I've attended several Buddhist retreats. I've listened faithfully to meditation CDs, chirping birds and delicate raindrops. I've stared into pounding surf and scented candles, chanted and recited mystical mantras. I've worked hard to learn how to meditate.
But the other day, I was forced to confront the fact that my husband is a natural.
He's got it down.
I've always (somewhat dismissively) labeled Jimmy Type A, because he's super-organized, extremely focused, and very goal oriented. I've made fun of the "Tasks" list he keeps on his desk. My filing system consists of notes I've scribbled to myself and thrown on the floor somewhere near my pocketbook, where I think I'll bump into them. They end up buried under my bed, lost among my shoes, socks and old magazines.
Jimmy is a biker, often hitting the road for 50 mile excursions. He leaves our house charged up and returns home blissed out. His other favorite activity is clamming. He shares his passion - which is contagious - with others, by taking them along on brilliant sunny days. He describes clamming with buckets, rakes or bare hands as "a cross between panning for gold and picking your nose." I prefer it when he uses the word "meditative" to describe his salt-water-immersed, heavenly state of mind.
I've never been into clamming. Or skiing, one of Jimmy's other favorite pastimes. When we first met, he told me that he loved racing with his shadow. That should have been a clue that he really knows how to "get into the zone."
Being married to a natural born meditator has its drawbacks; my husband has developed a powerful mechanism for detaching, and I've been known to criticize him for tuning me out. But I could learn a lot from him. Developing a slight sense of detachment is critical when it comes to meditating. I was taught by my first teacher, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, to meditate with my eyes open, because that forces me to remove myself ever so slightly from the world around me. Putting some space between myself and my thoughts is a good thing. It creates a little room, so that I can develop some perspective.
Even the fact that my husband refuses to answer our telephone ("It's always for you anyway," he says) has given me food for thought. He's actually practicing a form of silent meditation when he tunes out the world that way. Thich Nhat Hanh, a brilliant meditation teacher, suggests to people that they let their telephones ring three times and take a good, deep breath before answering. In fact, he'd probably fully endorse my husband's decision to let all calls go to voice mail.
Jimmy spends a lot of time taking beautiful photographs. We once had a fight when I had the audacity to approach him in an outdoor marketplace and suggest that he take a picture of an unusual display of vegetables. "Take it yourself!" he said.
I left in a huff and detached in my own way, sitting down on a bench sullenly, in order to punish him. But my marital teaching moment was ineffective for an hour or so, since Jimmy was so "in the zone" taking pictures that he didn't notice I was teaching him an important lesson in lovingkindness.
"I was in the zone!" he quasi-apologized to me later. "When I'm taking pictures, I'm there but I'm not there. I'm in my own world."
But he's not always as accepting of detachment when the shoe's on the other foot. I found it especially amusing when, in my first few weeks of practicing daily meditation, I would sometimes sense my husband tiptoeing into our den, taking a seat on a chair, and watching me. "Meditation is not a spectator sport," I'd tell him when I was done. And he'd laugh.
I'm meditating pretty well these days, and I think that might be due to something I once heard Belleruth Naparstek, a pioneer in the field of guided imagery, say: "People who survive trauma are used to the disassociated state, so they know how to do (things like meditating) easily."
I spent many years in a disassociated state, as I battled a panic disorder. Before, during and after an attack, I felt like I was having an "out of body" experience. Time stood still. Colors became more vibrant. I moved in slow motion while my heart raced out of control.
So perhaps it is indeed easier for me to get into a state that is "other" than my usual state of mind these days, be it through guided imagery, meditation, chanting or somatic therapies.
Maybe we're all natural born meditators, hitchhikers on the road to peace, with our thumbs out, hoping to hitch a ride "into the zone."
Priscilla Warner is the co-author of The Faith Club. Her new book, about her journey from panic to peace, will be published by The Free Press in 2011. Follow her progress on her blog. And meet her mother at www.rivaleviten.com