Staying in the Room: Impulse Control
I’m impulsive. (I’m not the only one.)
Can’t stay. Gotta go. Got to eat, to sleep, get away, get more, get noticed, be alone. It’s a speed world, and I often feel that my identity has shaken down into shorthand, a self-understanding so hastily scrawled it is hard to decipher what my self originally meant. I’m a dotted line rather than any one long tone.
Meditation practice (mine, of course, is Dancemeditation) is impulse management. It’s what I do. Can I stay in the meditation room, in my meditation, inside my experience, tolerating discomfort? Can I stop running on impulse? If yes, I get a lot. I wake up. I un-break and bitty fragments flow into one long tone. Staying in the room is my metaphor for not giving in to impulse, getting up and running away has given me a billion views of my delusional self. I’m over the idea that I can control my world or others; that I can escape from illness, old age, and irrelevance; that I can avoid suffering. (Being immortal and immune are such casual yet universally cherished fallacies.)
As a teacher of extended retreats, I observe how the effort of staying in the room accumulates. Day after day, we all lift the weight of the self up and down, pumping through what isn’t true. This dredges up anxiety, and we stay there, feeling it, letting it sort itself out, letting it pass away. It is as strenuous for me as teacher as it ever was as student. My job of keeping everybody at work means I have to be there too. Sometimes I want to run away early, or act out against my students; I feel my stamina ebbing, internal struggle getting the better of me.
But there is one strong difference between my struggle and what I see in some others. I observe when a person’s heart is fisted. Waking hasn’t yet planted its blossom under the breastbone, and their meditation work remains a loose collection of serenities and mini-epiphanies, soothing but temporary and a bit feckless. Sometimes they smile through the session, other times they bolt up and huff off.
I’m in a different place. It happened like this: like everyone else, I stayed in the room, often unwillingly, but curious and obedient, and grew more tolerant of my self. This led to being better at tolerating others. Over time, the world grew roomier. (For all you Sufis, Rumi-er.) Life became more comfortable, then more wonderful. It was magic, really. Then one day something distinct happened. An entirely calm decision to wake arrived in my heart. My heart turned unquestioningly toward the entire process, choosing to stay in the meditation room, in the meditation, inside true experience. There was nowhere else my heart wanted to be.
I was like that for a long time before I ever began to teach, though teaching has further forced my hand, making me arrive before everyone, tolerate more than I thought I ever could, then stay beyond the end, folding up the mats, shutting off the lights. Adnan Sarhan, Sufi Master, said remarked, “If I could find something better to do than teaching, I’d do it.” It was such an unsentimental statement. He took the role of Sufi Master as a preference. He actually liked it. And I have certainly weighed those words against my own choices since. I’m glad I stayed in the room through the time it took for my heart to un-fist.