I am watching the flame of the candle in its glass cage flickering on my desk. Next to it, in a modified bottle decorated with pictures of dolphins painted in wax, burns a stick of incense from which I watch the smoke rise. I enjoy the scent. With these simple tools I try to unlock the door of a fulfilling day. Focus is calming.
Each morning, I begin the day with 15 minutes of meditation. I am gently knocking at heaven’s door, hoping to move outside of time so that I can function in these difficult days. This is a paradox, and that is what life is at the moment. It is quite a paradox to seek joy in disaster. But if joy is anything, it is everywhere—for what could possibly be the source of real joy except that which is eternal and omnipresent? I mean if joy is temporary, then its impending loss would negate it, right? So the essence of joy is its persistence. I meditate to experience that in my bones. Breathe in, breathe out. Is the breath long or short, heavy or light? I hear my roommate moving about. I think perhaps this will disturb my meditation. But no, I realize I must hear the noise in the noise. That means I must be the noise that I hear. It is not outside. Nothing is outside. Breathe in. Breathe out. The door unlocks, just a little bit.
I try to remember that this is not an accomplishment. I do not make the meditation; the meditation makes me.
The bell rings. I am a modern meditator. The sound of the gong emanates from my cell phone but it does the trick to move me to the next stage of the morning’s breakout.
As an oblate of a Benedictine monastery, I turn to the celebration of Lauds. Around the world, the monks of my order are doing the same, rising from their hermit cells, clothed in white robes, they walk in darkness to a chapel, step into the choir and listen to a leader intone: “Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will proclaim your praise.” I intone that myself in my writing office which for the moment is my cell. For the next twenty minutes we will all recite a series of psalms and prayers. I don’t know that I’m a believer, but I do know that this repetition is magical in its effect on me. The familiar melodies and the evocative words with their mysterious and incomprehensible import draw a connection between me and centuries of participants in these old ways. It is meaningful because it is so meaningless. That is to say, it has no meaning that I can detect or assume or provide; it just is, as close to something eternal with its millennium-plus history as the redwood tree in the neighbor’s yard which I can see out my window. And close to the eternal is where I need to be if I am going to get through the murk.
I am nothing if not a modernist. When my monkish prayers are complete and I have poured my first cup of coffee, I step outside for a bit of shamanic ritual, calling the Spirits. I whistle in the four directions, think now of the ancestors, and the Spirits of place and nature (hello Redwood tree!), my departed loves, the sun and the elements, and clap my hands as I turn in a circle. Whatever works, right?
Well, it is only 7:30 a.m. If I do nothing else today, I have had a moment of grace. Good enough.