#173: They Keep Me Surrounded

Looking up at framed black and white photo of Bob Dylan, against wood-paneled wall.
Rose’s Fine Foods, Detroit, MI

I was in Chicago this weekend for a meditation seminar. I realized while traveling in Asia that over the past year my practice of meditating every morning had grown stale. It’d become less of an experience of making innumerable small discoveries and more of something to get through – another item on the day’s agenda. I’d make it a point to sit but otherwise I had little discipline. I felt as though I was getting far more out of lounging on the patio afterwards with a cup of coffee.

I’m constantly relearning that moments like these, even when they last months or years, are a natural part of the landscape. They’re plateaus, in the full sense of the word. Writers’ blocks – or in this case, meditators’ blocks – once they become visible, are natural places to stop and re-examine your motivations, ask yourself why you started climbing this mountain in the first place, why you’re still engaged in it. You project out into the future – do I see myself doing this for a long time? If the answer is yes, it requires a re-commitment, one that isn’t necessarily conscious, or obvious. Sometimes, even before you can say, “I’ll keep going,” you’re already taking the next steps.

On the drive back last night I was recounting the first commitment I made to meditation, years ago. It came largely as a result of meeting someone on a train west from Colorado, and talking with them for a day and a half straight, and then, despite exchanging information, never hearing from them again. (I’ve written to you about this before, no?) That encounter happened at the beginning of what became a formative road trip, and when at the end of it I returned to New York, I started going with DB to his meditation center.

I met V at that same mediation center, and we talked about this when I stayed with her recently in Brooklyn – I flew straight there from Nepal for another friend’s wedding. We both reminisced about the people who’ve come into our lives for only the briefest of moments, but who seem to nudge us off our orbit, and send us on an entirely new trajectory.

“There’s a word for people like that,” V said. “Angels.”

“How does it feel then,” I said, “to know there might be people out there for whom you’re the angel?”

I don’t remember her response, but I remember the quiet around it.

A few days later, on my last night in New York, DB and I went back to the same meditation center. It’d been a while since he’d been there also. There was new paint on the walls – and new walls, too. We put our jackets and bags in the coat room, sat for a half hour, then listened to the teacher give a talk. Afterwards we went to retrieve our things, and I looked up and saw it, sitting on a shelf in the coat room: a gold H&M bag with a name written on it in Sharpie.

The name belonged to the person I’d met on the train. Here, again, as I was about to head back to Detroit; as I had just decided that Detroit was home, and made a re-commitment to my meditation practice; as I was about to enter a new stage in the publishing of the novel … here was that same name, that same person, watching from above.

It was the smallest possible blessing.

And it was enough.