I sat in a pool of sunlight pouring through the long Velux, amplified and focused by the glass. Propped up on a cushion, struggling to keep my back straight, I fidgeted and rubbed my knees. I was supposed to be watching my breath. Adam said I could count them if it helped, but I kept getting lost. How could I lose count when I’m only counting to ten? I looked at the dust encrusted smudges on the window vaulting over my head and fought the urge to jump up and get out my cleaning kit.
The idea behind meditation was to simply be aware of whatever was present, in your mind, body and surroundings, sounds and smells and so on. My mind was crammed with shit. It was worse than the window. As soon as I sat down my mind had gone into hyperdrive, spinning and churning, throwing up images and thoughts ranging from spectacular mundanity to outrageous fantasy and everything in between. Closing my eyes made it worse. I had no control. My mind surged, giddy with its own stupidity.
I opened my eyes and glowered at the dirty window. Strange swooping and popping noises were coming from downstairs. It sounded like aliens were landing in the living room. I stretched out my legs in relief, and giving up on the meditation, went to investigate.
At the far end of the room stood a line of shelves stuffed to overflowing with books and DVDs, a high-tech stereo having pride of place in the centre. A generous sofa curved across the olive green carpet, dividing the room in two. Nearest the door was Jonah’s workstation, a jumble of computer and synths with flashing lights and wires tangled like spaghetti.
Here Jonah sat, hunched over a synthesizer, his fingers fluttering over banks of knobs and faders, unabashed glee playing over his face. There were no aliens.
‘What you doing?’ I said.
‘I thought the aliens had come for me.’
Jonah chuckled and turned a knob causing the sound pulsing from the speakers to plunge down, dragging my insides with it. I wandered over to the sofa from where I watched him tweak and twiddle until the air was filled with static, the noise of an untamed radio. He continued fiddling, making tiny adjustments and I listened, entranced, as new sounds sprung from the speakers. Another couple of tweaks and the air was filled with the warble of a demented blackbird.
Something was trying to worm its way into my consciousness; the way he was filtering the frequencies of sounds reminded me of…
‘It’s the brain,’ I said, with a surge of clarity.
Jonah looked up, surprised and not a little confused. ‘What is, babe?’
‘This is how it works, only without all the knobs and stuff, obviously.’
He grinned and I thought I’d better explain myself.
‘Scientists used to think the brain just converted all your sensory inputs into what you think of as reality,’ I said, ‘but then they found it changes it. As well as adding stuff and filling in the gaps, your brain filters what you hear and see and sense, and gives you an approximate version of reality. What you think is reality is just what your brain tells you is there. We have no way of knowing what reality is really like. What we see is just enough for us to get around, not bump into the furniture or get eaten by a tiger. The brain has to filter reality or you’d be overwhelmed – there’s so much of it. Reality, that is. Not brain.’
Jonah continued to experiment, making bleeps and squelches, while I went over my conversation with Adam. Meditation changes the way you think, so what effect would it have on my brain? Jonah’s assault on noise whimpered and fell silent, and he turned to face me, stretching his arms over his head and arching his back like a big sexy cat.
‘Just thinking about my filter.’ I tapped my fingers against my head. ‘Adam said my perception is shifting. Maybe the idea behind meditation is to open your filter so you can see more reality.’
Jonah nodded. ‘Sounds reasonable.’ He finished stretching and joined me on the sofa.
‘But… do I want to see more reality?’
‘You already do, babe.’ He took my hand. ‘You’re filtering it different to other people, that’s all. No need to worry about it. After all, there’s no tigers gonna eat you. Not in Newcastle.’
Jonah kissed my hand softly, then rained down a flurry of smackers up my arm to my neck, where he started growling and nuzzling, until I collapsed in a fit of giggles. This drove him wild, and he took to licking my neck, yanking at my jumper and trying to climb into my jeans, so the only sensible thing to do was stop laughing, join in and pull him to the floor.
The smell of hot cotton rose from the pile of ironing as I carried it upstairs. I took each step carefully and deliberately, feeling my way. I had never felt so present or so alive. Every contraction and release of muscle, the tightening of tendons, the movement of air through my lungs, even the beat of my heart, all working together, propelling me forward.
I practised meditating whenever I could and discovered it was much easier if I was up and moving about, rather than sitting with aching back and knees. I was too restless to sit still and it seemed to make my mind worse. When I had managed to sit, I either dozed off or started seeing lights. There was a translucent lilac pulse of liquid light which would gyrate before my eyes. Like the aurora borealis encircling my head in a chrysalis of electromagnetic luminosity. Once, I was dazzled by a crescendo of colours, a rainbow rising over my head, one tone following the next, a scintillating ladder lifting me out of this world.
I opened Ella’s wardrobe, sweeping back the doors, a blast of air wafting the hair from my face. Despite being mindful of every little detail, I still found my mind raced, thoughts piled upon thoughts, racing to get to the point, a Grand Prix of cogitation. Nothing I did would stop it. There was no start or end; it just went on and on, round and round. Breathtaking and endless. Boring.
