There is a beginning meditation practice – which is profoundly advanced – called “counting the breath.” Once you have positioned yourself to sit on a cushion, a bench or a chair, you settle the mind in the hara, which is the gut, and you start to count your inhalations and your exhalations. The way I do this is to count an inhalation “one” and an exhalation “two” then an inhalation “three” and an exhalation “four.” The instructions are to continue in this way until you reach ten. Sounds clear and simple enough. The truth is that when you try to do it, you find that you can’t get much beyond four or five before the mind darts across a meadow, over a fence, builds up speed and takes off into the beyond. When that happens, you start back at one, and keep going.
So in this beginning meditation, which becomes even more difficult with the frequency of your practice, you spend a considerable amount of time trying to get to ten. Get to ten, come on, you tell yourself, get to ten! Get somewhere, you dolt!
The thing is, should you ever get to ten, the instructions are to start back at one. The ten and the one have no merit or meaning, you see. But try believing that for yourself.
The other day I heard from my sister. She is fortunate enough to live along the beautiful coast near Newport Beach, California. She is doubly fortunate to rent there, because as well-off as she is, she could not afford to buy a home in those environs during the recent run-up in this world’s capital of fantasy-made millionaires.
Two months ago she had to vacate her rented condo when the owners suddenly showed up, out of work and with nowhere else to go but back where they started. She moved just across the road to another complex of lavish new patio homes, and she loves the place she’s leasing from a self-made titan now sleeping on his brother’s couch. Then she noticed that two of the six homes on her cul-de-sac were on the market, and last week another neighbor fled in the cover of night. It is and will yet be more of a ghost town, eerie for its glam appearance as a destination lifestyle with no visible lives. It recalled to me my own shock and shame when my first husband and I naively walked into and then out of a predatory mortgage 25 years ago during one of Houston’s colossal real estate boom-and-bust cycles. In the glow of your self-immolation you see that the castle you’ve built is only made of popsicle sticks.
We were trying to get somewhere. We thought that’s what a go-getting couple was supposed to do. Get somewhere. But the world is always getting back to one.
Then I was in a waiting room and I saw the new issue of People magazine, where someone or the other is always revealing the new version of themselves: made up, made over, reborn, relaunched, remarried, rehabbed, reformed and 50 pounds lighter!
And there was Kathy Ireland revealing the new her, just the latest go-getter to tell you her diet gets and her money gets and her happiness gets and success gets. She says she had grown overwhelmed, overstressed, overweight and over-everything before she found some new secret way to get a better body. But wait! Didn’t she already have a do-over? Wasn’t she the SI swimsuit model who remade herself into a billion-dollar design empress? Didn’t she already have a rebirth and a makeover? Hasn’t she been all the way to ten a time or two? And she’s still spinning on that disastrous wheel? Asking us to buy advice from her? I know where she’s headed; we all know where she’s headed.
Maybe she thinks she’s getting somewhere else this time, but the world is always getting back to one.
When we sit, we always come back to one. And the more we come back to it, the easier it is to see a way beyond it. There is something beyond one, and we call it one.