Launching My Practice Anew: An Unlikely Tale
Some time after I decided to stop practicing Transcendental Meditation—and stopped meditating—a stunning synchronicity captured me as I stood in a small used bookstore in Vancouver, B.C. (1) Earlier that morning, I had provoked a totally unjustified fight with my wife, Faith, which ended with her grabbing her purse and steaming out of our motel room. What was I to do?
I needed distraction. I couldn’t do anything about my behavior—I wouldn’t recognize how offensive it was for some time. I just couldn’t afford to stand still, lest my fear of abandonment wash over me. Casting around, I recalled reading a magazine article about a Canadian-born novelist who now lived as an expatriate in France. This writer contended that her novels were superb, and that she was sorely under-appreciated by her fellow Canadians. So here was a perfect quest for a lost soul like me—storm through the bookstores of Vancouver looking to buy a copy of one of her books. (Nowadays, you could probably find one on the web. But I had never used a computer and the Internet was only on the threshold of invention.)
At my seventh or eighth store, I reached my epiphany. I had not found a single book by this author, whose name I do not remember. But my search tended to suggest there was little patriotic demand for her works. Exhausted, I stood near the entrance of the store, wondering what to do next. I glanced at a nearby shelf, and a slender paperback seemed to reach out and envelop me. Riveted, I opened it with a fascinated sense of fate: Divorce for Men.
You might suspect that a person encountering such a fateful book would remember every sensation that drove him to make a purchase. But I don’t.
Remember, I was an American living in the 1970s. Divorce was far beyond running rampant; it seemed to have become a rite of passage for my generation. I felt the pressure, but I couldn’t imagine how someone earning what I did could ever afford alimony and child support—let alone going on to start a new family.
My fascination was short-lived. I felt nauseated as I skimmed through the book, with its cornucopia of strategies for besting a spouse in divorce court. How could I ever be so heartless? Relieved—feeling I had dodged a bullet—I replaced the book, and only then did I notice the book standing next to it—also a small, cheap paperback—less hefty, if that were even possible.
Its' title was even more assertive than its neighbor’s: How to Meditate. I had never heard of the author, Lawrence LeShan. But I was drawn in as well by the inscription below the title “The Acclaimed Guide to Self-Discovery.”
You might suspect that a person encountering such a fateful book would remember every sensation that drove him to make a purchase. But I don’t. Perhaps I turned to the page where LeShan cautions against organizations that require one to pay to receive a mantra. Or maybe I just looked at the title of chapter 10: “Is a Teacher Necessary for Meditation? Choosing Your Own Meditational Path.” Surely, I looked at it long enough to gather that he provided simple, clear instructions to many forms of meditation, and an intelligent discussion of how each might be used—and by whom.
I bought the book and headed back to our motel. (2) That very afternoon, I tried out one of the rites he described: The Bubble Meditation, in which one is imagined at the bottom of a lake, watching each individual thought rise like a bubble before bursting at the surface. And I was soon to try others: breath-counting, the Safe Harbor, Who Am I? —and many others. Strangely, I’ve never pored over the book to see exactly how many meditations he presents. Two dozen? Three dozen? And exactly how many have I tried?
The book became my bible. It was inexpensive--$3.99 sticks in my mind—cheap enough for me to buy many copies for friends and acquaintances. Later, I moved on to other meditative formats—often devising my own—and stopped buying LeShan’s book. But in the past few days I have been reviewing LeShan and noticing how he concludes his discussion of almost every meditation he presents. He suggests a staged progression—just a few minutes at first, gradually increasing and—after a few months, even longer—deciding how or whether it will find a place in your practice.
Following this wise advice now may compel me to revisit the scope of this memoir. I had supposed that my loving-kindness meditation might remain static over a year as I wrote these essays, perhaps at the rate of one a week. But if my meditation is fruitful, it’s bound to change over such a period. I’ve made good progress on a few of my loving-kindness goals. Others remain profoundly elusive; I will have to devise new, deeper ways to pursue them.
The prime quest, May I dwell in gratitude, has a new twist. Whenever I picture Gratitude, that mythic, portable village located in the heart of my meditation, may Mr. LeShan be a near and familiar neighbor.
1. How long afterward? A few months? A year? I really have no idea, but it couldn’t have been more than two years.
2. My wife, obviously, returned as well. I don’t remember how we healed the breach that had launched the day.