September 11, 2013

Mangled Meditation: Zazen in the Office Parking Lot. ~ Laura Deurmyer

Stopping the hamster wheel in the midst of your workday.

I walk out of the building and down the cobblestone path. Sandwiched between my office and the strip mall next door is a tiny oasis installed by the developer as a landscape fixture. A couple of benches, some ornamental plants, a patch of green next to the walkway leading to the veterinarian technician school. It’s not much to look at, but I can see it from my office window; I’ve wondered for a while now if I could use this area to incorporate meditation into my workday.

Today, I decide to find out.

Sitting on the hard wooden bench, I shift from side to side, trying to remain on its narrow seat while simultaneously keeping my skirt from billowing up over my knees and into my face. Ants crawl in a steady stream past my feet and through the tangle of fallen leaves, ivy and landscape bark around the foot of the scraggly young live oak crammed into its planter space three feet in front of my face. In the adjoining parking lot, cars pull up and pull out; on the street an irregular stream of honking, backfiring, stereo blaring traffic moves by, baking in the 95 degree Texas sun.

But damn it, I will meditate!

Resolutely, I focus my gaze blankly on the gray-brown tree trunk, fix the thought of the day from my meditation app in the front of my brain and concentrate.

“You will not be punished for your anger; you will be punished by your anger.”

Is that my boss exiting the building? It’s OK. He didn’t even notice me—good. Don’t want to have to explain this. He already thinks I’m weird since I’m the office vegetarian liberal. For a minute I forget to breathe, imagining the conversation.

Boss:  “What are you doing out here?”

Me: “Meditating.”

Boss:  “Are you OK?”

Me:  “Yeah.”

Boss (with slight head shake):  “Are you sure?”

Me:  “Yeah…”

Forget about him. Meditate. Anger, punished by your anger doesn’t sound all that good. Who am I angry at right now? Could it come back to bite me in the ass? I wonder. Oops, I’m thinking!  Just breathe, breathe.

Oh good grief! Do they have to smoke there, right there? That’s what the benches in the back of the building are for. Who is that? Must be a new person on the sixth floor. Nice shoes; I wonder if she shops here in town? I hate cigarette smoke, I really do. Anger, right. Punished for your anger. OK. Breathe, just breathe.

Ouch! Ants, ants, ants. Get off! I move my feet further under my bench, acquiring a splinter in my well-padded nether region in the process. Not punished for your anger. It’s probably wrong to kill ants. Maybe I shouldn’t squash the ants. If I went to yoga more regularly it wouldn’t be so uncomfortable trying to stuff my feet back under me like that.

Ding….breathe, breathe, breathe…ding…breathe, breathe, breathe.

Two minutes, three minutes, four minutes— finally, five minutes!

“End Meditation now?” my app inquires.

Selecting “End”, rising from my bench and checking my hair for fallen leaves, I realize: I do feel better. Five minutes of un-concentration, five minutes of what has to be the most poorly done meditation ever, and I feel better.

Leaving the building to repair to my bench, I felt vaguely guilty; I rarely take mid-afternoon breaks, since I don’t smoke. By going outside, I put myself beyond the reach of my desk phone and my email for five whole minutes.

I’d stopped the hamster wheel briefly and climbed out; I’d recognized that my brain and my soul need attention, just like my callers and email correspondents, just like the stack of papers, the unfinished letter, the waiting online training class or the overdue database update.

It’s much easier to surrender to the “no time for me blues”, snatching little bits of the newspaper while waiting on hold, reading two emails, a report and a legal memo all at once, talking to one person on the phone while messaging another. Stopping is hard. Stopping, even for five minutes, means making a decision. A decision that I’m worth five minutes. Five minutes when I’m not producing anything, not deciding anything, not fixing anything.

Can I, will I, do the same thing tomorrow?

I don’t know but I hope so.

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Assistant Ed: Kristina Peterson/Ed: Sara Crolick

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