A Tale of Love and Samādhi Explained:
A little Valentines story for all of you. The topside title is just a description of what the story is generally about. However, the real title of the story is called, “A’capella Inertia.” This is not a short one, but I think you will like this one very much. It has received high marks and it will take about 30 minutes to read. Those who have successfully subscribed to the blog should already have this formatted story in their email inbox for offline reading. Written in my verbose yet lucid story telling style with a few usual side tracks in between, it tells the story of the first time I fell in love while the end of the story explains why I have decided to write it down as a monk for the general public. In short, there are similar meditation experiences that one can have like the one mentioned in this story. However, this particular “meditative” experience does not happen often no matter how hard you try. You just sort of “fall” into it. Meditation is recommended instead because it is more reliable, sustainable, repeatable, and perhaps, easier to live with. So, here is the story.
Once upon a time, I had a video player but never bothered to buy a television to go with it, which is probably a little strange, but becoming a monk is also a strange occupation to have as well. However, perhaps you can imagine that one who is a monk, might not have had a TV as a layperson. Therefore it is not so strange after all. I actually recently asked a younger person if he knew what a VCR was and he did not know. I feel so old these days! In any case, I probably should tell you how I ended up with only a VCR (video cassette recorder) and no television to go with it.
During my second year at my university, I had decided to live without roommates and to get my own pad. I found a place that was dirt cheap, affordable on a college budget, and it seemed like it was in a nice neighborhood during the daytime when I signed up. However, after I moved in, I could see that nighttime changed the hood into a red-light district. It was not like the television show “Miami Vice” had taught me as a teenager in the 80’s. These “girls,” which were sometimes really men wearing dresses, seemed to be pretty down and out. Why else would they be living this life? My parents never knew about this until years later when I told them. In any case, my parents and grandparents gave me some money to buy a television set for my new apartment because no place in the early 90’s was complete without one. I did actually buy a TV, but I owned it only for one single day. I had decided to return it the next day after catching myself watching a 30 minute car polish commercial on the first night at 2:00 AM. “Why am I ready to buy this stuff?” I thought as I had realized that I wasted the whole night watching TV. I knew I would never graduate university with a TV, so I went back to the shop and returned it for “Any reason, cash back!” just as advertised. I actually wrote, “Because I watched it too much.” on the return form as the reason for bringing it back! After the clerk gave me a strange look with her eyes rolling upwards, I got my money back just as promised.
About two months before I moved into my own new place, I was just starting a relationship with a girl at my university. It was the first time I fell in love and even though I am a monk, I still think of it as a beautiful time when I look back on it. I think it was a little more special than the average “falling in love.” I know, we all say that, but let me tell you the story and then you can decide.
She was sitting in front of me during one of our lab classes together. I remember how shy I was when I said to her that I was going to go see an Animation Festival at an antique theater at another university nearby, and if she wanted to come along she could. That was the best I could do to ask her out on a “date” and she agreed. We saw the Animation Festival and I did not want the “date” to end, so I asked her if she wanted to see the Icelandic film called Pathfinder that was playing in the same theater immediately after our first movie ended. She agreed and we were now a double feature. I was so shy. We said goodbye and that was the end.
A week or so later, she told me of a punk rock concert that was coming to our school. She was sort of an ex-punk rock girl and I was sort of an ex-hippie. Opposites do attract, and although we were once part of two very different counter cultures, we were similar in the sense that we were both from counter cultures. There were signs that we had come from these different subcultures, but they were residual features that were starting to fade. We were also smart enough to go to college without the associated drugs of our counter cultures. While most students experiment with drugs and alcohol in college, I graduated without drinking a drop of alcohol the entire time I was in college. What more could be said about the other stuff? After the concert, there was a party across the hall from where I was staying along with some of the punk rock band members from that evening who were invited too. She came along and I remember a friend asking me if she was my girlfriend. I held up my crossed fingers in the air and said, “Not yet. Wish me luck!” We stayed up late and talked the whole night long after everyone else had left. We kissed for the first time that night, and we were officially boyfriend and girlfriend by my book. Awww.. isn’t that sweet, but it gets more gushy…
Another week or so had passed and it was now my turn to show her my world. Have you ever heard of the song called “Ripple” by The Grateful Dead? That song changed my life. In the mid 1980’s, I had known The Grateful Dead by associating closely with a few fanatical followers who were endlessly expanding their live Dead Show tape collections. They had a collection of over 400 taped recordings and I heard quite a good portion of it too. However, the music never really struck a chord with me until I was later watching Cher’s movie called Mask. In the final scene, her son had died but it wasn’t really known to the audience yet. However, I instantly knew he had died because “Ripple” was appropriately playing in the background as part of the soundtrack. I knew enough about The Grateful Dead’s music style by osmosis to recognize the band with just a few notes. Sure enough, the son had died. That moment touched me and I started to dig the band, and dig deeper into what they were all about. That particular song was on my mother’s vinyl record, “American Beauty,” which she had long ago tucked away down in the basement. That was my song. I have not listened to it since I became a monk, but I still recommend it to those without monastic rules. Usually The Grateful Dead’s live stuff are the type of recordings worth listening to (and legally available for free, by the way). However, the studio version of this song has been mastered to perfection. This version is quiet, and that is what this song is all about; a journey to stillness and observation. It talks about the spiritual experience one might have, but the performers themselves do not know how they got there. “… If I knew the way, I would take you home. …” it sings in the final verse (of words). It is a narcotic song about something so simplistically beautiful that it should not be real, but there it is, right in front of you. It makes you gaze outward, or inward, and feel happy about that special and sacred place. It is a song about The Beautiful that one can experience perhaps by chance and as Buddhists might know, by practice and skill. It is a song that makes you wonder if that is what “Ripple” is all about. It is my song and that is the way I own it.
