01/27/2014 12:08 pm ET Updated Mar 29, 2014

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Zendo

"If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up till he sees all things through the narrow chinks of his cavern." -- William Blake

I got in my car and headed out for meditation. Turning on the engine, I was immediately disappointed to hear my oldies station broadcasting a Sunday morning preacher right where Guns and Roses was supposed to be. I had my finger on the channel changer when something in the minister's down home delivery made me listen. He was saying that too many of us have an Old Testament attitude in a New Testament world. He said Jesus taught us to love other people as we love ourselves and that we are all equal in God's eyes. He observed that life gets messy when we claim to love God but can't love other people and that the Holy Spirit was the defogger on life's windshield that let us see others the way God saw them. The Holy Spirit was the windshield wiper that lets us find our way along life's highway.

I was really enjoying all this when I noticed lights flashing in my rear view mirror, an officer, understandably curious about what I was doing driving around with a registration on my license plate that was three months overdue.

My illegal status was news to me so I was unable to supply him an adequate explanation. I was able to show him a current driver's license, but when I began shuffling through the ten years worth of receipts in my glove box in search of my insurance verification and found it missing, I began to get nervous.

This wasn't anywhere near as bad as the time a policeman caught me going the wrong way down a one way street in front of a rock concert. When he asked me for my license, I handed him a dollar bill and he replied, "That's not it." I then went for my license. At that time, the Oklahoma license had a detachable half and I gave him the wrong half. "You're getting close," he told me. I suspect that the only thing that saved me from a trip to jail was his probably correct assessment that I was not quite sturdy enough to survive the experience, but I digress.

Luckily, my wife had remained home because my next move was to tell the officer I'd have to call her. He was, surprisingly, understanding. I got the answering machine. She later told me she wasn't intending to pick it up until she heard me say that the cops had me. It was good luck that this was a rare occasion in which it was she rather than I who had neglected this little legal nicety. That meant she knew exactly where to find the form. She was there within minutes and I drove away a free man.

I tiptoed into meditation just a few minutes late and sat down to be in the reality of this present moment of right here and right now. This has got to be one of the most vacuous and misleading of new age cliches, as if any of us could ever be anywhere but right here and right now.

We all experience moments of clear, blue sky mind, but most of us spend much of the time agitated about one thing or another. This is because life really is suffering and we really don't believe this simple but difficult truth. We have little escape hatches that allow us to deny, delay, and defer life's little discomforts and when those fail, we find someone to blame.

Daily living is full of little traumas that we must ignore but , but our body mind absorbs, interprets, and remembers them.. We take in a lot of threatening and negative input every day. Though immediate threats of death are rare, we all live with its inevitability. The now is made up of past, present and future that add up to a great many perceptual doors in need of cleansing. This little bug splatter of an event with a policeman opened one of my foggy ones.

There are times when I sit down to just relax and enjoy the sound and the feel of my breath. On this day my mind began spinning this very story about this very trivial event that inconvenienced me for about 10 minutes. I was surprised at how easily my brain's gears had engaged. Brains create stories to explain and to try to escape suffering and it is the ubiquitous nature of suffering that brains are always spinning stories.

This particular story is actually funny. We have a few minutes of sharing after the meditation and it got a lot of laughs when I shared it, humor being one of our most basic and effective defenses against anxiety.

I employed it to its full effect. But the truth is, until we allow ourselves to allow the truth of suffering to penetrate our hearts, our minds will dream up escapes and meditation will be nothing but another failed escape plan.

Meditation is not magic that will change what is, nor will it make it go away. It will broaden our field of awareness enough to open a space between thoughts that allows us to realize that they are, at best, inaccurate. It is in that space that we first begin to appreciate the universal, even infinite experience of suffering that visits every living being. And it is in that space that we begin to experience a sense of loving kindness that is, mysteriously, our true nature.

We constantly suffer and the suffering warps us in ways that are completely beyond our control. But we can make a choice. We can continue to suffer Old Testament style and live a life of hurting ourselves and others. Or we can suffer New Testament style, the way of the cross, in which we refrain from hurting other people even when we feel like we are being nailed to one.

I once had the great privilege of hearing a Holocaust survivor address the entire student body of Noble Jr High School in Noble, Oklahoma on one warm spring Friday afternoon. It was astounding to see him hold this normally very tough audience spellbound for a good hour. One of the kids finally asked if he had ever been given a chance to get revenge and had he taken it. He said that a soldier had offered him a gun and told him that he could shoot one of his guards. He declined the opportunity "because," he said, "God put us on this earth to love other people and not to hurt them."