I have arrived at the ‘practice’ part of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Coming to Our Senses. I’m not sure why it’s taking me so long to move through this book; Kabat-Zinn’s thoughtful essays on touch and smell, air and skin, have made me think, made me listen, made me appreciate.
But it’s still slow-going, and I still reward myself for every reading by treating myself to a good dose of story.
But now: it’s get cracking time.
The first exercise in the ‘practice’ section is lying-down meditation. Kabat-Zinn proposes several different ways of going about this; he calls it falling awake, and recommends doing it last thing at night, first thing in the morning. He cautions against the possibility of drifting into sleep, warning that this may be an overwhelming temptation. This, like any art worth pursuing, will take work, he warns.
So. Last night: I stretch out in bed, arms at my sides, toes pointing to opposite walls, and I listen. Mark’s C-Pap machine whooshes gently and rhythmically. The dog is snoring. The air conditioning thrums. There is a creak as my son gets up to use the bathroom.
There is a creak as Mark gets up to shower; it’s suddenly 5:30 AM.
Ah, well. I will start my morning by falling awake. I stretch out again, arms at my sides, feet pointing toward opposite walls, and I listen. A bird is calling ‘Shoodie shoodie shoodie.’ The dog sighs and rustles.
I wake up when I hear Mark’s shower stop at 6 AM.
Ah well. Only one night’s attempt; more to come. I am sure that I will learn to break through to ‘falling awake’ sometime soon.
In the meantime, though, I have to confess to feeling nicely, nicely rested.
I have almost finished Pat Conroy’s My Losing Season, a basketball memoir. The tricky relationship between memory and perception compel my reading. Throughout the book, Conroy tells us what a hack he was on the court, a mediocre, workhorse kind of a player. I think he is convinced of the truth of that. I think he’s a really humble guy.
But the facts he relates as he takes us to his ballgames–and I can see the games, hear the crowds, feel the tension; this is good writing–don’t add up for me. I think Conroy was a great player; the game results agree. The journalists he quotes agree.
Why, I wonder, doesn’t Conroy remember it that way?
I think about little triumphs I’ve experienced, and I understand. I don’t remember the plain, unpeeled event; I remember what it felt like from the flannel-y interior of my own head. I didn’t just embrace the good news. I brought to it a whole heap of baggage; my hands, and arms, were full. So I remember the fact that my mother was shocked to hear of my promotion, that the plumbing chose that particular day to break, that the little triumph occurred in the shadow of the tragic death of a dear friend. There is a swirl of detail swathing the core event; it becomes not a single, pure happening, but part of a bouquet.
And not everything in that bouquet smells sweet.
So, as I read Conroy’s memoir, I am sad that his glorious court days were tainted with the scorn and insecurity of cruel men who couldn’t bite off a word of hard-earned praise. I feel his need to be responsible, this boy-man who had been his mother’s and his siblings’ protector from the random violence of their erratic Marine. His basketball accomplishments are wrapped in woolly worry, but every once in a while, the absolute joy of being on that court when everything clicks breaks through. Conroy sees and he shows us, in sweet, simple prose, what it looks like when a team IS a team.
It can’t, of course, be sustained constantly or indefinitely, that synchronization; time forges ahead, the rhythm breaks, spirits breaks under the coach’s abuse, the team members grow. Eventually, Conroy himself leaves the college court for the last time, leaving behind a new team, a different team. And he goes on to create a tremendously successful life.
But in an imaginary meeting he writes about, when he greets and talks to a fictional character, Conroy tells the boy his life has not turned out well. It makes me sad. A writer of renown, a man who spills his ideals onto the page, who writes of honor and respect, of family and friendship, does not (at least in this writing) feel accomplished. He does not feel joy or pride.
How do we take the memories out and unwrap them, removing the aged cotton batting and letting them shine in the light? How do we take the goodness from our past and remove from it the lingering shreds that taint it?
Conroy has done his readers the great honor of allowing them to follow as he worked out the unwarranted brutality of his childhood in his writing. I hope that he has reached a place of satisfaction; I hope that he can say to himself:
“I was a damn fine player.”
“I wrote a damned fine book.”
“I made the world a little bit better because I worked hard to contribute.”