May 28, 2006

Spiritual Advantages of Plantar Fasciitis

So: what am I going to do with myself this Memorial Day weekend while I’m hobbled, forced to spend hours lying on the couch? I’ll meditate.

Will I meditate like this kid, who supposedly sat in the forest for ten months without eating or drinking or moving? No. I’ll sit for fifteen or twenty minutes, and the entire time my thoughts will wander. I’ll think about how I’m meditating, and I’ll think about what I’m going to do next. I’ll catch my head sinking as I fall into a half-awake dream: I’ll dream of water balloons, of pith-helmeted explorers, of anything as long as it’s distracting and irrelevant. (My very first post on this blog was about this very problem.)

Meditation will not bring me one electron-orbit closer to nirvana. It will, however, bring me a bit of medically verifiable relief from stress. If that’s all it ever does, that’s plenty.

This kid Bomjan, according to one well-informed school of thought, is developing the highest level of yogic power; he’s entering the deepest level of trance, at which ordinary body processes can be transcended. But that is not buddhahood. All of us are already as enlightened as he is; and the Buddha himself warned sternly against extremes of asceticism. This kid will die one day, just as I will, and if reincarnation exists, he will be reincarnated; he will not have escaped the wheel of samsara.

Buddhist meditators often rail against the chattering “monkey mind” that plagues us humans. Meditation tries to quiet that incessant background noise as a preliminary to overcoming the self, the ego. But I like the monkey mind. It is the source of ideas. Amid all that jarring noise, you can sometimes pick out one clear melody. As William James said, 90% of the universe is waste; the valuable stuff can’t come into being without it. Inefficiency is a higher efficiency.

And I love being a self. It is our niche, our special glory and burden; whether we evolved or were created, it is what we are here for. And it is a preparation for whatever our descendants will be that surpasses us.

There’s a story (scroll down to Comment 13 in linked post) about an accomplished Buddhist master who, before meditating one day, asked his wife to make his favorite curry. While she was making it , he went into meditation – and stayed in it for thirteen years. When he emerged from his trance, he asked his wife, “Is the curry ready yet?” So deep was his trance, time had stopped for him. And yet he still wanted the curry: he had not conquered desire.

I can still want the curry without having to meditate for thirteen years.