This morning I am sitting beside the Atlantic ocean, and it is windy.
The first time I came close to waking up out of my highly cultivated neuroses, I was at a weeklong meditation retreat in the high desert of California’s San Jacinto Mountains. It was December, and it was cold and dark. The facilities were rustically beautiful, which is to say, off the electrical grid and without flushing toilets. In that kind of an environment, a lot of things fall away: first, all the things you think you can’t live without, and then, all the things you think.
By midweek, my hair was matted and greasy, my back was achy, my legs were creaky, my clothes were stinky, and I could hardly lift a care about any of it. Once I’d worn out my complaints and objections, unspooled my stock of poor-me storylines, I was left with nothing to do but sit and listen.
What we’re usually listening for — and especially when we’re doing things the hard way — is for the damn thing to be over. Aren’t we itching for just about everything to be over? Whenever we’re uncomfortable, which is most of the time no matter what the circumstance, we’re anticipating the end. Fast-forwarding, channel-changing, boredom-breaking, leave-taking outta here!
What I’ve noticed about most of the things that are really good for us is that there’s no easy way out. Not without making a total fool of yourself. So you might as well relax, because you’re here.
When I relaxed on my meditation cushion I heard something outside the window. I heard it morning, noon, and night, unbroken and eternal, like Seinfeld reruns. The next time I saw my teacher face-to-face, I told him about it.
The wind! I said, as if I’d never heard it before. It’s the same wind my grandfather heard!
What is that wind? he asked.
Yikes, what is the wind? I detoured up into my head, which had equipped me for so long with the quick cleverness of intellect and retort. This time it was empty and out of service. Crickets chirped.
Everything, I finally answered, grasping for something. Some explanation, some answer to describe the very is-ness that transcends description. He patted my knee.
Now and then I wonder whether that was the right or wrong answer. Whether it was good or bad, enlightened or deluded, enough or not enough. Whether his pat was a correction or congratulation, a pass or a fail. Maybe you’re wondering too. As my practice matured, I wished I had said something different. When my practice matures further, I will stop wishing. I will stop rewriting the old or re-imagining the new, because when we do that, detouring into the wilderness in our heads, we have lost the wind, we have lost the crickets, we have lost the song, and we have lost our lives, again.