So it was time to show her my world. The Grateful Dead were in town and I asked her to come with me. The Grateful Dead being “in town” meant that it was less than a three hour drive to Albany, NY where they were playing. Now, while most rock groups advertise to get people to come to their concerts or don’t advertise if the tickets are sold out, The Grateful Dead does not advertise to sell tickets because they are in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the most tickets sold even though most of you outside of America and some inside have never heard of them. Instead, they have advertisements on the radio to get people not to come to their show. The advertisements go something like this, “Hi, this is Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead. We will be playing in the area tonight and the concert is sold out. So if you do not have a ticket, please do not come.” Imagine that! Why would anyone go to a concert that they do not have tickets for? If you ask this question, then you have never been to a Grateful Dead show. I had one ticket and all we needed was one more. We qualified enough and we were going. If you need a ticket, you just hold up your hand with your index finger in the air. That is sign language in Grateful Dead Land for “I need one ticket (at face value)” It is not so difficult to get a ticket, but sometimes, you cannot get one. Most fans refuse to pay elevated scalper prices and when the show starts, the scalpers need to dump their tickets nobody bought. Then you can negotiate in the negative price range, but most are happy to pay face value when that time comes. Some actually refuse to pay for tickets altogether. They actually expect free tickets to come their way by maintaining an adorable smile while holding up these motley colored cardboard signs that say “I Need a Miracle.” “Miracle” is a song reference, but in this context it always refers to a free ticket, and they get them sometimes too. Really…I’ve seen and heard it, and everyone in the world can hear the sounds of joy from the recipient. If you want to make someone’s day (or your own), buy an extra ticket and look for the signs. So we were looking for a ticket (to buy) and we had our hands and pointer fingers in the air while our inside arms were wrapped around each other. We were in love, but not really the real “in love” just yet.. I’m getting to that part.
So the “scene” before a Grateful Dead show has many vendors; food sellers, T-shirt sellers and anyone selling anything. There are also people playing drums and guitars and singing all over the place. It is a scene that you can walk through and every ten feet or so is unique. As we were walking around, we came across a couple who were playing guitar and singing, and we spontaneously started to dance.
Our outside hands were still in the air while the fingers were pointing to the open sky. We were dancing side by side, hip to hip and we started a process where we would soon become “one,” “together,” or “the same.” I was not sure what happened then, but I or we became so involved and surounded by the happiness of that moment that it naturally caused my eyes to close and caused me to “fall” into the moment. Perhaps that is what “falling in love” is all about. It is surely something you fall into. It is nothing gradual or intentional. You fall into it, but it is not a downward direction. You fall somewhere, but somewhere else.
So we were dancing hip to hip, cheek to cheek, with our outside arms in the air, and our index fingers pointed to the sky like two little John Travoltas dancing together, when all of a sudden the momentum started to wane and then we sort of “woke up.” Our legs were still moving from the inertia of what took control while our minds went elsewhere and then we separated so we could clap our hands and show our appreciation to that most wonderful song that had put us into that trance-like state. We clapped and yelled out, “yea..” like some cheesy couple that enjoyed what was played.. but there was one problem. When we opened our eyes, the music had already stopped. The two people who were previously singing and playing guitar together were just quietly staring at us. They were watching us dancing with our eyes closed and lost in each other’s extended moment without their music. We fell into something. Perhaps it was Love.
