I’ve left the element on.
More and more this is what it feels like. I might be halfway down the street when the image appears: a metal coil burning red-hot in one corner of a faintly clean white stovetop. I try to convince myself it’s unlikely. Steeling my jaw, I force first one leg and then the other into my sense of its next step. The image has a pull like gravity, though. And this begins to overwhelm whatever else might be waiting in my day, whatever else I might be heading toward: a meeting, a class, groceries. My legs become heavy under the influence.
At one point I assumed this dynamic would lessen. Abandoning one agenda today certainly means I’ll get to do what I want tomorrow. Right? This has not been the case. In fact, my experience has been pretty much, pretty consistently the opposite. Going back to look at that element right now almost ensures I’ll do the same tomorrow. Not out of choice, particularly. But because that pull - that gravitational ache - becomes stronger, more insistent every time I surrender to its wanting.
Out on the street I curse myself again.
Then I do what now seems near inevitable: I turn around and head for home.
There is no time - have I told you this? How else to explain all these appearances? Here I am riding in a swim team van, music blaring tinny and loud from an overwhelmed dashboard stereo. Here I am spinning gentle circles with my body as Hank Williams mourns in one ear. And here - feel the high flutter of panic in my chest? Breath coming short and sharp? A recently slammed door pressing against the moist warmth of my back? I’ve just run home from school again, scared from start to finish one of them might catch me.
Each of these arrives perfect in its every detail. Not some apparition from a distant and fading past as my cherished notions of ‘how things are’ might insist. You know the drill: ‘There is past, there is present, there is future.’ I tell myself this in a quiet but stern voice. Very much the way one talks to a child. The way one scolds a child. ‘This, clearly, belongs in the past.’
Only now this no longer seems to describe how things work - how they really work. Now these appearances seem as very ‘real’ as any of the other details that fill my ‘present’: the blanket hanging warm over my shoulders, the tired drone of the fridge behind me, the sticky sound of a car whizzing by on rain-soaked asphalt. That element, burning red-hot on the stove.
Years ago I woke from a dream. “Come outside,” a voice insisted. I looked out the window. Dawn was just starting to break. A faint glow spread over distant mountains. Both the air and the light of the moment were thin as autumn ice on street puddles. I imagined reaching out and cracking their surface with a single touch. My body shivered. I retreated back into warmth, slipped under my covers. ‘Later,’ I thought.
It was the other end of the day before I was able to finally follow the instruction I had received. Bundling myself against the falling chill of a winter evening, I stood on the land that seemed to have offered those words and looked around. The fading sky was deep blue by then. The emerging lights that twinkled throughout the valley looked like so many campfires burning upon the land. I thought I might have heard drums.
How long I waited I can’t say. Fifteen minutes? Thirty? Cold and fed up I eventually hurried back inside, stomping my feet on worn carpet in a effort to revive their ability to feel. “Only now,” I heard. It took a moment for me to be certain; it was the morning’s voice again. “Only now,” this told me. “It is always only now. You cannot go back. You cannot go back.”
A beat-up couch spread out to my right. I flopped into it’s support, dejected. Tired near tears. I knew in my bones I had missed the chance. Knew in my bones this might never arise again. “Come outside,” that voice had told me - asked me? Fourteen, fifteen hours later I understood this offering was time-sensitive, not to be negotiated - which is exactly what I had tried to do. ‘Later,’ I thought. That bed was so cozy. ‘Later.’
At a workshop this weekend, I spoke of a talk I once gave entitled, ‘Ten Reasons We Don’t Meditate’. Because it’s relevance seems limited by neither place or occasion, I return to this teaching with some frequency. When spoken, the first couple reasons are usually greeted with an ‘oh-those-crazy-kids’ kind of laughter. After this, the room becomes progressively more subdued.
Reason One: “I’m busy with school, maybe later.”
Reason Two: “School was tough, so after I finish traveling.”
Reason Three: “Who has time for meditation? I’m in love!”
Reason Four: “I really want to, but I have this new job.”
Reason Five: “I know I should but we’ve bought this house and it needs a lot of work.”
Reason Six: “Once the kids are older.”
Reason Seven: “The kids are older now but it takes so much time driving them around.”
Reason Eight: “I’m exhausted. I hate my job but need to stick it out for the pension. I’ll start after I retire.”
Reason Nine: “Work was tough, so after I finish traveling.”
Reason Ten: “My hips hurt so much, there’s no way I can sit still long enough to meditate!”
The point here is there’s always going to be some very good reason for doing something else. A new job. A new baby. My warm bed. Yet from its timeless depths life offers what life offers and it is always now. When we see that ad: ‘Learn to Meditate’. When that email announcement comes across our desk: ‘A Meditation Retreat’. When a voice wakes us on a chill winter morning: “Come outside.”
So perhaps I should be thankful this is what it feels like to me: I’ve left the element on. Perhaps I should be thankful this feeling seems to only burn stronger with time. I once attended a month-long meditation retreat from which the only words I recall the head teacher speaking are these: “We need to practice gratitude for our lives.” Wise counsel. I love that he used the word ‘practice’.
It is four in the morning and I would rather be in bed. But about an hour ago something yanked me out of sleep with a pull that would not be denied. I tried gathering the covers tighter. I tried clamping my eyes. That element was burning red-hot by then, though. Glowing on one corner of our faintly clean oven it was like a beacon, a call. “Come outside.”
A note card appeared earlier today:
There is no need to hide -
Are for the others
That only hours later I received a beautiful email from an other who had read an earlier post seems no mistake. “I read your blog,” he began. Words that seemed to crack open a heart.
I sometimes feel foolish living my life in this way. Getting up in the middle of the night. Chasing threads of feeling and intuition like a madman. Sharing what I’ve found and been shown in pieces like this. ‘Just meditate,’ I tell myself again and again. ‘Just sit down, shut up, and follow the fucking breath.’ But there’s that damned pull again, that red-hot element; this, it seems, is all part of it’s glow. “What else would you do?” my wife asks when informed of these doubts. Indeed.
Still, reminders such as the above are appreciated when they come: “There is no need to hide - / Our struggles / Are for the others” and “I read your blog.” “We need to practice gratitude for our lives.”
So I threw back my covers and, now, here I sit.
What’s waiting here I don’t know; it still seems too soon to tell. But as the clock on my laptop ticks off another minute, I feel it as sure as I feel the keys under my fingertips. Something is waiting.
I pull the blanket around my shoulders. The coarse weave scratches my neck, my chin. It’s still dark outside; no hint yet of morning’s arrival. I know, however, that if I sit here long enough, I will eventually meet the now this particular day is waiting for. This is the now that will allow a bright, burning star its first peek over the horizon.
Soon after this, a gradual light will spread over the landscape below. It will look so familiar, all of it. The foliage, the landmarks, the topography. But something - some thing - will have altered. Perhaps this will be an introduction, an alteration. It might not be much, but it will change everything. Nothing will be quite the same once it becomes apparent. The world will have been reborn. Again.
NEIL MCKINLAY - MEDITATION | COACHING | INTUITION - WWW.NEILMCKINLAY.COM