Evening Prayer

I don’t pray every night, but I probably should. After baths, books, conversation with wife, I usually drift into writing, creating, rearranging words on a screen. Mind a whir, could journey depths until dawn, but the clock of calculation, of sanity, of sacred sleep, tells me to stop. I go into my daughter’s room, turn down her light, I love you, I say to her curled up slumber. I meditate in my son’s room, the sound of his breathing, my pew, my stained glass, my sanctuary. Seated, darkness, air in, carbon dioxide out, first minutes filled with brain bouncing from thought to thought, the earlier, the tomorrow, the could happen. Then sometimes the indescribable now, when I’m nowhere, everywhere, witness to all time, and no time at all. Emerge a short life span later, pray for my colleague, that her malignant tumor retreats, allows life, hers to continue. It feels like I could stay forever, talking to God, to no one, to everyone.

Sahara

I’m in the backseat, we must be going 75 mph, reverberating Berber music like Salat, ritualistic Islamic prayer with drums, voices, sintir strings plucked, boom from the car’s speakers, permanent Sahara hair dryer heat fills my nostrils. We left Merzouga earlier in the morning, before that, the Atlas Mountains, Azrou, Fez, Tangier. The road is gone, only sand, like after the first inches of snow have fallen. We stop at the edge, no billboards, no little tourist kiosk, nothing, only a thousand miles of granular fragments, beaten down quartz, dolomite, calcite, silica pixels. I touch its wildness, primitive, uncontainable, not a Tonka truck home, not the domesticated box from my childhood backyard, it looms, immense with dry waves of undulating silence. We walk into it one by one, like swimming past the ocean breakers, together, apart. Speechless, it has absorbed our words, sun pulsating, the desert almost asking us to quietly join it, forever. Human shadows elongate, planet rotates, heat ebbs, darkness, then stars. They appear, first one by one, little white births, souls of the night sky. Then a torrent, a blanket of speckled light, countless orbs above, total blackness below. I think of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust, children who died. Never thought much about heaven before, alone, surrounded.

Near Drowning

We’re in the Volvo on highway 101 heading to Calistoga, Napa Valley, wine country. The radio and Supertramp have just saved me from his questions. Where do horses come from? Where do cows come from? Where do people come from? My 6-year old son asks. I try to explain evolution. I was a monkey? He wants to know. En route to some easy hiking, then dinner, Indian Springs and their 95-degree thermal pool. We pass acre after acre of grapevines, wineries, and restaurants. Napa, my old adult playground, the place where I was wed. Schramsberg champagne, Storybook zins, the Sterling vineyard aerial tram, the Epcot Center of imbibing.

We hit the trail, balance from rock to rock, avoid the mud. I’m a rock-jumping expert. He says. After the hike, dinner is his favorite, pizza. I drink sparkling water, he has an apple juice. Back at Indian Springs, it is cold with drizzle, I put on a white robe, he throws on his LL Bean fleece, we head to the pool for a night swim. What is that smoke? He asks, staring at the steam. The water is the kind of hot that makes synapses disconnect, that turns a wine buzz into an outer body experience. My son doesn’t know how to swim; we play fight with pool noodles in the shallow end.

I see her tiny feet pitter-pattering by the side of the pool; she looks like a doll with moving legs, her mother is busy with another little girl several yards away. My son and I are the only people in the pool. Out of the corner of my eye I look at the toddler again, maybe thirty feet from us, her body is doing a back dive, head entering the water first. Minutes later I will remember Tim O’Brien’s words from The Things They Carried, just flat fuck fell, describing a guy after he got shot in Vietnam. The little girl was like that, graceful gravity, then submerged. NO, NO, NO, I yell, high hurdling through the foggy water. I get to her seconds after the splash, turn her upright, she’s coughing, spitting up water. The mom hears my shouting, runs from the other side of the pool. She’s been walking by the pool all day, she never came close to the edge, she says. Is that wine on her breath? I wonder. That was an emergency, says my son, barely able to comprehend what just happened. Back in our room I find myself guessing how many minutes the little girl would have been hidden, silent under the water, before her mother figured it out.

