Friday, November 6, 2009
I mentioned a while back that Bruce Joel Rubin invited me to meditate with him. I took him up on his offer several weeks ago but it's taken this long for me to process it.
Because I was new to the practice, I showed up a early so Bruce could explain how it worked. He was twice as cool in person as he was on the phone. We chatted as he ate peanut butter on toast. I guess I wanted to impress him, so I mentioned a book I'm reading, The Art of Power by Thich Nhat Hanh, which discusses the concept of mindfulness - the idea that a person should do one thing at a time and give it their full attention, get full enjoyment out of it, almost as a form of constant meditation. Then I suggested that maybe he'd like to eat his breakfast in peace. "Bullshit," he snorted. "I'm enjoying my toast and I'm enjoying talking to you at the same time. That's all that matters."
I liked him all the more.
After my briefing, we went to his mediation room. Here, I sat with about twenty other people, all facing a small platform. Bruce, who learned this particular practice from a well-known guru named Rudy, sat on the platform. For the next hour, we sat and stared at him as he took turns staring back at us. He mentioned a special breathing technique beforehand, then suggested I not worry about it. Just sit there and let my brain do what it wants to do.
I don't know if you've ever stared at someone (you weren't madly in love with) for an hour without talking or being talked at, but it's incredibly confronting. There's no danger of your mind wandering anywhere because it's too busy coping with the increasing metaphysical breakdown of the face before it. It's kind of like when you say the word "fish" over and over fifty times, it starts to lose it's meaning and become abstract. Try it. Fish. Fish. Fish.
So, about forty-five minutes into the practice (I'm guessing), things were getting plenty abstract indeed. Then Bruce turned his gaze to me. By now, Bruce's face was no longer Bruce's face. It was just this fleshy, psychedelic blob of energy. When our eyes met, all that energy just shot right between my eyes. I honestly thought my head was going to explode, like some transcendental version of Scanners. It was all I could do not to look away.
I know this sounds really weird -- that's probably because it was. I've been searching for transcendence all my life. I've even almost found it a few times. Once with a Buddhist monk in a tiny village in Nepal. Once seeing the sun shine through the stained glass windows at Sacre Coeur in Paris. And one mood-enhanced day on a beach in Australia with Sandie. But nothing like this. This had serous follow-through potential. If I could keep the practice up, this is where I'd find my answers.
When it was over, Bruce hugged me and said he hoped I came back. I thanked him and said I needed to process it a little. "Don't process," he insisted. "Just be."
I don't think I'm going back. Not for now, at least. As I fly towards the one year anniversary of being told I was no longer wanted after 17 years with the same person, my clarity is intense. I've experienced pain and grief and joy and confusion and rapture in ways I never thought possible. I'm a big, tumbling ball of emotion. Sometimes, when I hear just the wrong "guess what so-and-so did this time" story, I want to scream until my lungs bleed. Other times, when the sun shines through my private Sacre Coeur just right, the air smells sweet and, for a moment or two, I actually feel unapologetic for being the nut job that I am.
Meditating with Bruce again could, I believe, wipe that messy slate clean. I could find a peaceful place. I'd be that much closer to Zen. I'd probably sleep much better. But I don't know if I want that yet. I'm too fascinated by this plane of existence to move any closer to the next. It would almost feel like selling a car before checking the trunk to make sure you're not leaving anything personal behind.
I am, the best that I know how, just being. So, in a way, I'm doing exactly what Bruce told me to do, just without the staring.