a brief ride on my train of thought

musings of the homebound mind by jim "shu" carroll

  • jim "shu" carroll

muting myself

i'm sure the concept of "unmuting oneself" and finally speaking out plunges deep into the heart of many. i can understand how that might feel. but only from the diametrically opposed place of someone who has taken very little opportunity to shut up and listen. my challenge in later years has been to turn down the importance of speaking my mind and opening my heart and ears to listening to the voices of others. i knew it needed to be done. i also ran from it, blathering and opining and making absolutely sure that everyone around me had the marvelous opportunity to hear me. i was 61 years old when my friend jimmy finally convinced me to spend 10 days in a silent retreat with the vipassana folk. i knew it was something that would help me turn down the noise, not only that which burst forth from my mouth, but the constant monologue in my head. turns out i was only partly right. maybe some of you have entered an environment like this in an informed way. i was literally clueless. i mean, i KNEW we weren't going to be chatting folks up, and that we would be spending several hours a day in meditation, but to say i underestimated the challenge would be, well, and understatement. the greetings were polite and to the point. the accommodations modest. the "vibe" was decidedly reserved. i took my small bag to my room and entered the space i would share with my roommate for the next 9 nights without speaking or even making eye contact. no gestures. no charades. no writing. oh, did i forget to mention that? because jimmy sure as hell did. no books. no journaling. no EYE CONTACT! have you ever tried to go 10 days in a populated community and never look anyone in the eyes or exchange pleasantries? it was the oddest thing i had experienced. unnerving. artificial. taking all my attention to stay between the lines of silence drawn between us. you get used to what a waking day feels like. you have your routines. your coffee. your ablutions. your interactions. the many conversations. the day feels like the day feels. you're attuned to the pace. strip almost all of that away, and the day becomes longer. MUCH longer. how my roommate and i decided that he was going to rise early and shower and use the bathroom first is lost in my memory. it just happened. in a world where everything is completely strange, you look for patterns. you crave structure in a void. the question that occurred to me over and over again was "where do i go to get away from me?" turns out that was kind of the point. i had to mute myself and turn off the noise in order to be able to hear anything real. the meditation was uncomfortable, physically. 25 years of the fire service had left me with some joints that were tired of doing the amount of work they had been asked to do all too often, and often in the middle of the night out of a dead sleep. suffice it to say that the numbness that set in thanks to the immobility was welcome by the time it arrived. the pins and needles that warned me to move were ignored like every other "verbal" stimulus in my brain, and when the anesthesia had worked its costly magic i was grateful. in the back of my brain was the awareness that i was not going to be able to stand without help at the end of each session, and it tarnished my enjoyment of the numbness. but numb i was. meditation was at first interesting. novel. so "hip". right up until it became overwhelmingly boring. my breath is not that interesting. we were asked to notice the passage of air over our upper lip. well, maybe it was the moustache, or maybe my internal piping is weird, but i never felt a wisp over my upper lip. but i kept diligently looking for it. trying to quiet every other sensory input. straining without moving a muscle to feel something clearly imperceptible. i was sure that others around me were noting the force and direction of their inhalations and exhalations and that i was clearly the class idiot. put that aside. pay attention. listen. feel. and then something began to appear. my numbed extremities witnessed a ripple of pleasure that would roll like a wave over an arm or a leg right at the shoreline. in the tiny anesthetized vacuum that i had created in my body it was delicious. it was not explosive or overwhelmingly pleasureful like an orgasm, but it was definitely "on the spectrum" as we like to say these days. and it turned out that i could influence the feeling. if i tried without trying, which i realize makes no literal sense, i could encourage the sensation to move up and down my extremities. if i tried too hard or lost my unfocused focus, it would simply disappear. in those absences i noted that athe waves of pleasure were not free. as they dissipated they left behind slightly-awakened muscles; muscles once again aware of the hour or two that they had been deprived of adequate oxygen and movement. the pain was nearly as intense and decidedly less exquisite than the ripples of pleasure. <sigh> no free lunch. to have such a unique experience; to feel something so intensely and not be able to discuss it with others around you is another kind of pain. here i was having this extraordinary experience in the presence of others in the exact same situation, and we could not compare notes. share our experience. check to see if we were losing our minds or having a most mindful experience. that was something i had not even considered, and it was one of the hardest things of all. leaving the session for a 2 hour break was like walking out of a matinee movie to be stunned that it is still light out and that people are going about their business. but of course the only business people were going about here was no business. i walked the grounds like many others. following the trails. marveling at the beauty of nature and the many sounds around me. wind. birds. distant traffic. the crunching of twigs and gravel. my first inclination was to label it. some sort of fruit of altered brain chemistry. it had just a touch of the sensation of my first experience with psilocybin. but it felt more natural. real. worthy. i was able to focus on individual pebbles, blades of grass, even the feel of the slight breeze on my upper lip, which i found ironic and pleasing in equal amounts. there is so much more to say. this well of sensation and memory is deep and full and will not be abridged. at this point, it just has to rest and wait. losing circulation. becoming dormant. but a fertile, subconscious dormancy which promises to resurface.