After the talk, it’s time for a bit of walking meditation. This is a different style of walking meditation than the more militaristic type I experienced at the Zen center. Today, our instructor explains, we should make our way slowly around the garden, each according to our own whim, pausing every few steps. She tells us to look around, and try to gaze upon everything as if we have never seen it before. “Each time,” she tells us, “create a never-heard story for how that vision came to be.” I’m not entirely certain what she means by this, but I get the gist: we should practice moving through the world like she appears to.
My classmates and I set off in all directions like dazed sleepwalkers. I begin my trek toward the coy pond, stopping along the way to take in the golden curves of the stupa and a flag with squiggly script. “What is this amazing new sight?” I ask myself. It’s not so hard, I find these items fascinating. I try objects that are more familiar: an open rose and, then, a stone from the path. “Wow, look at that,” I tell myself.
I try to feel all the wonder of seeing something like the Grand Canyon for the first time. A flower, a chunk of rock—these things truly are remarkable if you look at them like that. It’s good to remember. But what would happen if I tried this with mundane things from my everyday existence like a piece of junk mail or an empty skillet? For a moment, the spell is broken. I think how nuts this group would look to an outsider who saw us meandering the yard like overly-medicated patients of a funny farm. Then even that gets lenses through which nothing has a set explanation, and I slip back into my hallucinatory dream.
When the class reconvenes, it’s time for seated meditation. I get comfortable in a plastic deck chair. I lower my eyelids to half-mast and focus on the sensations playing all around: the breeze against my skin, the gurgle of water, the rustle of leaves. I don’t know if it’s sitting outside or if the teacher’s example has nudged me forward, but today I see more clearly the essential dichotomy of being human. Each of us has a “little me,” what we conceive of as a distinct self, hungry for us to believe that’s all we are. The contours of its identity strengthen when we are caught up in ideas; memories of the past, worries about the future: the highway of thoughts is its domain. When we step away from the thinking and plant our feet in the present moment, we become a part of something immeasurable: the “big me.”
Suddenly what I feel is more expansive than the view to the ocean out front. I see that I can choose to let the “little me” have the power, or I can challenge its authority. I breathe in a beautiful state of bliss. All around is space and I am a part of it. I am nowhere and everywhere. “Here it is!” a voice shouts. I feel like a runner who has been struggling for miles and then, miraculously, hits her stride. I could go and go and go. Has it always been this easy? I want to hold this feeling forever. What if I can’t hold it forever? A thunderbolt of panic rips through me. My chest constricts and my heart beats wildly. I had been falling with no end in sight and now the ground has risen up to smack me. It’s awful to have the bliss slapped out of me and, yet, a part of me is relieved.