As I have written in another post, I usually travel downtown on Thursdays to visit the Central Library on 5th Street between Hope and Flower. I like to show up at opening time (10 am) and reading for about two hours. Then I scan the stacks for books I want to read, check them out, and go to Conference Room A for the weekly Mindful Meditation session guided by John Kneedler, an instructor for the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC).
The whole point of mindful meditation is to learn how to live in the here and now. Most of the time, one’s thoughts are all over the place. Take this classic example from Aldous Huxley’s Those Barren Leaves, in which Miss Thriplow tries to concentrate on the nature of God:
God is a spirit, she said to herself, a spirit, a spirit. She tried to picture something huge and empty, but alive. A huge flat expanse of sand, for example, and over it a huge blank dome of sky; and above the sand everything should be tremulous and shimmering with heat—an emptiness that was yet alive. A spirit, an all-pervading spirit. God is a spirit. Three camels appeared on the horizon of the sandy plain and went lolloping along in an absurd ungainly fashion from left to right. Miss Thriplow made an effort and dismissed them. God is a spirit, she said aloud. But of all animals camels are really almost the queerest; when one thinks of their frightfully supercilious faces, with their protruding under lips like the last Hapsburg kings of Spain… No, no; God is a spirit, all-pervading, everywhere. All the universes are made one in him. Layer upon layer… A Neapolitan ice floated up out of the darkness. She had never liked Neapolitan ices since that time, at the Franco-British exhibition, when she had eaten one and then taken a ride on Sir Hiram Maxim’s Captive Flying Machines. Round and round and round. Lord, how she had been sick, afterwards, in the Blue Grotto of Capri! ‘Sixpence each, ladies and gentlemen, only sixpence each for a trip to the celebrated Blue Grotto of Capri, the celebrated Blue Grotto, ladies and gentlemen….’ How sick! It must have been most awkward for the grown-ups…. But God is a spirit. All the universes are one in the spirit. Mind and matter in all their manifestations–all one in the spirit. All one—she and the stars and the mountains and the trees and the animals and the blank spaces between the stars and… and the fish, the fish in the Aquarium at Monaco…. And what fish! What extravagant fantasies! But no more extravagant or fantastic, really, than the painted and jewelled old women outside. It might make a very good episode in a book—a couple of those old women looking through the glass at the fishes. Very beautifully and discreetly described; and the fundamental similarity between the creatures on either side of the glass would just be delicately implied—not stated, oh, not stated; that would be too coarse, that would spoil everything, but just implied, by the description, so that the intelligent reader could take the hint. And then in the Casino… Miss Thriplow brusquely interrupted herself. God is a spirit. Yes. Where was she? All things are one, ah yes, yes. All, all, all, she repeated. But to arrive at the realization of their oneness one must climb up into the spirit. The body separates, the spirit unites. One must give up the body, the self; one must lose one’s life to gain it. Lose one’s life, empty oneself of the separating Me. She clasped her hands tightly together, tighter, tighter, as though she were squeezing out her individual life between them. If she could squeeze it all out, make herself quite empty, then the other life would come rushing in to take its place.
Many people avoid trying to concentrate their minds because they are too harsh with themselves. The mind resists being in the here and now: During today’s session, I thought of where I would eat lunch, what book I would read next, whether Martine would stage another departure. I kept coming back to the simple inhalation and exhalation of my breath. So I am nowhere near perfect. But I keep trying.