Mind Over…

I’ve been doing something like a meditation practice for a long time. I say something like because, although I’ve read plenty of books on the subject from different disciplines, and have a yoga practice of long standing where the meditation aspect often enters in, I’ve never formally studied with a teacher the way one is supposed to do if one is to learn something as esoteric as meditation.

This prejudice against taking instruction on meditation is completely capricious, as I practically live at the nearby yoga studio here and even more so home in LA where the drive is far less picturesque. (It’s hard to imagine somewhere with worse traffic than LA: but that’s East Hampton, Amagansett–never mind the other hamlets in this region known as the Hamptons–in July and August.) I guess this is my karmic debt alas.

For a while, I was going to do TM because everyone who does it, swears by it, and I liked the idea of twice a day for twenty minutes but I didn’t like the way I was hounded online after just one little cyber inquiry. I could mention a few other meditation cults I’ve contacted throughout the years, and I can genuinely say the same thing: not only did the usual fear of turning my mind over to the authorities enter in, I felt I was being marketed to. I was pitched morning noon and night if I inquired just once. And If I inquired twice, I was asked for my phone number, a credit card and a firm commitment.

Consequently for at least ten years, I’ve settled into my comfortable thirteen and sometimes twenty minutes of sitting as straight as I can on the floor on a cushion with my eyes closed and noticing my breath. And when some other thought enters in, returning to noticing my breath. It sounds moronically simple, but it’s not.

I’ve learned a few little tricks at some of the yoga workshops and cleanses I’ve participated in over the years. One is alternate nostril breathing, which really does focus the breath. The other is exhaling rhythmically for eleven minutes (the later is a breath practice to relieve past anger and actually it really does! At least whilst the meditation is going on.)

For years and years now, it’s what I do every morning before work. One of the above, and on especially bad mornings after troubled sleep, all of the above with the Loving Kindness meditation as a sort of secret weapon if things are really untoward in my world.

Unfortunately, just lately, my practice has fallen off. And I can feel its lack in my life. I have less patience. I am more tempestuous.  Less accepting of others and myself. And I notice I am more prey to self-pity, self-aggrandizement, the list goes on and on.

I was encouraged when I heard a Zen Buddhist monk the other night speak of the fact that when he’s in New York, he still gives the finger to anyone who cuts him off in traffic.

After he confessed this, the monk gave the people sitting on cushions in front of him, one of his beatific monkish smiles. A man, I’ve noticed is able to get away with this sort of thing; where a woman, even a charming female Buddhist monk wouldn’t. I think that’s because the world is always more forgiving of a man who loses his temper than of a woman who does. I noticed this particularly when I used to be in a writing group. If a woman was getting pissed off in somebody’s piece—especially if it was written by a woman—everyone in the room, both male and female would point out the off-putting anger aspect and dress the writer right down. This is, of course, a very big gender inequality issue. One worth investigating at length elsewhere.

I went to hear the monk because I was hoping he would inspire me to get back to my meditation practice, and he did! I’ve meditated each morning since then. And when I do, instead of paying attention to my breath, I’m distracted by the thought of the smiling monk, flipping someone off in midtown Manhattan. And also, since I’m having a hard time processing as everyone is, of Allen Ginsberg.

This week has been a doozie, hasn’t it? Death, more death. Donald, more Donald and a coup d’etat in Turkey. I’m sure I’m missing many other horrific events. What the world needs now is love sweet love. And more poets like Allen Ginsberg. The link below is for his distracted meditation. (My thanks to Aimee Levy, for originally sending me this link.)


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Goodbye Uncle Bob!

On Tuesday of this week, my son and I drove to Jericho, New York and finally emptied out and closed down the storage unit that had been acquired don’t ask me how long ago, because no one in my husband’s family was willing to part with the fifty years of paintings, letters, notebooks, and the rest of the detritus of my father and mother-in-law’s apartment on West 77th street following her death.


What is it about old crap that reaches out its dusty moldy fingers and puts the vice grip on the sense of reason? I must have that ugly old photograph. I cannot live without that business letter from 1957. The trips people could have taken for what we spent! The fabulous clothes, the wonderful dinners!

The massages, the Italian leather shoes, the cashmere! What might have been and what have been point to one end: what idiots we were. My son and I, however now have the moral high ground: we did it! We closed down the money pit.

As recently as last summer, my husband and I had set forth with a rented truck and a firm resolve and left Uncle Bob’s Storage Unit facility with an empty truck and mutual anxiety attacks. These old possessions and the memories they elicit are so debilitating.

My son had warned me on the morning we set out: “We might not get it done today, and you can’t just throw away something without vetting it with me! Otherwise, I’m not driving you there!”

“Okay,” I said. And I wondered if this was going to be A Visit to Uncle Bob’s Redux, but at least we had not rented a truck. We were driving in my son’s great big Toyota four-wheel drive. And I hope, since he had at least some of my genetic code, he might be a little more sensible than his father but of course they weren’t my parents. Or Grandparents.

Ghosts and spirits linger around the possessions of the dead. I had found that out when I was elected to clean out my mother and father-in-law’s apartment all those years ago—years I measure, not in coffee spoons like Eliot, but in monthly fees to the storage unit.

My husband’s family and I are not alone in this madness.

Consider the following:

1 in 10 US households have a unit.

Of the 58,00 storage facilities world wide, 46,000 of them dwell in the U.S. (The U.S., birthplace of the Big Mac and the Mac mansion, the California Closet Industry and indeed the California King itself, apparently is fonder of its clutter than anyplace else on the globe.)

Experts in the field of self- storage would tell you that the 4 D’s dominate the industry. Death, Divorce, Downsizing, Dislocation.

Yes, we in the U.S. use more gasoline than anyplace else in the world by far. And we also use our cars to drive us to our storage units, where we hoard our clutter that we cannot bear to part with.

Myself, though I have no problem parting with clutter, my email inbox contains close to four thousand unread or undeleted emails. I alas, know I am not alone in this accumulation of cyber garbage.

Is there a correlation between how much is in our hard drive? And how much is in our closets and storage units?

Now that space to hold “memories” in the form of images is getting smaller and smaller, is our desire to hold things, growing? Hence our explosion of containers for personal crap?

The interiors of our houses are expressions of who we are. Our storage units by extension tell even more about us. That is to say: What we hide, what we cannot bear to part with. Indeed our true neuroses dwell inside the long aisles of the storage units that dot the US. map, delivering, a 5.1 return on investment to the owner of the unit. Not the possessor of the drek.

In a way, our hidden clutter is more about our subconscious wishes and desires, our primal selves. Our desire to contain our raging IDs.

Out of sight, out of mind? Not so fast.

Yes, here in the good old USA, we have more Donald Trumps, (millions of them) more guns, more cars, more storage units, than anyplace else on the globe. Here we glorify and make a fetish of our clutter—and create a multi billion dollar industry to support it.

My good news is that, Uncle Bob’s in Jericho is gone. Hallelujah.

The bad news is that I have two more storage units to contend with….one three blocks from where we live in LA. And the other one, well, I refuse to even go there…..

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