Wednesday, February 7, 2007

The Itches

George has the itches. I mean, seriously. He's been at it night and day, scratching incessantly, for about four days now. At first we attributed it to one of his allergies--he seems to have a number of them, poor dog. But last night Ellie found a couple of fleas in his coat, so they are likely the culprit. Where there's one, she says, there must be thousands. He's been kept up with his Advantage, of course, but perhaps this particular breed of flea has found a way to survive that treatment.

Anyway, it's so bad now that he has been keeping us awake. Pampered creature that he is, he sleeps on our bed, and his presence there assures a constant minor earthquake through the night--with aftershocks. And during the day, I imagine, he is breeding colonies of these unwanted guests in the carpets.

Ah, well. All this makes me think of the early days of my meditation practice, when one of my teachers insisted on total motionlessness while sitting. An itch, he explained, if scratched, would certainly return--if not in exactly the same place, then certainly in another. The same with all those little aches and pains that strike the sitter in virtually every part of the anatomy. Useless, this teacher said, to shift the body in the attempt to ease the pain: like everything else in life, it comes and goes. If not quite an illusion, then at least it's transitory. Like all those pesky passing thoughts and feelings that arise in the mind when you're sitting there, trying to keep the concentration keen, they will surely disappear--and leave room for others to arrive and drift away in turn.

There were two tricks I learned to deal with these ephemeral distractions--whether itch or pain (or, of course, other bodily sensations, thoughts, or feelings): you could either give the mind the task of watching them intently until they simply dissipate, or you could take the mind to some other, more congenial part of the anatomy and rest it there in concentration while the affected area naturally calms without the attention it was getting previously.

I'm not sure how to convey these rather successful techniques to George, whose understanding of my language is limited to simple commands like "Sit!" "Hurry-up!" means it's time to pee--an art he has mastered with some efficiency. But "Stop scratching!" appears to be beyond his comprehension, so I'm sure the more complex "Bring your attention to some other part of your body" would not register in his brain.

I'm wondering, too, what this says about the natural impulse to scratch and itch. I guess we humans are blessed with a wisdom--or at least the ability to acquire it--superior to the animal world. If only we could use it. I often think we have a great to learn from dogs and cats--and other living beings--about such things as being in the present.

I do understand, I think, the value of motionlessness when sitting. Even the slightest physical movement distracts the mind from its concentration and interferes with the relaxation of the body, requiring muscular action and reaction. So I try to sit still. There are moments, though, I will admit, when the urge is so powerful that it becomes irresistible and I find myself succumbing to it. Like that young man in the limerick who hailed from Natchez, I confess that, sometimes, at least, "When I itches, I scratches."


carly said...

P: Just to let you know I read your musings

Carly said...

P: Notwithstanding your wise skepticism, I told you about the European twenty-something I verbally scuffled with over cause and effect approach to life. To show you how the Changes works, this is the advice I "drew" from the synchronus "oracle":

The Joyous, Lake

the image,
Lakes resting one on the other;
the image of the Joyous
Thus the superior man joins with his friends
for discussion and practice.

A lake evaporates upward and thus gradually dries up; but when two lakes are joined they do not dry up so readily, for one replenishes the other. It is the same in the field of knowledge. Knowledge should be a refreshing and vitalizing force. It becomes so only through stimulating intercourse with congenial friends with whom one holds discussion and practices application of the truths of life. In this way learning becomes many-sided and takes on a cheerful lightness, whereas there is always something ponderous and one-sided about the learning of the self taught.

Nine in the second place
Remorse disappears

We often find ourselves associating with inferior people in whose company we are tempted by that which is inappropriate for the superior man. When recognizing this a man does not permit his will to swerve, so that he does not find such ways agreeable, not even dubious companions will venture to proffer any base ideas.

I Ching, Book of Changes, Wilhelm-Baynes translation. forward by Carl G Jung. 1950, Princeton University Press.

PK said...

I'm here :). I'm reading...

carly said...

Peter: Thinking of you. Two very interesting definitions:



PeterAtLarge said...

Carly & PK, good to have you both aboard! I'll look forward to hearing from you as The Buddha Diaries progress. Cheers, PaL