After several days of activity I have arrived at a stretch of days with nothing at all planned other than a trip to the cinema. It is like contemplating a shoreline in some remote place in the early morning when no footprints have been made. I say early morning, but it is in fact getting close to mid-day, and I have not yet fully incarnated into the day, unless you count eating a very nice breakfast of bacon and eggs and drinking a mug of Assam tea, hot, with half a spoonful of sugar and smoking a Marlborough Menthol that I have been saving.
And I say “contemplating” but the Signs character is not one easily given to such, in the true sense of the word. I did try transcendental meditation when I was 16. My dear Dad who was a bit of a closet spiritual tourist, was into this at the time and paid for my “initiation” fee. I went with a friend to a terraced house just off the seafront at Brighton with some fruit (we’d been asked to bring) and a clutch of pound notes. The woman who initiated me was a middle-aged blousy bottle blonde with ultramarine eyelids and fuschia-pink lips whose colour, I noticed, went over the lip line. These kind of details got in the way. I was, to quote Bob Dylan, so much older then, I’m younger than that now. I had doubts about whether anyone who looked like that could be spiritual. I had a framed photograph on my chest of drawers of John and Yoko in Amsterdam doing bed-rest for peace. They looked spiritual. So did Donovan and Che Guevara. My initiator took me to a room upstairs where we sat on floor cushions, she did some chanting in a language I didn’t know and gave me my mantra – a word which she said I wasn’t to tell anyone. It was to act as a kind of screen-saver for the mind to help clear intrusive thoughts when meditating. It also meant something but it wasn’t important for me to know what. My friend went in for her session and we both left with a piece of the fruit we had brought – the initiator said we should eat it soon because it would have a lot of something I can’t remember the word for. We ate the fruit, an apple and a banana, sitting on Brighton beach. We smoked a few cigs, played “Guess My Mantra” and she got annoyed with me because I nearly did guess hers, only because I intoned a word similar to the one I had been given, which made me think we were probably given the same word, and I felt a bit cheated.
We sat and did our first meditation practice with our brand-new mantras. The idea was to begin with two 20-minute sessions per day (these would lengthen as we progressed in the discipline). The stones of the pebble beach pressed into my backside. I silently repeated my mantra, bringing my wandering thoughts back to it whenever they meandered to whether he would ring me today, his hands on my thigh, where I was going to get enough money for the next packet of No. 6 because I only had two left and hadn’t we done enough because it felt like hours let alone minutes. I was bored long before time was up. My friend, though, wasn’t. It had been, she said, a good experience, calming and refreshing. She looked happy, as though she’d just been kissed by someone she fancied. I hid my disappointment and pretended it had been good for me too.
These days I don’t need a mantra to walk the walk, talk the talk and do the minutes, hours, days and more. I am doing the advanced course, focussing on the particulars of a grain of sand as though my life and the universe depended on it. Which it does, of course. I’m holding up the sky. No thanks necessary.