Reflection and Self-Study: Down Time Needed

On a recent trip that took me through three guest rooms in three nights, I forgot my evening meditation and journaling practice. I barely kept a journal, and what little I wrote in it was about other people. The interesting people I met at my reading and book signing. What great hosts and wonderful people I was with. Thoughts on how the friends I visited were doing. No inner work. I took time daily for asana practice in the morning and I also found time to write fiction, though only a paragraph or two, but I ended my day turned outward still. How strange. I made the commitment years ago for an evening practice and yet I simply forgot. By the time I was on my way home I realized how important that commitment was.

I stopped at a rest stop to eat a picnic supper. As I opened my car door, it lightly tapped the vehicle next to it. I saw that there was no scratch, not even a bit of paint left on the other vehicle, and proceeded to reach for my cooler. Then a male voice said, “Are you going try to pretend nothing happened?”

A young man of about nineteen stood between the two cars, blocking my exit and glaring at me. I said that nothing had happened, and showed him. My door had touched the hard plastic rim over the wheel well of his Jeep, a protective surface I suspect is there for off-road driving, though this Jeep looked new and shiny, as if it had never done what it was designed for. He demanded an apology. Something about a kid the age of my freshman students acting like an angry parent with a misbehaving child over a non-event rubbed me the wrong way and I got sarcastic with him. “Sir, I most humbly apologize that my door ever so lightly tapped your Jeep, doing no damage whatsoever.” He told me I didn’t have to be like that. I told him he hadn’t had to be a jerk. (The only common sense I had left kept me from calling him something more offensive than jerk. I noticed my inner editor canceling out the A-word.) He denied being a jerk and told me to be more careful in the future. I told him not to be so angry in the future and walked off to the picnic table. Thus the interaction ended with both people still wanting to be right. No communication.

As I set up my dinner, I could see him standing between our cars, studying mine intently. What was he looking for? Evidence of a chronic, habitual parking lot door-hitter? My car was a mess inside, full of the detritus of traveling, and I have a New Mexico habit of not wasting water washing it, so it’s got a nice coat of dirt, but it’s not full of dings or other people’s paint. Perhaps he was peering at the empty Perrier and iced tea bottles, hoping they would turn out to have contained something stronger. I didn’t ask, just watched him, and he finally drove off.

It’s possible he was driving his parents’ car and was paranoid about damaging it, and acted toward me the way they would act toward him if it got a tiny scratch. Or maybe he’d saved up for a fancy car and is anxious about it. I don’t know. What I do know is that my pause-to-check mechanism was rusty. My capacity to step back and reflect instantaneously, to recognize that his hostility was his and that I didn’t need to be reactive, was weakened by only a few days without real reflection. I could have simply acknowledged him. He seemed menacing at first, blocking my way and starting with an accusation, but that’s all the more reason I could have and should have handled the situation better. After all, he was a kid. It was my job to be the adult.

Before I drove on, I wrote a journal entry on some scratch paper, processing all my thoughts and feelings. When I got home, I appreciated the depth and value of my night’s meditation and journaling practice. I need to do all these things to keep myself on track. Yoga asanas, writing fiction, writing a journal, and meditation. I don’t function at my best without deep down time. Not distraction or entertainment time, but inner time. It doesn’t have to take long to go deep. I don’t think I’ll forget again.

Image credits: Occupy the Present, Bryan Helfrich; heart puzzle, Katarina Caspersen

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Signing Books at Book and Table, Valdosta GA

Should any readers happen to be in this area, I would love to meet you in person. I’ll be signing books and doing a short reading at Book  and Table, 120 North Patterson St. in Valdosta, GA on Friday the 14th of April at 7:00 and at noon Sat. the 15th. The bookstore/restaurant is run by one of my favorite authors, J. Michael Orenduff, author of the Pot Thief Mysteries. If you’re an East Coast fan of New Mexico mysteries, come meet both of us.

Inner Beauty

I’m a people-watcher. My fellow humans are endlessly fascinating and the fragments of their lives that I observe have the seeds of stories in them, maybe even new characters. They also give me an opportunity to practice what Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield describes in his book The Wise Heart as seeing the inner nobility in in others.

On a recent run in a park, I noticed a romantic young couple setting up a hammock, and they asked a man who was walking his dog to take their picture in front of it. The man had a pair of hot pink headphones parked on his neck. He was around six foot three, wearing a baggy old T-shirt over a broad chest and prominent belly and khaki shorts that revealed thick, powerful calf muscles. They thanked him and he walked on with his stubby-legged little white mutt, a comical creature that looked all the smaller and stubbier for being his dog. As I finished one lap, I encountered the dog sitting patiently while the man fiddled with his MP3 player, pink headphones now attached to his head. On my next lap, he and his dog were in the middle of the green space, and he faced away from the couple in the hammock, who had vanished deep into its blue embrace. The man was singing. I realized the headphones were providing him with his accompaniment, and he was … rehearsing? Creating? He had a huge soaring tenor voice, classically trained, sweet yet strong and passionate, filling the air with a song about lost love.

You never know what’s inside another person. The pink headphones were a hint that music mattered to him, but the sound of his voice, the feeling and beauty with which he sang, expressed far more than anything on the outside. The inner depth, the inner nobility.