As I begin to meditate, it’s not hard to imagine my thoughts as cars because the sanctuary room is near an actual busy street, providing the appropriate sound effect. It’s much harder not to hitch a ride, especially when what I think is a flashy one passes—something that promises to sweep me away into a scenery of self-loathing.
Like this time when I was an undergrad and a handful of people showed up at my apartment—invited, though not by me. They filed in and sat in the living room, happy and friendly. I was annoyed at them, and at my roommate, which I made obvious with my cold, standoffish demeanor. I had just made a large tart with a sack of figs from a tree out front. It was hot from the oven and big enough to share, but I refused to offer one bite. I set it on top of the fridge and harrumphed around the kitchen within earshot of the guests. In a flash, I am back at that afternoon, only now it is accompanied with an unpleasant physical sensation, heaviness on my shoulders and constriction in my chest. I breathe and realize I have been carried so far from my place at the side of the road. I am in the next county. I make that stupid jalopy bring me back to the present moment and drop me off. Go! I shout as it sputters away.
As I watch the taillights on that particular thought recede, it occurs to me to question what is going on here. If the road is my mind, and the cars are my thoughts—and I am standing off to the side, apart from both of those things, then where am I? How is it that my mind can observe my mind? Do I have two minds? Or two parts of one mind? I seem to have a narrower one—represented by the road—and then something much bigger—the version that encompasses everything outside of the road, the one that can watch over the other one. It’s this vaster version I come back to when I refuse to let my thoughts take me away and opt instead to stay firmly planted in the present moment.
In Buddhism, no deity exists in the way that many Westerners conceive of God, as a separate entity or creator. But I’ve noticed some Buddhists speak of an infinite source from which everything derives, of oneness and unity, descriptions that sound similar to how many Christians and Jews speak of the divine. I’m seeing how this spot on the side of the road, the present moment, is a God-like zone.