By Séamus Anthony
Ever wondered how some people manage to get up before the sun to meditate and exercise? Well, let me categorically confirm that I’m no expert, but recent* experiments have shown that three elements are integral: persistence, patience and good humour. Without these you might as well stick with the sleep in!
The Frozen Buddha
With strains of classical music the clock radio burst to life. What was my first thought? – “I must be insane”.
I have this year resolved not to wimp out during the frosty months but to rise despite the cold – which frankly, I despise – and do my meditation, chi gung, and exercise routine at dawn.
In the face of my every screaming instinct.
Shivering, I stumbled out of the bedroom at 5:11am (to avoid beginning my day with an earful of bad news, I never set the alarm to go off on the hour). I then proceeded to have rather a funny time of it. Apparently, this was my day to have my persistence, patience and good humour well and truly tested.
I sat on my chair in the study and began my chi gung sitting meditation, but the little blanket I had over my lap just wasn’t cutting it. I was in serious danger of turning into some kind of Buddha shaped ice-sculpture. I collected my chi, stayed calm, and moved to sit in the living room where there is an old gas wall-heater. I turned the heater on and it cranked up with its usual cacophony of pops, clicks, and groans, all magnificently loud in the stillness.
My pets decided this was their cue to come and hang out.
The cat, Mimi, I can handle; besides, getting rid of her is only possible by putting her outside, which would mean getting up again. However, the dog, Dude, was too large for the space between my knees and the heater – and anyway, he smells. Thankfully, we have an established rapport. One grunt and he was back on his bed. The thing is, he’s gigantic and his bed is a very noisy beanbag.
As Dude turned around about 20 times, I practised my patience and ‘letting go’ until he finally lay down and went back to sleep. Part of his ‘going back to sleep ritual’ is making slurping noises with his mouth – God knows why – so I had the pleasure of listening to that for a few minutes. Meanwhile, far from contemplating the divine, I began to make plans for that meditation and hard-to-catch-DVD-dialogue-disturbing beanbag … plans involving a large truck, one with robot arms on the side.
Just as I am thinking this – the very same garbage truck pulls up outside my house and starts its robot-arm-whirring, wheelie-bin crashing racket.
Oh, the synchronicity if it all.
“I am patience, persistence, and good humour. I am patience, persistence, and good humour”, I silently repeat, not very good-humouredly.
Meanwhile I have warmed up nicely. The cat, surprisingly, decides to leave me alone for once.
Then, I start falling asleep.
Not actually asleep, just drowsy due to the heater, which means my thoughts are heading off into la-la-land. I turn the heater down, which sets it off popping and creaking again. I start counting my breaths to keep my focus up, but keep wandering off into noddy-land again and again. An old hand at this, I relax and patiently bring myself back to my breath awareness, often having to guess which number breath I was at.
Eventually – hallelujah! I reach that sweet point of meditation where my mind opens wide and the connection with Tao has been made (Tao is God, universal consciousness, spirit – there are countless names). Bliss and clarity are achieved; total contentment. Internal chattering calms and a direct sensation of transcendent love flood my senses. It feels fantastic. This energy relaxes and heals on three levels: physical, mental, and spiritual.
Sound good? The cool thing is that this experience is available to anyone who seeks it out, and it’s free.
After enjoying this for ten minutes I get up to do my standing chi gung. I have been aware for a while that Mimi has been padding around the house in a hurry. I am just beginning my stretches when she comes and starts doing the leg-rubbing thing. I don’t mind this. I am in fact very used to it. I have a theory that purring cats emit good chi. So I usually just let her do her thing until she gets bored and wanders away.
This morning, however, she keeps trotting around the house, then coming back, running off, and then returning until I realise what’s happening. The house is closed up on account of the cold and she wants to pee! I hear her scratching the carpet in the spare room, and I know that if I don’t open a door and let her out then she is very soon going to do it inside.
I breathe in, collect my chi, see the humour of it and let her out. That makes two mornings she has disturbed my stretching routine. Yesterday was more dramatic. I was outside (it wasn’t as cold) and was getting the usual leg rubbing from her as I bent and stretched. No problem. Then all of a sudden I felt four sets of claws digging into my back – she’d had gotten some kind of a fright or tried to swipe at an insect or something and had decided to use my back as a climbing wall!
Well, that threw me. Chi flying off in all directions, I lost my cool, turned and barked at her in a very dog-like manner. She fled, stopped a few feet away and promptly resumed looking totally unruffled, casually stretching and giving her paw a bit of a lick. I had to smile. Cats are the indisputable Zen masters of suburbia. I collected my chi and resumed my practice.
As for the rest of this morning, I went for a jog despite the Antarctic weather, did my other exercises, and never quite lost my rag with it all. Now I sit here smug in the knowledge that I have – on this day at least – proved to myself that I can be the person I want to be: persistent, patient and good humoured.
As for tomorrow? Ask me that at 5:11am!
*I have to admit that this article is actually a couple of years old and originally appeared in Australia’s LivingNow magazine – I gave up on all that early morning shit ages ago. It’s for the birds…