tilt-a-whirling

I’ve been on the verge of publishing this for weeks. Every time I think it’s “ready” I stop and wonder if I’m really able to live up to the standards set forth. Do I come off sounding too high and mighty? Too esoteric? Basically, am I bullshitting myself?

I’ve written about meditation before and the benefits that it can give you but the reality is that I rarely do it. I’m like the guy at a party who says he’s doing dry January and then cracks a beer several minutes in. There’s a difference between saying you do something and actually doing the something.

And yet I’m fascinated by the concept. I read about it, listen to podcasts, and expound its benefits to friends after a few kolsch’s. But the reality is much more complex: sitting with your eyes closed doing nothing is actually really fucking hard.

Sometimes we need a kick in the ass to fully realize the hypocrisy of our own minds. We need a sudden change in perception – like the author deciding to take a minuscule edible and then doubling down.

So there I was navigating the tangly depths of an edible, my mind tilt-a-whirling between different sensations, and ironically, what got me to slow down was re-downloading an app – another munchy brain-bite in a long list that night. Waking Up, by Sam Harris. I’ve mentioned it before and since have fallen off.

I sat in a dark room and listened to Sam. In his meditations he likes to reference the mind as a stage. I like to picture the director. It’s his job to put on a show and when I turn my attention inwards – looking directly at him, he notices and puts his best stuff on stage. The massive project at work struts out. Guilt about a text that hasn’t been sent or a call that should’ve been made comes next. All of these actors are great at holding my attention. They’ve done it for years and know the lines by heart.

Most of the time I’m whisked away by this play. The characters are wildly entertaining. As they should be – I created them. But once in awhile I’m able to lead my mind to a different headspace: a state that has access to a release lever.

I relax the muscles in my face a bit. Feel my skin soften into a less tense position. I loosen my jaw, un-clench my back. Sink lower. My shoulders drop. In a very simple, mechanical way, I relax. I clear my plate or as Sam Harris says in a metaphor that’s eerily satisfying – clear my mental inbox.

Try it. Don’t worry about all the bullshit, self-help mumbo jumbo. Start with one simple principle: for ten minutes watch the theatrical acts that come waltzing across your mental stage – and then let them go. Worst case, you can always go back to enjoying the show.

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I M e

A few months later and I was starting to feel good again. I was forty-something days into burying myself in Sam Harris and Joe Rogan podcasts and was beginning to get into the groove of a loose and not-so serious meditation routine.

Sam was getting me to be in the present. Random shit moved me, like a woman on MUNI with a shaky hand or long walks with just the right amount of downhill. I started to understand why people love taking psychedelics. Awareness of the present moment is fucking sweet.

But there was one thing Sam Harris couldn’t convince me of. You have no head. There is no writer of thoughts. No person sitting back there shuffling cards. The very concept of “I” is just an appearance in consciousness, like a smell or a thought.

Abandon your ego! Basically what everyone says when they come back from Burning Man. It seemed weird but I gave it a go, trying to convince myself on a crowded bus that subjective and objective could be the same, but bumping up against people just reinforced a sense of clear and distinct boundaries.

I kept at it. And by some stroke of luck ended up at a party outside of Pescadero – a Hipcamp designed for ayuascha retreats, fully operational with drums, meditation pillows, and a stripper pole.

Also a swing set

Beers were had. Weed was smoked. Dinner was neglected. And at some point a guy handed me a piece of torn up paper and said, “please write down who you think you are.” He went around the fire telling everyone to write down their occupation or their name or whatever they wanted really. I was too far gone to be able to see where any of it was going and so feeling very clever I wrote down in terrible, drunk chicken scratch, “I am me,” and then slunk off to my tent.

Things starting to get blurry

When I woke up the next morning my head didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would. I looked outside and saw Charley rolling up his rain fly.

“What time did you Irish exit last night?” he asked. I told him it was right around the time some guy asked me to write down who I was on a piece of paper.

Charley laughed and told me they’d thrown the pieces of paper into the fire and watched them turn into smoke, and suddenly all I could think about was what must have gone up in flames – I am me.