No Sheer Bliss

I just did a meditation using my trusty Calm App entitled “A Comfortable Place” by Jeff Warren.

A little different from the usual fare, this time we were invited to use a specific memory as our “home base” instead of our breath. The idea was to pick a memory in which we felt safe, peaceful, even blissful. The narrator’s friend who inspired this mediation picked a memory of when he was four years old in nursery, when the teacher brought the class to a dark room, and the children just lay down quietly to listen to her read a story.

Beautiful.

I couldn’t do it.

My entire session bombed because I was trying to find the ideal memory to meditate on. (I do have a perfectionist streak, which is most unhelpful for this sort of thing.) Nothing came to mind.

Sure, I’ve had equivalent experiences as a child. I generally didn’t feel threatened in school (except in Chinese class where the teachers were armed with canes). I had a good childhood in a secure home. I just can’t recall feeling particularly blissful at any time.

Ok, I thought frantically, how about later memories?

I’ve been privileged enough to travel around the world somewhat. I’ve breathed in crisp, clear air on the top of snowy mountaintops preparing for an amazing run down a ski slope. I’ve been out on lonely kelongs gazing up at the countless stars. I’ve sat quietly in the majestic Cathedrals of Europe. I’ve stood at the edge of the cliffs of Seven Sisters, the wind in my hair, the sun glinting off of the endless sea.

No shortage of possibilities there then.

But one problem: All the memories were fraught with others. Mixed in with those experiences is a sense of pressure and stress. Usually, there was an ongoing agenda with the people I was travelling with. Someone to impress, someone to compete with. Or often, it was the stress of trying to make something happen.

I gaze up in the night sky when the kelong lights are out, and for the first time in a long while, I can see stars clearly. Away from civilization, at last, I can behold the multitude of diamonds that dot the night sky, normally swallowed up in the endless light of any human city. More, I see what looks like a long strip of cloud. But the stars are in front of it so it can’t be a cloud. With a start, I realize it is in fact the Milky Way itself. I am literally looking at our galaxy. My mind drifts to vague facts and figures about millions of stars, vast, unimaginable distances, the utter majesty of it all. How can one gaze upon this and not be moved?

I can.

And then there is instant judgement on myself on why the hell don’t I feel anything when clearly I should?

And just as quickly, I hide this from myself by judging the other members of the trip as they look at the same sight and seem indifferent to it. By calling out their indifference and judging them for being unmoved, I avoid facing up to my own judgement on myself.

Aside from being morally dubious, this is all simply unnecessary. But I do have a life-long habit of doing this all the time.

What now? I couldn’t find a memory to meditate on. Luckily Jeff – the meditation narrator – said it’s ok, we’re just trying something new, take what you like and leave the rest. So I can just about let go of this from a meditation standpoint.

But in the bigger picture, is it important? To have memories of utter peace and calm and bliss and joy in a certain place or certain setting?

I wouldn’t know because I still can’t think of any for myself, but I suspect it is… a good thing to have, even if not absolutely crucial. Or even if it is absolutely crucial, and I don’t have it, well…. I can’t do anything about that right now.

If my childhood was contaminated by a perfectionist, moralistic, self-righteous streak, so be it. Not a good thing for sure, but I can’t change the past.

I can, however, change the future.

Not by forcing myself to feel things when I think I should but don’t. Nor by going on a frenzied travel spree around the world, Covid restrictions be damned. But just by leaving myself open to the possibility that this can come when it is the right time, and I don’t need to make it happen.

In fact, come to think of it, my own old sofa is a place I do like to sink into when everyone is out and I have the whole place to myself.

Now, if this becomes my “Comfortable Place”, how convenient is that?

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