Thursday, February 1, 2007

A Tough Night

I was suddenly wide awake at twelve thirty-five a.m. by the red glow of the digital alarm clock. The ceiling lights in the bedroom, which I know had been turned off when I went to sleep at eleven o'clock, were all brightly lit. Perhaps, I thought, Ellie had been unable to sleep and had switched them on for some reason. Unlikely. It was barely an hour since we had gone to sleep, and she still seemed to be sleeping soundly by my side.

A mystery, then. Perhaps some impish spirit on the loose. Or this: I was annoyed yesterday to receive a giant bill from our handyman for work with the lighting system inside the house, and outside, in the garden. The goal had been to make them easily operable by remote, and to run on automatic timers at the weekend, when we are usually out of town; but we have had innumerable problems with the system, with lights going on when they were not supposed to, and refusing to work at other times when the switches told them to. As a consequence, we've had countless visits from our handyman's employees (this is not your usual solitary handyman who does the jobs himself!) and I was not enchanted to find us charged for all those hours put in to correct work that was not done right in the first place. Perhaps, I thought, the phenomenon of the bedroom lights was some weird manifestation in the physical world of my internal anger and my habitual worry about money...

I switched the lights off and tried to settle down to sleep. Tall order. Our daughter, Sarah, had been over for dinner with her friend, Ed. I had eaten perhaps less mindfully than I might have done, thanks to the emotional energy involved in having people over: we had been in intense conversation about jobs and, er, money, and along the way I had imbibed a couple of glasses too many of sauvignon blanc. I lay there suffering from acute indigestion. I had gone to bed too full, too late, too tired, with too much adrenaline still running and too many thoughts still racing through the brain. George, the dog, was not helping, with some kind of allergic itch that apparently required constant scratching.

In spite of it all, I must have finally dropped off. As is my custom, I woke a couple of times during the night, and again at five thirty-five. Time to meditate, despite the short night's sleep. Before this past weekend's retreat, I will confess that I had acquired this habit of meditating in bed. I have the excuses: it has been cold. I did not want to disturb George from his sleep, and consequently Ellie. I had not yet found the "right place" in the new home into which we moved not too terribly long ago (but long enough, admit it, to have resolved this issue!) A bad habit, really. It catered nicely to my natural propensity toward laziness. And, as I have already mentioned, my practice has been pretty much on the rocks. So I came back determined to break the habit and find a place to sit.

I have not yet found it. I do not sit cross-legged on the floor. At my age, I tell myself (another excuse, perhaps!) my hips and knees simply do not bend far enough in the right directions to enable me to sit that way. For the past two days I have experimented with an heirloom from Ellie's mother house--an attractive, straight-backed antique chair, whose disadvantage, I have discovered, is that the arms are so positioned as to cut into the elbows where they fall, preventing relaxation of the (human) arms.

This issue still needs to be resolved. No matter. I did manage a good, mostly concentrated sit from five-forty until six-thirty, focusing on the breath and watching out for stress and tension as I worked slowly through the body. And I ended up, as always, glad that I had made the effort. Here's an intention: since there is a nice corner in our bedroom where Ellie has set up a small shrine, I'll plan to make a renewed attempt, with an afternoon or early evening sit, to find a tolerable position on the floor. We'll see. A report on this in a later entry.

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