I stopped for a break, taking a banana from the bowl in the kitchen. Easing myself onto a high stool, I bit into the soft flesh, mashing it up in my mouth and feeling it slide down to be embraced by my stomach. I was concentrating on how far down I could actually follow the progress of the banana pulp before I lost sensation of it, when I was startled by the fruit in my hand.
Something otherworldly had taken hold of my banana. I held it up and moved it around, looking at it from every angle, not sure what I was seeing. From the end I had bitten came an ice blue light, shooting out in jagged sparks. I rubbed my eyes and held the banana up to the light. There it was, as clear as the fruit itself; I wasn’t imagining it. The aura of a banana.
I watched the light fade in amazement and wondered what Linda would make of this development. No I can’t read your aura, Linda, but give us a look at your fruit bowl. I finished eating the fruit, pushing away a thought that the banana might know what I was doing on some deep unconscious level. Now, that really is a mad thought. Perhaps my eyes were playing up, as well as my brain.
Adam chuckled as he listened to my report on my meditation practice. I was shocked and amazed at the repetition, the negativity, and the running commentary in my head, but he found it all highly amusing.
‘I mean, why do I have to tell myself what I’m doing? I’ll put the kettle on, I need the milk, where’s the spoons, oh no, they’re all dirty, I’ll have to wash up. On and on. It’s mad. Is everyone like that, or is it just me?’
‘Don’t worry. It’s quite normal.’ His eyes twinkled with laughter, but I knew he wasn’t laughing at me. Nothing I said ever surprised him.
‘So you’ve discovered how little control you have over your own mind,’ he said. ‘Self-mastery is the beginning of freedom. We have much to do.’ He leaned forward and fixed me in his depthless gaze.
‘Tell me, Zoe. Who are you?’
I opened my mouth to say the first thing that came to mind, then stopped, goldfish-like. It was a trick question; one of those Zen things. I closed my mouth and waited for inspiration. Nothing happened. Adam was waiting for a response.
‘Well… I suppose… starting with the physical: you could say I’m a woman, small, possibly a pixie, wayward hair, hazel eyes, the requisite limbs, 33 years old. In terms of how I relate to others: I’m daughter of Rebecca, twin sister to Danny, girlfriend of Jonah. I’m a cleaner, so there’s my customers. You could say I’m managing director of my own company.’ I grinned proudly at Adam and, receiving no response, ploughed on.
‘Emotionally: there’s all the usual human stuff, happiness, sadness, anger, fear, confusion, love and so on. Mentally, well, we’ve kind of covered that. All the usual thoughts about what’s going on, what’s been going on, and what I would like to be going on at some point in the future or in another universe.’
I took a deep breath, trying to work out if I’d missed anything and wondering if Adam had fallen asleep; his eyes were starting to glaze over. I pressed on.
‘Then there’s all the weird stuff, the trances and visions, but aside from that I’m, for want of a better word, normal. I want to live and love and be someone, to matter, and for my life to mean something. I want to be happy and not be in pain or suffering. Everyone wants that. I’m a human being, a person.’
There was a pause. I waited. Was he still breathing? Finally…
I spluttered an incoherent response: not a woman? Not a human being? Not a person? What planet was he on?
‘All those things change,’ he said.
‘A human being is a human being, a woman is a woman, that doesn’t change.’
‘Those are ideas, Zoe. Are you an idea?’
‘No, but then… who am I?’
‘An excellent question. Your homework for this week.’
I shrugged. ‘Okay, I’ll explore.’
Adam laughed. ‘Very good. You can tell me what you discover next week.’
It was the end of our session, but there was one more thing I needed to clear up and I didn’t know how to approach it. His strangeness had been bugging me and I wanted to reassure myself. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust him; I was just curious.
‘Is there some way I can contact you before next week, if I need to. I mean, a phone number? Where do you live? Is it nearby?’
‘I’m afraid I don’t have a telephone. Is there something else on your mind, Zoe?’
‘Well… it’s just the lights, when I’m meditating. Dozing off I can handle, but the lights are annoying. Is there something wrong with me? Should I get my eyes tested? A brain scan?’
‘Are you really so determined to be ill?’
Adam oozed compassion from every pore. I looked at my feet and felt guilty for doubting him.
‘Ignore the side effects, the lights, psychic disturbances, and so on,’ he said. ‘They’re distractions. Remember, we’re interested in discovering the nature of reality and to do that, first you must understand the nature of your mind. Have you had any more trances since starting meditation practice?’
‘No. I’m just seeing things.’
‘Perhaps now you’re cooperating with the process, the unconscious doesn’t need to shout to get your attention. Monitor it. Stay grounded.’
I nodded. It was reasonable enough. ‘Until next week then.’
Adam waved me off and I walked away from the seats towards the footbridge. Once out of sight, I stopped and waited. I wanted to see him leave, to find out which way he went. It occurred to me to follow him, but I dismissed that as over the top and possibly paranoid. If he came this way, I would run into him. If he went the other way, I would see him heading up the path into Byker. I sneaked back and peered around the corner.
The seats were empty. He was gone.
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