Friday, January 18, 2008

Unexpected Paths to Meditation

Last summer I bought an exercise bike, at a garage sale, for thirty-five bucks. This was some little time after I had, (so pleased with myself), told my doctor how I was biking down the Niagara Parkway most days. “What are you going to do in the winter?’ he asked. For thirty-five bucks there were of course, no bells, no whistles, no computer on this device. Accessories, if you don’t count the basic speedometer/odometer, consisted of a simple kitchen timer. This thing has sat at the back of my studio, unused, reproaching me, for the last six months. Just looking at it filled me with ennui. How could anybody survive such boredom?
This morning I finally got on it, don’t ask why. I set the primitive brake adjustment so that I felt it a bit in my quads and buckled down. After what seemed like a fairly long time I checked my watch: two minutes had elapsed. Not so easily daunted as all that, and determined to get some good out of it, I pressed on. I thought to myself – I should build a kind of easel to hold a book, and clamp it onto the handlebars here; then the time would pass fast enough. I looked up. On the wall in front of me was a print of a watercolour of mine, that had been used as a calendar picture. July, it said. I studied the picture; traced the perspectives. I thought about summer. I thought about my route down the Parkway. Where would I be right now? I checked the odometer. Just about at the river. In my mind’s eye I saw the bright morning reflections off the water; such a lovely deep viridian. Why is that? Every river seems to have its own predominant colour. The Aare in Switzerland has a wonderful pale milky green shade. Glacial melt I guess. I pedalled on. My mind drifted into other paths. When the body is on autopilot it’ll do that. I thought about the painting I am working on now. Where should the sun be, in order to get the shadows just right? Perhaps I should darken those left hand side buildings.
I was getting warmed up. I set the brake a little harder; let’s go uphill for a bit.
I began to think about the book I have been reading, and my plans for the afternoon.

January is a good month for home redecoration. This year we’re tackling a bedroom. I’m still at the preparatory stage. Scrubbing down, sanding, removing old wallpaper. I’ve kind of settled into half a day of work on my watercolour, half a day of redecoration.
Once, when I was discussing, perhaps lamenting this business of home maintenance with my nephew, he wisely remarked ‘House painting is a meditative experience’. He knew, he’d done more than his share. But I thought, yes, you’re absolutely right, and ever since I have not begrudged that time spent so much, realizing that thoughts can be sorted and creativity can flower. Plans may be made; problems addressed. When you’re sanding walls, you’re pretty well on autopilot again, and the mind is free.

People often say they will go to sleep on a problem and wake up with the solution. It’s not exactly that way in my case. More that if I am wakeful my mind plays and roams and settles on some aspect of what I am doing during my days. Often there will be something yet unsolved – how best can I extract those rotten old concrete encrusted fenceposts? how should those dollhouse walls be fastened together. When the mind is not distracted by having to control the body it’s amazing how well it will work. I do indeed wake with the solution, and perhaps it is arrived at partly subconsciously.

There’s more paths than one up the mountain.

What time is it? Oh, twenty minutes already?. That didn’t seem so long. Some analysis, some synthesis, some conclusions reached. Unexpected.

I worked up a bit of a sweat there. Time for a shower.

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