Day 469, June 29, 2021

Apparitions and Meditations

Tonight's soundtrack: Pino Palladino and Blake Mills, 2021 and then Prince Jazz Funk Sessions, 1977 (no video)

This evening, after work, we went down to the river to cool off and there was a woman in a bikini sitting crosslegged and meditating on the far shore. It is a delicate thing to intrude on someone's meditation and we tried to be respectful as we approached the bend in the river where it is deep enough to dive in. At the same time, walking downstream in the river masks one's approach and I wanted to call out a warning, like when you pass a pedestrian on a bicycle, "Coming up on your left!" But, of course, I didn't. Instead, like an apparition, I imagine we just appeared when she opened her eyes. 

We swam in relative silence, a little quiet reserved conversation about the shifting sand on one bank. And then, just as stealthily, after we cooled off, we made our way back up stream leaving the woman to her reverie. I imagine she may have been just as surprised when she opened her eyes to see the people gone. 

I have friends who have adopted meditation as a way of life. While I have never adopted it as a practice, I think I was introduced to the concept of meditation early through Catholicism. I was never one to recite the Lord's Prayer or Hail Marys, instead, I treated prayer as meditation, which ended up being a kind of exploration of self. If I'm a little less generous, it was a kind of self generated therapy before I knew what therapy was. To me, spirituality was about clearing one's mind, trying to let go of the self, one's individual needs, and seeing what emerged. I wonder if part of this stems from hours of sitting through mass spoken in a language that I did not fully comprehend. I was slowly turning my mind to a kind of internal conversation.

Later, when I was older, the church got an American Jesuit, by which I mean a White, English speaking Jesuit, who would lead the older teens in guided meditation sessions. This was the first time I was exposed to someone engaging in prayer the way I practiced it. He was a charismatic young fellow who we admired. I think some of the parents thought he was a little too radical and sadly, he didn't stay long with our church.

Of course, particularly as a young person, it was hard to let go of one's own needs and desires. Those needs and desires were the things so close to the surface and tied to the emotional turmoil of a pubescent teen. I'm not sure where I was taught to look beyond the self. In the movies and television shows people kneeled by the bed and prayed for their family members, for help, for divine intervention. I think, I prayed about understanding. I prayed about questions I had about humanity. I don't remember specific conversations, but at that age I was in a continual state of dismay about the world, about what I witnessed, about injustice, about suffering. 

I don't mean to make it seem like I was not a self-centered child. Like most kids, I was consumed with my own needs and travails, but somehow I knew I needed to transcend those things in meditation. How do children figure these things out? Surely there must have been things in my environment, something about my mother's admonitions to pray to pass my math test, that pushed me in that direction. 

So what does one meditate on while sitting on the bank of the Sawmill River while two strangers dip in the brisk waters on a hot and muggy day? 

Once, in college, a friend and I were clowning around as one does on a late night in college, and we went into the university's chapel and walked around exploring the altar and intricately carved statues and beautiful woodwork on the pews. We weren't touching anything, but we weren't being quiet either. While I was standing at the altar facing the nave pretending to preach a sermon, I suddenly noticed someone bent over in prayer in the third row. I grabbed on to my friend. My first illogical thought was that someone had a heart attack in that morning's service and nobody had noticed and his body was still there frozen in prayer.

Once my friend saw what I was pointing at, she grabbed my hand and ran. We burst through the side doors into the night and absconded like thieves laughing in fear and utter terror. Of course, a few minutes later we saw a solitary man walk out of the chapel by himself and disappear into the night.

I've often wondered what it was that drove a person to seek solace on what must have been after hours on a weekend night in the chapel. It must have been something heavy and hard to carry. And then, to have that disrupted by two mischievous college students must have been dismaying, and hopefully a little entertaining.

I felt a little like that college age self as we descended on the meditating woman on the riverbank. She seemed so intent to remain within her meditation, no friendly nod, no acknowledgement of our presence, just a continued steadfast resolve. I wish I took the opportunity to watch her more closely, instead I just stole glances as I turned to stare off downstream, trying to respect her space, her presence. She did not seem to be in a state of suffering. She seemed like someone who did not have an easy life, but was content with it. It seemed like this was as natural a thing as anything else one might find on the banks of a river in Montague. 

A few years ago we decided to inner tube from our bend in the river down to the conservation area downtown. This was a several hour journey involving numerous portages where the river ran shallow, passing under several low bridges, and a few sketchy parts where fallen trees made for dangerous obstacles, but near the end, we rounded a bend and were met with two women who had hung a cargo net across the river and were lounging in the net drinking a bottle of Prosecco. They waved us in and shared the bottle as we clung to the netting on our inner tubes. And this too, seemed as natural a thing as anything else one might find on the river in Montague. 

I want to repeat that journey one of these days, if only to confirm my memory, that somewhere along the river, there are a pair of women sprawled in a cargo net suspended over the river drinking Prosecco.

I think that too, must have been a kind of meditation. They were experiencing something altogether different from their usual existence on the river, as were we in our inner tubes as we floated downstream a little bedraggled from our journey. My head felt so heavy on my neck I could barely keep it upright. I was thirsty and greedily drank from the bottle, spilling it down my chest. We were like two apparitions meeting each other in the middle of the river, both totally unexpected and inexplicable (nobody tubes down the Sawmill River), and both filled with wonder at discovering the other.

It is sometimes marvelous what you find when you are willing to do something unusual that removes you from your normal state of existence. 

Take care and be well,

Leo

There's something amazing about this photo from a slide of my father in Korea
with a cute little dog
and on the bureau is one of my class photos circa 1979.

From Our Friends:

From the 5 College Center for East Asian Studies:

Ties that Bind: Women’s Empowerment in Early 20th Century Korea, Aug. 12, 1-3pm ET. What role did Christian missionaries and the Christian church play in the empowerment of Korean women in the early 20th century? This is the essential question which will be discussed in this 2-hour virtual workshop led by Lee-Ellen Strawn. Details and registration.

Asian American Activism: Voices, Representation, and Resistance. July 28, 29, Aug. 2, 4, 1-3pm PT. This series of online workshops will explore examples of Asian American activism, past and present, through the themes of identity, immigration, exclusion, protest, resilience, and expression. In looking to the past, we will work to better understand what it means to be Asian American within a contemporary context. This program is free and open to all current, in-service K-12 teachers. Details and registration.










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