The other day (July 5) I read a nice op-ed piece on the New York Times website by David DeSteno called “The Morality of Meditation.” In it he spoke of an experiment that showed that regular meditation practice can actually make people more compassionate, which was Buddha’s original goal, instead of just sharpening your mind or getting ahead in business (although if compassion results as a side effect, hey baby, whatever it takes, right?).
One reason I haven’t been able to write lately is I’ve been suffocated by summer heat and humidity. I also have certain work-related rows (I meant to right “woes” but the other word is likewise apt) and the usual ongoing existential dilemma related to my tricky marriage and whether or not to continue living in Korea. But I’m also not taking enough time to meditate, which may be why I’m letting myself turn into what I hate.
In a world that’s growing ever busier, in which people can’t sit still for even a second, where more and more folks want to be plugged in or tuned in to the latest blip on the global radar screen, meditation is an understated mode of rebellion. (Again, not that that’s what it was originally intended for; and learning how to meditate just so you can stand out in a crowd is also slightly ironic, to say the least, since supposedly advanced meditators are led to fathom not the primacy of the individual so much as the mercuriality of the self and the inescapable interconnectedness of all beings, humans and otherwise.)
But instead of beings, most of us are becoming human doings most of the time, at least I am, and I don’t like it. Not to say that it’s not a good thing to be active–of course it is. As my great aunt used to say, “If you rest, you rust.” But here in Korea they seem to overdo it a bit, if you know what I mean. I can’t pretend to be an expert on Korean culture and society, but as an outside observer I’d have to say that in public, a lot of Korean people shut themselves off from their neighbors by retiring into their various modes of hand-held devices and gadgetry and auditory accoutrements too much of the time, especially when they’re in transit.
This makes me sad, not only because it appears to violate what’s sacred about the culture–the importance of the community and brotherly love–but also because it cuts people off even from themselves. When people cease paying attention to their immediate surroundings, they stop being aware of what’s going on all around them. This is too bad.
On Friday night as my wife Jina and I were walking home from the restaurant where we’d had dinner after teaching elementary students together all afternoon, we encountered a worm trying to cross the wet street at the top of the hill where we live. It had been raining profusely all day, and I guess the worm had been unearthed by the incessant onslaught of airborne H2O. Anyway, I paused with the intention of lifting the creature up away from its agonized writhing and rescuing it from its distress. There was a strip of foliage above the concrete wall next to the street, and it wouldn’t have taken any time at all or even much of an effort to toss the hapless segmented pink serpent into the bushes.
Alas, Jina, a born-again Christian, would have nothing of it.
“No!” she said. “Keep going!”
“But he’ll get hit by a car.” (I’m not sure if “he’ll” would be the appropriate pronoun in any case, seeing as worms are asexual; that’s why above I went for the less-respectful sounding “it”–nothing personal, you understand.)
And yet the adamant avalanche of a woman refused to acquiesce, and, meek and emasculated specimen that I am, I gave in, and left the poor worm to its plight.
Sure enough, the following day as I was scaling the hill to go meet Jina to regale our kindergarten tribe with stories and arts and crafts, I found the creature dismembered, having been assassinated by a car (meaning the worm had been, not me–although I might have been at some point, which would explain a lot of things).
I imagine the driver was probably a cabbie who was too preoccupied by the commotion unfolding on the screen of his dashboard TV to notice the out-of-context invertebrate, not that he could have seen such a teeny critter from his vantage point behind the windshield, especially if the accident happened at night, which it almost certainly had.
Not to sound like too much of a holier-than-thou guru: over the weekend I partook of the flesh of several dead animals prepared for me by polite strangers, and I slept very well despite being a first-class reprobate indifferent to the suffering of (some) of my fellow mortal companions.
So if you find yourself constantly in a hurry, make sure to slow down and enjoy the ride. If your boss fires you for always being late for work, you can always find another job.
Unless of course, you can’t, in which case, I guess you have no choice but to rush–or else go to bed an hour earlier–probably your best bet.