I do not seek enlightenment. I know others who are in a constant quest for the will of God, the path to spirituality; they thank Him every morning that they are able to remember where they left their car keys and they pray for a cancer cure, a job, the perfect relationship. The ones so engaged do not appear more at peace, healthy or serene; often, the opposite is true. Their belief and prayers and mediations and rituals indicate a dissatisfaction with life. They complain a lot.
“If only I prayed harder and more often, dedicated more of my time to the pursuit of the intangible, to faith and grace, then my life, the world, the universe would be a better place. If I bear down and tense up, focus, I may be able to influence the future and change reality.”
It would be better if they flossed more often.
In the dark hallway of my early adolescence I quit thinking about religion, faith and worship. With limited success, I spent my leisure time trying to stay out of trouble; I struggled to keep my drug dosages manageable, to hide my true nature and thoughts from lovers, to show up on time for work and to give the impression that I was laboring for the good of the organization.
Drugs and alcohol were part of my ritual; I was unhappy and distracted. It is a truth, embarrassing to admit, that I wished for someone or something to rescue me. Not God, but a woman, a book, an experience. My life, of course, was of my own making; I stayed in bad relationships and difficult, underpaid jobs. As a result of daily drugs and alcohol, I felt paralyzed and lacked the energy to change my situation or to move on.
Then, when I was in my early thirties, I attempted to meditate. I hoped that an answer, a blueprint, a plan for extraction would come to me if only I was sincere and rigorous in my commitment.
Each afternoon I would drink from a pint of brandy, sniff a couple lines of cocaine and take a hit of low-grade marijuana. A yoga and meditation show came on TV around 2 p.m. and the man who hosted had a calming demeanor. I wanted to learn to be more like him; unshakeable, cool, and kind. He was short, soft and unthreatening, with a benign face of indeterminate ethnicity. He wore comfortable, loose clothing
I tried two of the recommended exercises.
“Place a flower in a bowl. Take long, slow breaths and exhale through your mouth. Look at the flower, the petals, the color, the leaves and the stem. See it in its totality. Do not waver in your concentration, stare at the perfect flower and feel the beauty of nature as it flows into you, entering through your eyes and with your breath, feel it as it streams through your body, your bloodstream, your organs. Inhale the beauty of the flower and breathe out any tension.”
It was a difficult proposal, this calm breathing and deep appreciation of one of nature’s marvels while grinding my teeth and trying to inhale through clogged nasal passages that burned with cocaine residue. I crushed the flower, tossed it into the garbage and finished the brandy.
A day or two later I tuned in once again. I’d give the master another chance to liberate me from my frustrating, dismal existence. That day, I suspected that the path to enlightenment would again require controlled breathing and a steady pulse rate so I eliminated the cocaine from my breakfast. I drank off the brandy and smoked a bit more of the joint than usual; I was committed to achieving serenity and guidance from within.
The Candle Meditation. Light a candle; sit in front of it in a comfortable posture. The practice is similar to The Flower Mediation, but the candle is a flickering brightness that represents the light of the universe.
“Sit close and stare into the heart of the flame. See the aura, the vibrating purple and yellow bands of color as you become more and more relaxed. The fire from the wick may flicker from time to time; don’t let that disturb you. It is a natural action of flame in the air. A breeze, undetectable, may blow through the room. Consider this the breath of God as he shows you the light of all creation. You are calm, you are relaxed, you are whole.”
I entered a trance state, nodding towards enlightenment, tipping into illumination.
I smelled something burning.
I opened my eyes; I was an inch away from the flame and it was singeing my hair, which had fallen forward as I tilted into the candle. I barked an obscenity and brushed at the front of my head. A lock of hair was smoldering. I slapped at my forehead and sparks and ash fell onto the carpet; I lost two inches of hair and half an eyebrow that afternoon.
Mediation was not for me. It didn’t work and it was dangerous.
Christ, I almost set myself on fire.