Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, February 23, 2014
Get the small roughhewn stool your Pa made for you and sit down on it, thinking good thoughts because you’re a well behaved person. Your Pa always liked it when you were well behaved and you still are. Only you’re not a little girl (or boy) anymore even though you may feel small on this stool. Shoulders back. And shoulders down. Try not to think about Pa — or anyone you’ve lost or loved so much who is gone now. Stop fidgeting. Put your hands on your lap. Surely, they are as clean as they should be.
Ma always said, “There’s no time like the present.” Well, it turns out there’s no time but the present. If you don’t know that already, what are you doing trying to meditate, for goodness’ sake? Ma would say a comment like that was being disrespectful and flippant. That we are all entitled to the pursuit of happiness, no matter who we are or what our circumstances are or what our level of understanding is or how much meditating we have done in the past. There’s no shame in not knowing something. But the plain fact is that meditation is about being here, right now, on whatever stool you choose. Hearing but not listening. Seeing but not looking. Icicles are melting. Finches are chattering peaceably.
It was Ma who first pointed out the soft sound of icicles dripping, with the words, “Pay attention, Laura,” and when I did, that’s when I understood something I could not put into words. You won’t find that in any of the books. There are moments in time from my childhood when the whole world was like a meditation and Ma didn’t even know it and maybe I didn’t know it either, and maybe that’s just life. Pa might have known in his quiet way.
Think simple thoughts, like what it feels like to hang your feet into a creek. Or what maple syrup on snow tastes like. Or the deep blue of sky cracked apart by the bright white branches of a backlit tree. Or what it was like when everything was simpler and your biggest problem was that that spoiled Nellie Oleson had things you didn’t have, like porcelain-faced dolls instead of ragdolls, and fancy store candy, because her father happened to own a store. Someone will always own a store, meditator. And if you didn’t have a Ma or Pa like mine, then pretend your second grade teacher, the one with the matching necklace and earring sets and sensible shoes, is giving you a stern look as you sit there thinking instead of meditating, the look that not only says, “Eyes on the math problem in front of you, Laura,” but “Be better than you actually are.”
It’s not like we didn’t have real problems, too, like blizzards and disease and dead livestock and such. We did. And we survived, and the spring came.
Did you dress for meditation like you might have for church? That’s probably what Ma would have done if she had had any time at all to meditate, which, of course, she did not. It wasn’t done back then, not in the Midwest in the late 19th century. Anyway, you don’t have to be comfortable but you do have show up in your best, that’s how we did it in our family. Or, you can probably just imagine you’re wearing your best calico, which is a printed cotton fabric, in case you never really did know what that word meant except that Mary always got blue and I always got red.
If you’re a man, imagine you are wearing a heavier cotton handmade shirt, possibly striped, with suspenders. Like Pa in the TV series. Played by Michael Landon who died of pancreatic cancer at a fairly young age. He drank and he smoked, and he never did deny any of that.
Pa smoked a pipe, which was a pleasure for him.
Imagine pipe smoke curling up to the log beams and rafters in a small log house on a cold spring night when, even though the calves are about to be born, there is an unexpectedly heavy amount of snow falling and wind blowing against the walls. The fire crackles.
And then, all of a sudden, your springtime feelings are pushing up out of nowhere, rooting blindly through the thawing earth — tiny, mighty fibers, reaching for the sky. You feel that sky, night-black and soon day-blue, throbbing above even though you can’t see it, and you are there. Hold that thought, hold it.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in again. The calves are about to drop. The calves are just about to drop.