of all, I’m having both a tactile and an auditory happy memory. My body remembers the feel of being on the black and green big wheel of my childhood, even 35+ years later. My ears remember that particular sound of plastic wheels on pavement. The combination makes me feel a burst of joy. Henrietta (I’ve decided to name the High Roller Henrietta) has only one speed, so she can’t move as fast as a bicycle. I’m probably moving forward at jogging speed at the fastest, except when coasting down a hill of course. It’s perfect though. I’m enjoying the feel and the sound of it. I’m looking around at the leaves, and the flowers, and the houses, and the faces of the people I pass (which are an eclectic mix of amused, surprised, embarrassed, and joyful). Last night when I was riding I saw a beautiful full moon and stopped to take a picture.
I know that riding Henrietta gets my heart rate up and is an aerobic workout. I’m realizing now that it’s also turning out to be an exercise in meditation, being present, and truly experiencing the beauty of the world around me. If I get a few strange looks from people when I’m out and about, it’s a small price to pay for such a peaceful joyous feeling.