I was practicing zazen, a meditative technique where one attempts to clear one's mind of all outside stimuli and maintain a state of emptiness. The cat was in my lap, between where my legs crossed, because if I did not keep him there, he would mew and beg behind me before pressing his face into my side and arms; he has become more like a dog in his old age.
I was doing a more or less decent job of maintaining an empty state of mind. Thoughts, like noxious gas, welled up through the cracks in my discipline and every fifteen seconds or so I would force a mass evacuation, and they would re-enter, slowly, through new and devious routes. Zazen is more like border patrol or the maintenance of a troublesome nuclear reactor then I would have originally thought. If done right, however, it leaves me feeling calmer, less troubled by the worries of the day, if no wiser.
Not today. Today I would go up against strong and vulgar forces that would find the strength of my spirit wanting.
Perhaps ten minutes into the exercise I felt it: the coffee. I had had several cups of it after work and there had been butter and cream and whatever else had been in that white sauce I poured on my salami and sliced potatoes and just at that moment they had found each other in my stomach. Chemical reactions were taking place, the details of which I was hazy on, but the outcome of which would not be stopped. Which is the organ, the mechanism, that tells you when you need to shit? Mine was lit up like a glow-in-the-dark piñata on día de los muertos.
It was the suddenness of that hit that was in some ways the worst bit. A slow one coming down the pipe and a man has some time to prepare himself for what he is about to feel. Even if the pressure builds he hast time to run a complete shut-down-- batten down the hatches, prepare against the push-- and grin and bare it.
But how would I deal with this? A zen master-- according to my vague understanding of this way of looking at things-- would remain cross-legged and unperturbed by the desperate signals his body was sending. His (or her, but for the sake of the arguments I am about to give let's say our zen master is male) discipline would win out over the illusory screams of the body. Or else he would shit himself, and this, too, would not bother him.
Our zen master would sit in his shit and neither the squishy feeling against his legs nor the smell that began to arise would distract him from a mind-set, a realm, of absolute emptiness. And should our incontinent master of himself be sitting in a room filled with beautiful, meditating female students who until this moment had, to a one, respected and adored him without reservation, and should the shitting of himself turn those feelings into feelings of utter repugnance, still our theoretical master would be absolutely unfazed.
The master would not say to himself, as I might, Seriously are you fucking kidding me?! I finally pay off the new meditation mats and land twelve co-eds from the University of Arizona, and this-- this-- is the day my bowels go all 'Rambo' on me? Some of these girls have tongue-studs for chrissakes...
No. Thoughts like these would have gone the way of the dinosaurs long before our master received his title and recognized that sitting in his own shit surrounded by gorgeous, suddenly regretful and increasingly nervous young women was as holy an experience as standing beneath the ancient limbs of the Bodhi tree or wading in the Netravadi river. If the master allowed himself any reaction, it would be to allow a small smile to cross his face. The universe wishes to experience itself through its vessels, he would innately know, and certainly the experience of losing absolute control of your sphincter while in a meditative pose surrounded by students-- the majority of whom you feel a strong sexual attraction to that you suspect until just moments ago was largely reciprocated-- this is one experience the universe should wish to add to its incalculable supply.
The master, not one for speculative thought and taking the reality he experiences as neither good nor bad but merely what has occurred would not ponder the implications of his situation on modern quantum-physics. He would not sit there, thinking: What if there are an infinite number of possible universes lying back to back? That means somewhere in time and space there is a universe exactly like this one. Except that in that universe I haven't just filled my meditation ghi with my own feces. Even if he did think this, he would not begrudge or envy himself in the other, slightly cleaner universe.
It is something to aspire to, certainly.
But despite the attraction this state of conscious selflessness holds for me, the physical world still grasps me tight. Even without co-eds to impress or honor to maintain I broke the meditation-- thoughts, worries, aspirations rushing in like a tidal wave, sleeping cat cartwheeling off of my lap, as I made a mad dash for the one place that could make it all alright. The Way is easy, you just have not to mind certain things.