Friday, October 27, 2006

Best Birthday Gift Ever

Today I turned a quarter of a century old. Usually, I like to buy myself a birthday gift. I do this for all the gift giving occasions that affect me. People who know me know that I am a pretty picky shopper, so buying for me can be a real pain in the ass. However, I always get myself what I want. Earlier today, I thought about what I wanted for myself this year. Then, around noon, I gave myself my best present ever (I think).

I was sitting outside of the law school waiting for Amanda to come out so we could go to lunch. The rain was gently falling, and I watched the traffic go by. As I was standing there, I thought to myself "A car could lose control coming out of the parking lot and hit me. I could be moments away from being paralyzed or killed, and I would never see it coming." I began to think about what it would be like to lose the use of my legs, and what I would think about the last few seconds I got to use my legs, standing outside the school. I began to notice how my legs felt and what it felt like to stand on my own, knowing I could walk anywhere I wanted to. Basically, I began to think about absorbing as much of the sensations of standing on my own. . . kind of like building a complete awareness of what it was like to stand, so that I could look back and remember exactly what it was like if I ever became paralyzed.

This simple act of awareness consumed my entire mind state; I became completely wrapped up in the sensation. Even though I was standing out in the rain, waiting for someone, I was completely content because I was standing in the rain. It was all I could think about, and it was all that mattered at that moment; Amanda could have stayed inside for an hour, and I don't think I would have gotten upset.

This blew me away; I spend my days watching TV, surfing the internet, studying, and going to the bars, and I'm still bored and restless. But when I took away all the external stimuli and focused on being, the time passed quickly and pleasantly.

Eventually, Amanda came out and we went to lunch/breakfast at the Village Deli. Breakfast was good, and I had fun spending some time with Amanda. Throughout the meal, however, I began to think about applying the mindset I had towards my legs while I was outside of the law school to other body parts and senses. I thought to myself: what if this is the last meal I can ever taste?; what if this is the last time I can talk to someone?; what if I go deaf tomorrow?; what if I go blind? With each thought came new sensations. Breakfast ended quickly, and Amanda and I parted ways for the afternoon.

On my walk home, I continued my exploration. I thought about losing my sight. I asked myself, "If I went blind, would I be able to say that I appreciated my vision and used it as much as I could?" I spent a minute just looking around at everything, trying to soak up as many images as possible. If I ever lose my sight, I know that I would miss seeing sights like the hundreds of ripples that course through a puddle during the rain, or all the nooks and crannies in a brick wall. I did this with my hearing, too; I noticed the sound of cars swooshing through the rain-drenched streets, and the sound of rain hitting leaves.

I then kicked it up a notch; I tried to appreciate two senses at once. I challenged myself to try to notice every sight and every sound at once. This was next to impossible; it was a sensory overload! But the ability to appreciate every sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch would be amazing. Focusing on one sense is fine if you could know that you'd lose it one day; but if I lost my sight, but had spent my life noticing and appreciating sounds, I would be depressed.

I think "enlightenment" in the spiritual sense of the word, refers to the ability to notice and appreciate everything around you at once; all the sights, all the sounds, all the smells, all the feelings. Not many people reach enlightenment because 1.) it requires incredible mind power; and 2.) we constantly create new amusements and distractions that draw away our attention to the present. Things like TV and radio are great, but they occupy our sight and sound senses so completely that we can't think about the other things going on around us.

I think this is why buddhist monks spend years in solitary meditation. They want to pair down the amount of stimuli so that they can use all there senses at once and be completely present in the moment. And maybe this is why they seem so peaceful and content; they know that they've appreciated as much of their world as possible. If a person notices and appreciates every sensation possible, they won't be as remorseful when they lose a sense. If an enlightened man loses his sense of taste, he'll be able to look back on all the things he tasted in the past and remember what it was like. The same goes for sight and other senses too; he's appreciated everything he can, so he won't be caught of guard - no matter what life throws at him.

I'm going to work on this more in my life, as I think it's incredibly important. If you want to try it out for yourself, do this: next time you're walking to class, look around and try to notice everything there is to see on the way there; notice the cracks in the sidewalk, the shimmer coming off the wet pavement, the trees swaying in the wind. Can you notice them all at once? Are you focusing so much on the sidewalk that you fail to notice the cute girl walking down the street? If you start working to notice everything, you may find that you don't have the mental power to soak it all up. If you think you are noticing everything, try to notice all the sounds at the same time. Pretty freaking hard, eh?

I think that meditation is the tool people use to develop there ability to become more aware and notice more of the world around them. A person with a restless "average" mind looks at the world through a set of blinders; he can only focus on one or two things at a time. With meditation, the mind becomes capable of focusing (truly focusing) on more things simultaneously... it's like the blinders are being pulled apart. I'm guessing that the enlightened person see the world with no blinders; focusing on everything but blocking out nothing. That's what I want to achieve; that would be my heaven.

I read a passage recently that pretty neatly sums up my break through today: "Once years ago in China, a young monk asked his Zen master, 'What is enlightenment? What is it like for you?' The master replied, 'When I eat, I eat. When I sleep, I sleep.' Most of us are not usually paying attention to what we actually do and say. Too often we are either lamenting about and clutching at the past, or anticipating and fearing the future. Instead of fully inhabiting our bodies and experiencing our experience, we're semiconcious at best - not fully present, barely away. . . In this way, we miss the beauty; we miss the sadness; we miss the actuality, the full texture of our lives. . ." Awakening the Buddha Within", Lama Surya Das, pp. 298-299.

I honestly can't think of anything I want to buy myself for my birthday this year. I think this brief glimpse into what life can be like was enough; the revelations I had this afternoon will keep me busy for many birthdays to come.

No comments: