CURRENT ISSUE:  OCTOBER 2023

Terry from Derry: Meditation on an Ice Flow

Terry from Derry: Meditation on an Ice Flow
By Terry Boyle

Getting older brings with it a unique form of nostalgia. With less time ahead, it’s natural to look back more. It’s weird sometimes how memory plays with our thoughts.  

There are enough memories in my head to make any stream of consciousness an ocean. I’m quite tickled by some of the bizarre showings from the past that can either make me cringe with embarrassment or simply laugh aloud. 

So, whenever I see those Godawful reality shows where the compere asks one of the exploitable candidates, ‘what would you say to your younger self?’ I want to shout out, ‘don’t fall for such a ridiculously stupid question.’ Our younger selves no longer exist, they are part of the flotsam and jetsam of memory.    

 I wonder if it isn’t this reality, accompanied by the brevity of life, that makes us grumpy old men and women. Rummaging through our memories, looking for redeemable, worthwhile events to soothe the ravages of time and avoid those times that would sink us further into turmoil, occupies our mind.  

My mind is constantly sorting, and selecting items from the past that keep me afloat. But like the titanic, it’s only a matter of time before the illusion of control runs aground on a cold reality. My favourite preoccupation is discovering those moments when life reveals itself to be absurd. Those delicious moments that cause us to feel the weight of existence aren’t what plunge us under but keep us merrily dancing on a sinking boat. It was sometime in the late 80s. I was living in Derry and studying English literature in Coleraine. It was always hard to find things to do in a small city when you’re young.  Even if there are lots of things you could be doing, the mindset of that particular age is incredibly hard to please.  

What to Do, What to Do?
Someone suggested that I go to a meditation class. Anyone who knew me then and now would see the ridiculousness of such an idea. My own frenetic brain does not stop long enough to smell roses, coffee or any other pleasurable object. 

Still, I was happy enough to give it a try. After all, I was the one who was complaining of having nothing to do. 

I remember entering the meditation room. There were about twelve of us would-be-seekers of divine enlightenment. We sat in our chairs, carefully taking in our surroundings.
It was a large upstairs room in an old building. The wallpaper had been meditating on that wall so long it had faded into a yellowish nirvana of sorts. 

Our meditation mentor was a Buddhist nun. My knowledge of Buddhism at the time was scant. I had some idea that the ego was the thing that got us into trouble. Our attachment to pleasing the self was the very thing that caused us pain. Meditation could help us abandon our self-centeredness and liberate us from the pain of attachment. 

As I looked around the room, my ego was in total flight mode. The door was shut closed and my way of escape too. The nun carefully avoided making any eye contact. Her ego wouldn’t be sated by the adulation of her mentees. She was detaching herself from all forms of prideful ego. 

The initial encouragement to concentrate on our breathing seemed harmless enough, if not boring. Our goal; to stop the manic flow of oceanic thoughts from sweeping us. Any attempt on my part to stop those glorious waves from pulling me onwards was futile. Try as I might, there was no interest on my part to find breathing a worthy object to pay attention to. 

Next, we were encouraged to empty our minds, which was tantamount to asking a hoarder to get rid of stuff. My attachment to thinking was too strong. Life on the ocean was a bit too exciting to give it up for nothingness if indeed nothingness even exists. 

I sat pretending to clear out cupboards and closets full of unnecessary thoughts. Who was I deluding? Having failed the first two exercises, I was beginning to think (another failure) that I’d had better things to do than pretend I liked doing nothing.  

The more I thought about my lack of contemplation, the more my breathing was becoming erratic. Just when you think that you’ve plugged all the holes in the boat, another leak emerges. 

During the final moments of the meditation, we were encouraged to welcome the dead. One by one, we were to imagine our dead loved ones blessing us. Any hope of stopping this tidal wave of despair stopping was futile. My dead loved ones were too busy laughing their asses off watching me squirm in my seat to be in a blessed mood.

I am sure they were pointing their fingers at me lapping up my well-deserved karma for believing I could stem the tide of living. The realization of the futility of my efforts allowed me to cast me adrift from meditation, and take my chances.  

It is a memory such as this that gives me hope. I know that whatever panacea for life I’m looking for doesn’t exist. And, instead of talking to our younger selves, we should speak to our older selves.  

The grumpy old men and women that we’ve become should be reminded that our lives are full of joys and woes. How we face or avoid those things that are a part of who we are is immaterial. In the end, if we can laugh at the absurdity of life; we can at least pretend it matters. 

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