The 2-Hour Attorney

I never interviewed for the legal assistant job, some poor suckers probably did, not me, my Uncle Aaron just hooked me up. In retrospect they should have paid people just to apply. I had two ties, one sport jacket, and a fear of being captured by the man, the capitalist system. My dad was an attorney, my uncle was an attorney, I was afraid that the law might get me too. Sunday night before my first day at the firm I announced that I would slumber outside of my aunt and uncle’s house. I lay my sleeping bag out on the Mill Valley deck, smelling the eucalyptus trees, feeling the presence of Mount Tam seeping into my being. I was looking for strength, for answers, for last breaths of freedom before joining The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit.

The next morning starts out ok. My uncle and I take the ferry across the bay to the Embarcaderos, sunshine, gulls, lapping water. I try to ignore the suits, the newspapers, the paisley tie that I’m wearing. I don’t feel like I’m on the conveyer belt until we’re in the elevator surrounded by steel and little blinking lights, everyone staring down at their shoes. We get out at the 22nd floor. My uncle briefly introduces me to Harold, then is gone. Harold is a middle-aged, middle management man, sweater vest, navy blue tie, haggard, balding. Once upon a time he probably had lawyer dreams, but now he is king of the paralegals. These boxes all contain documents that need to be labeled. At any point you will be asked to discontinue one box and start another. We go to trial in late November, you will be working overtime, you will be working weekends, any questions? His coffee breath fills the small room that is packed with cardboard boxes and file cabinets. My mind starts alternating between Full Metal Jacket, You will not laugh, you will not cry, and A-B-C, always be closing, from Glengarry Glen Ross. After Harold leaves, I meekly ask some of the other slugs what I’m supposed to do. This guy with Buddy Holly glasses takes his headphones off and tries to explain the process of labeling documents, as I watch his pale face almost quiver. Why are you doing this? I finally ask. I’m applying to law school. If I do this for a year it will help me get in. It turns out everyone in the room is in the pipeline. I just sit there for an hour ruffling papers, contemplating the four windowless walls. I know I might go out one day, but I wasn’t going out like this, whimpering to myself, nursing my daily paper cuts.

No, I have one of the great moments of clarity that we sometimes only appreciate after the fact, but I celebrate it right then and there. I get up and leave. I enter my uncle’s corner office on the 23rd floor. I’ve got some good news and some bad news. My uncle looks at me with the quizzical countenance of someone who is trying to act more serious than he actually feels; I think he knows what’s coming. The good news is that I’m getting dim sum for lunch. The bad news is that I’m not coming back. My uncle proceeds to say all the right things about me letting him down, and how I blew this opportunity, but days later I heard that he was bragging about me. All the law firm partners knew that I had escaped being a shield boy; Aaron’s nephew wasn’t going to take it up the butt.

Capri

Manicured ladies in stilettos navigate ancient smooth
stoned pathways, corridors assembled during Roman times.
Their legs, butt cracks, and cleavage pattern the night,
wafts of perfume mingle with the smell of grilled
octopus and cigarettes.

Some cling to tan wrinkled arms
of sugar daddies, men with white chest hairs
attached to fortunes drenched in cologne.
I never visit the island for Gucci or Fendi,
air-conditioned square shops of consumer luxury.

The purring cicadas surrounded by sea
are my siren song, blue water darkening as it journeys
to Tunisia. Pulsating, my calves quiver up and down steps
to Villa Jovis where Tiberius reigned supreme, decadently
tossing the unwanted off cliffs into the watery
chasm of time.

The ruins sit unaffected by sun’s sweat dripping
from my elbows. I rest in pine tree shadows, imagine when
Neruda was here, arranging verse in his head. Away from the glitz,
everything is as it was, as it is, ants, jasmine, laughter
of the old women who were born in Capri,
born by the sea.

Facebook

I’m on it again, the Facebook, as Zuckerberg first called it,the guy who doesn’t believe in privacy. I’m here with the photos of lunch, landscapes, selfies, the everything, the nothing, on a flat screen, on a computer, on a phone, it notifies me, assures me that I’m not alone, together with all my friends, who I like.

We brag with our images about going to Hamilton, riding on cruise ships, meeting celebrities. We want everyone to know, that we exist, have money, status, are real Americans. Compulsive clicks show we care about the environment, the presidential policies, the status of women, and we do care. We raise funds, promote books, films, cuddly cat videos.

Curated, we pick the best parts, the worst parts, the wars, the almost wars. The screen is our battlefield, our competition, our attention already waning as the electronic ink disappears into the next post, the one that will mean more. We’re here, together in this internet-tethered world of distracted connected humanity, crossing continents, fragmenting minds.

