The Late Night Buddhist: Don’t just do something, sit there!

By Scott Taylor
Reader Columnist

Meditation. Many people’s view of it is probably something like this: something flakey new-agers do while sitting cross-legged on a pillow in front of a bunch of candles and photos of weird, sari-wrapped Indian guys, hands resting on their knees, thumbs and fingers making the “OK” sign while they chant unintelligible syllables that probably have Satanic origins, truth be known.

We’ve all heard of it, some of us have tried it. We’ve heard friends, acquaintances, teachers and celebrities talk about it. Jerry Seinfeld, who is far from flakey or new-age, is a big proponent; Phil Jackson, who coached Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls to a basketball dynasty, credits his success to his practice of meditation and study of Buddhism, and passed the practice on to Jordan, who said, “This Zen Buddhist stuff really works!” Clint Eastwood has done it for 40 years. We tend to believe there’s just no time to meditate what with work, kids, eating, sleeping (unless we wake at some un-godly pre-dawn hour, but we’re late-night Buddhists, so…), beer drinking and skiing. But many of us don’t realize the opportunity to meditate is often present in our normal routines:

Standing at the sink washing dishes? We can meditate. Sitting in a deer stand? Meditate. Beating out a rhythm on a drum? You’re already meditating. Driving a log truck in heavy traffic? Don’t meditate! Pay attention, for goodness’ sake! Knitting, crocheting, painting, splitting wood? You’re probably already meditating, whether you know it or not.

I recently got on a plane from Chicago to Spokane, and as passengers filed onto the plane, I noticed with consternation that there were no less than five infants on board. (If you’ve never been on a plane with infants and young children, you should try it; it’s a great way to lose that unwanted hair and learn how to cross and uncross your eyes). As we took off, most of the babies cried or whimpered, but after we leveled off they all thankfully quieted down, except the one directly in front of me. I had no idea it was physically possible for a human, let alone a 6-month-old, to scream bloody murder for almost four hours and not exhaust their lungs or vocal chords. The parents tried to comfort her, flight attendants expressed sympathy, fellow passengers offered helpful suggestions, and you could see everyone on board trying to withstand the onslaught with various strategies.

I first tried to watch a movie, but being presented with the choice of listening to a screaming child or watching John Cena try to act, I chose the screaming child. I then remembered a story I’d read about a woman who was very excited to travel to a Buddhist monastery she’d heard about where she could practice meditation and be surrounded with the peace, solitude and holiness of nature. To her dismay, she found there were roosters crowing, goats bleating and construction improvements going on around the grounds. Frustrated, she went to the head monk and said, “How can I be expected to meditate with all of this noise, hubbub and confusion going on around me?”

To which the monk replied, “My good lady, how can you not? It’s precisely these times that we need to meditate the most.”

And so I sat up straight, concentrated on my breathing, and tried to “push” the noise and cabin stress level away, focusing on good thoughts and blessings for the plane and each passenger on it. This did not work. This child’s screaming could’ve scared Satan out of hell. I put my earbuds back in, turned up some music and doodled on a napkin. When we finally deplaned in Spokane, the most common comment I heard from fellow passengers as they fled into the terminal was, “Thank God!” (And I’m pretty sure a couple of these were atheists). Everyone looked like they’d just been rescued from a terrorist kidnapping, their brains having been fried like bits of crispy bacon.

So, the next time you find yourself doing something repetitive, sitting in a quiet place or flying in a plane with an infant banshee, try to clear your mind and meditate. (But maybe it’s best to check with the airlines before booking). And be happy!

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