15 Jan
2020

Then What Happens, Happens

Last night at Tuesday Night Insight, I read a few lines from Teach Us to Sit Still, by Tim Parks, (from the excerpt I’d posted here). There seemed to be a lot of interest in the book, so for today I’m posting a longer excerpt, this time from the Afterword:

“Let me sign off with a few words about this morning…

“After a moderately interrupted night, I rose before six and went down in the dark to the bedroom that used to be my son’s. Since the days are growing chill, I pulled on a sweater and tracksuit trousers, then set the alarm on my cell phone for seven. One can’t always have a Tibetan gong.

“There’s not much space here. I keep a blanket folded on the floor, a cushion to sit on, a couple of beanbags to slip under the knees. One day the left leg tucks in first, the next day the right; for symmetry. Careful not to hurry, I wrap a shawl round my shoulders, switch off the lamp and sit.

“The room is pitch dark now. The shutters are closed. The Iron Maiden poster beside the door is invisible. In the silence I say no formulas; I do not take refuge in the Dhamma or wish for all beings to experience sympathetic joy. I am not prayerful. But taking a deep breath, I am aware of the sleeping house around me: of Lucy in the next room, Rita under the quilt upstairs, the dog curled in his basket, all of us up here on the hill, looking south across the Italian plain.

“Morning thoughts rise like bubbles. I concentrate on the breath in my nostrils, on my lips. Only steady awareness of the body will still that mental fizz. I’m not concerned when I don’t success. The aim is quiet, but I will not crave it. Now I catch myself composing an e-mail: Dear Prof. Proietti, although… Now I’m replaying Torres’s goal last nigh against Man U. Where was Rio? Stop. I take the mind back to the breath. Back and back again, again and again, until eventually the two fuse in a whispery stream on the upper lip. A warm tide swells in my chest. My wrists are pulsing.

“There is nothing mystical about this…

“But as words and thoughts are eased out of the mind, so the self weakens. There is no narrative to feed it. When the words are gone, whether you are in Verona or Varanasi hardly matters. Whether it is morning or evening, whether you are young or old, man or woman, poor or rich isn’t, in the silence, in the darkness, in the stillness, so important. Like ghosts, angels, gods, ‘self,’ it turns out, is an idea we invented, a story we tell ourselves. It needs language to survive. The words create meaning, the meaning purpose, the purpose narrative.

“But here, for a little while, there is no story, no rhetoric, no deceit. Here is silence and acceptance; the pleasure of a space that need not be imbued with meaning. Intensely aware, of the flesh, the breath, the blood, consciousness allows the ‘I’ to slip away.

“So if I can recount the first minutes, I can’t tell the rest. There are deepenings. There is a liquefaction of some kind, the thighs flowing into the calves, the head into the breast. And there are resistances: stones, obstructions, pains. The mind goes back and back to them. An ankle. A shoulder. Maybe they will shift, and maybe not. I am absolutely awake. I hear Rita pad downstairs with the dog behind her. I hear a motor scooter straining up the hill. And I am not there. I am in the stream.

“Then the alarm sounds and I must move. I’m up, dressed and getting Lucy into the car in just a few minutes. By ten past seven we are speeding down the hill, trying to beat the traffic light at San Felice. Lucy is anxious about some homework, a possible low grade. I repeat the parents’ mantra: you do your best, then what happens happens.”

***

Indeed.

***

(photo by Kevin Ortiz on Unsplash)

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