Interview with ABC News Anchor and Author, Dan Harris

I had the opportunity to catch up with ABC News Anchor and Author, Dan Harris.  Dan is the author of 10% Happier, a New York Times bestselling book that explores his discovery of meditation and mindfulness.

I asked Dan about the role that mindfulness can play in the lives of young people.  He mentioned the clear benefits of mindful students being able to better maintain focus, while improving behavior.  He stressed that mindfulness can help kids be less emotionally reactive.   In particular, we spoke about the recent developments in Baltimore.  He cited the Holistic Life Foundation as an organization in Baltimore doing incredible work teaching mindfulness in high risk, urban environments.  He stated that there has been an economic divide within the mindfulness community, with some people feeling that mindfulness is largely an upper middle class pursuit, but that he sees diverse socioeconomic communities embracing the practice more and more.  Dan went on to share the insight that practicing mindfulness can help take the bias out of decision making.  With mindfulness practice one can better see how things truly are, getting past stereotypes and preconceived assumptions.

I asked Dan about how his life might have been different had he learned mindfulness meditation when he was younger.  Dan said that he would have been a better student growing up and that it would have helped him focus.  He also said that he probably would have been a little less obnoxious to teachers.  Later as a reporter, mindfulness would have helped him make more reflective decisions before venturing into war zones.  Upon return from covering conflict zones in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, he expressed how mindfulness could have helped him be more self-aware and perhaps avoid depression related to those often traumatic experiences.

Next, I asked Dan whether he thought that mindfulness could compete with drugs and alcohol on college campuses.  He said that college will probably always be a time for experimentation with drugs and alcohol, but that mindfulness can play a role in reducing binge behaviors and sexual assault on college campuses, while also helping to alleviate stress, anxiety and depression.  We spoke in particular about his alma mater Colby College, where he recently addressed students.  After concluding his talk there, a handsome, big, charismatic male student got up and made an announcement about an upcoming event for the “Colby Mindfulness Club.” Dan said that that never would have happened when he was a student there.

I went on to ask Dan about how mindfulness connected to his work reporting for ABC’s Good Morning America and Nightline.  On Good Morning America he mentioned how he often tries to use his mindfulness training to be more aware.  He is able to deeply listen to his co-anchors, slow down the moment, and be fully present in the now.  For example, there are times when he is able to notice when someone on the show is being ignored.  He went on to say that this isn’t something he is always able to achieve, but that he certainly makes the mindful effort.  As a reporter in the field, mindfulness has made Dan more sensitive to others and a better listener.  This sensitivity in turn, has translated into him being a more careful, accurate, and mature reporter.

My last question for Dan was focused on Global Citizenship.  I asked him if he felt a sense of responsibility to parts of the world outside of our nation’s borders.  He cited three levels of mindfulness practice: personal practice, interpersonal practice, and global collective consciousness.  He said that he has made real strides in his personal and interpersonal practice, and that his opening up to a global interconnectedness was a work in progress.  He went on to share that the third practice of global collective consciousness, if achieved by many, can contribute to improving the overall happiness of the world.

 

Thinking about Meditation, 2008

Meditation, mindfulness, yogic breathing, transcendental meditation, zazen, guided visualization, the breath, mind in the moment, in the seconds really. I’ve read about them all, but I’m absorbing Kabat-Zinn now, his words slowing me down time, as I walk through campus seeing sentences, one by one, as they arrive from colleagues and students. Usually it is a torrent, flooding phrases, mine, theirs, uncontrolled verbal ejaculations, reactive, sometimes rehearsed. How are you? Good. It hasn’t yet occurred to me, to go beyond reading, to actually sit, breathe, listen to my breath. You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf, Zinn says. Intellectually I comprehend, but don’t yet know about the doing of the not doing, the complicated simplicity that is meditation. The aloneness of my own lungs, eyes closed, the stopping, no audience, no tangible reward.  As I read, I like to pretend that I’m mindful all the time, that I’m a Zen monk, learned, wise. Fantasy, like when I pick up a Runner’s World in the airport and think, I’m a marathoner, or I can do that, have calves that look like that. Could be mindful all the time, could run a marathon, can’t, won’t, truth. I sell myself the same ideas that are sold to me. But meditation, just breathing, is free. It will be three more years before I begin, really breathe in, breathe out, stringing minutes together, before I learn, that you don’t think about meditation, you do it.