On the Circularity of Life

Life moves in spirals for human beings. We return time and again to places (and spaces) we’ve been to before, but never at quite the same point. The challenge is learning how to recognize the familiar when we ourselves have grown strange.


After a hiatus of about three years, I started meditating again three days ago. I stopped cold turkey and started again cold turkey. The difference in my experience now versus three years ago is, frankly speaking, enormous.

My first forays into meditation were motivated by the peculiarly intellectual propensity to fall in love with what seems like a “good idea.” The reviews were uniformly positive, I had no constraints with regards to time, and it seemed like an excellent item to add to my ever-expanding list of the things that constituted a life well-lived. In other words, I went about it with good—if somewhat inappropriate—intentions.

Obviously, the experiment didn’t last. Meditation is a patently banal business that can only be sustained by a sense of real urgency. The promise of bliss quickly loses its glamor when the practitioner begins to realize how remote, how elusive and how potentially inaccessible the desired state is. And the frequency of failure (and its attendant humiliation—present whenever one realizes that one’s concentration hadn’t even lasted three seconds) can erode even the most indefatigable aspirant.

Still, I never lost my appreciation for meditation. I simply (and wistfully) dismissed it as yet another skill that I was incapable of developing. My mind was too restless, too wild, too absorbed in reveries of the past and the future.

Then three days ago, I had coffee with a Vipassana practitioner introduced to me by a good friend. I was familiar with the Zen and Tonglen forms of meditation, but Vipassana was entirely new. My new acquaintance didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know, but there was something strikingly compelling about the simplicity of his conviction. As soon as I got the chance, I sat myself on my mat and meditated for an hour.

The duration itself was surprising. In the past, I could only meditate for 25-minute stretches before the demands of painful knees and numbed feet began making themselves known. That I could sit for significantly longer was a good sign that it was time for me to return.

And, it feels good to be back.


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