Sunday, March 18, 2007

Conquering zenophobia

After an especially tense week (mostly spent worrying about how tense this week will be), it seemed a good time to visit the Boston Shambhala Meditation Center for its monthly Queer Buddhist Fellowship meeting. So after a quick lunch at Sushi Time in Downtown Crossing, enlivened by my violent cursing at a packet of soy sauce I couldn’t open, I headed to Brookline Village. Bill, the group leader, begins the meeting by recognizing the newcomers in the group of 15 or so, and then giving us tips on how to meditate. When I attended Catholic Mass as a child, my mother would have to tell me to stop fidgeting during the boring parts – that is, when the church organ wasn’t blasting and the altar boys weren’t “on stage.” (I wanted to be paying attention in case they made a mistake. Kids live to see other kids screw up.) Buddhist meditation is even more difficult for a fidgeter. One must find a proper kneeling or sitting position that includes a straight back but loose shoulders, and one must try to maintain it for a half-hour or so. Bill tells us that if we start to feel uncomfortable, we should not change positions but instead make “micro adjustments” – wiggle a toe if a foot has fallen asleep, rotate the head slightly if the neck feels sore – and the discomfort should subside. I don’t believe him at first. After 10 minutes of kneeling on a mat, my back feels so stiff and my stocking feet are splayed at such an odd angle that I’m certain there will be a lot of pain when I finally get up. I cheat – once – by getting up, and I discover that the mounting anticipation of pain was much worse than the microsecond it takes to move my bones back into their accustomed angles. After that, I can take my mind of my posture and concentrate on deep breathing. I can almost ignore the sound of someone scraping ice of the sidewalk just outside the window, a sound that makes me anxious about my long-overdue appointment with the dentist. (I have tartar issues.) After meditation, we discuss how to manage impulses toward aggression in our daily lives. (That wasn’t the official topic, but aggressive members of the group are the first to speak up, so that’s where the conversation went.) Then it was time for tea and hummus. All in all, better than my first attempt at Buddhist meditation. That time, I spotted someone who looked familiar on the other side of the prayer room, but he avoided eye contact with me. After meditation, we split up into three discussion groups. When he realized that he was in my group, but he loudly offered to switch places with someone in another group. I began to get peeved. Was he snubbing me? When I left the prayer room, I saw that him sitting on a bench right next to where I had left my shoes, but he jumped up and left as I approached him. South End attitude at a Buddhist temple! Who the hell did he think he was? It wasn’t until I left that I remembered how I knew him. He was a therapist who I had seen years before. So it would have been unethical for him to acknowledge me first in public. I had seen him, of course, to work on self-esteem issues.

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