I guess it was that kind of hush-puppy love that would make you sick to your stomach and make you want to gag. Usually it is the guy who wants to gag while the girl smiles with a gaze as she tilts her head slightly to the left and says, “Oh look honey, they’re in love!” wishing to recapture or even capture for the first time what she was observing. So the musician couple were staring at us while we were dancing to no music at all. We continued through the momentum of whatever held us together with our a’capella inertia. We became one. We shared the same moment. We were in some sense married in the most literal sense. When the inertia finally waned to make us open our eyes, we separated physically, mentally and internally to clap our hands. At this point, we knew that the music had stopped, but I am not sure how long it had stopped for. I cannot tell you that. We really did not feel it was out of place or that it was a big deal. We were solely intoxicated with each other, acting like fools in love and fooled by the odd circumstance as being normal. Everything seemed normal because that was what we were experiencing.
The musicians were just staring at us as we applauded like nothing was a big deal other than the music we had just witnessed. Then one of them took a tie-dyed T-shirt that they were selling and tossed it towards us. The shirt was based on The Grateful Dead’s love song called, “Reuben & Cherise.” Maybe they were playing that song in order to sell their shirts? While I am skillful in telling a song by the first few notes, I don’t think I heard much music at that time. We spontaneously started to dance as soon as the music was in our range and then we opened our eyes only to see the musicians staring at us. He grabbed one of the shirts, tossed it to us and said, “Here. Take it. It’s yours. I hope it works out for you.” It was sort of like the Coca Cola commercial where Mean Joe Green tosses his football jersey to the kid who handed him a Coke. “Here. Take it, its yours. I hope it works out for you” they said.
I guess it was obvious that we were in love. It didn’t seem like such a big deal to me at the time. It was not much different from winning a small stuffed animal at a carnival or something, but we were not trying to win anything. Perhaps the couple that gave us the shirt were like us at one point? They said, “I hope it works out.” It was the first time I was in love. It was perhaps the most naive and wonderful time I could ever be in. “How could it not work out?” we must have thought. Love is always forever, right?
So I was living in a run-down red-light district in the only apartment I could afford with no TV and she was living two or three blocks down the road. Almost a year had passed and we were both looking for a new place to live in and eventually we rented a new place together in a nicer neighborhood on the third floor of a three story house. We were in love and that lovey-duvey-ness was still there, but as time passed things were getting normalized as we domesticated our relationship. We started having small arguments. They were just little ones. We would get over it within a minute or seconds, but they were a drag and not infrequent. As time passed, we were still a single inseparable unit, but it was not the same.
Not long before our dancing moment and before we met, I had asked a friend to teach me meditation. He spent a lot of time in the San Francisco Bay Area and he knew more about life than I did. He was into Zen and came over to my place to give me my first taste of focusing on the breath. The instructions were very simple. Count each in-and-out breath cycle with a number, starting from zero and going up to ten. Then count backwards, back to zero and then up to ten and then back to zero and so forth. He said that I could practice for any length of time, so I decided on 30 minutes as part of my daily routine. A little while later, I had picked up a guru and mentor in my life. My girlfriend and her mother were not happy about that. She came along for the ride, but she was just coming along for the ride while I was the driver.
At that time, I was getting more into “spirituality” and I had felt that I could make more progress without a woman in my life. After some time, another lover’s quarrel happened as we were driving home from a meditation group. I don’t remember what it was about, but one of us said, “Maybe we should break up.” It was not a question. It was just a verbalized sporadic thought. Then the other said, “Yeah, maybe we should.” After some thought, I finished it off and said.. “OK. We are broken up.” We had gone through this, “Maybe we should break up” phrase many times, but none of us ever followed through to finish it off. It is a dangerous phrase to say. It puts all of the opportunities for separation right on a silver platter. All one has to say is, “OK” and the relationship is done. Two syllables, “O” and “K” and all is finished. It was as simple as that. “Always” and “Forever” can be forever lost with those two syllables.
I was firm on that decision. I guess I could kick myself for doing it and kick myself again for not bending back, but I am a monk today and that is the better way for me. In some respects, I stayed true to the “spiritual” reason for breaking up with her. I slept in the guest room that night and she realized that I was serious about what I had said earlier in the car. The “Maybe we should break up?” phrase was such a routine that she did not think twice of my two syllable phrase that “finished it off” …. until now. She begged me not to leave and it was a long night. In the end, I slept in the guest room. We had always joked that we could be roommates if it did not work out and now I was sleeping in that extra bedroom.
It was a school night and we went to class the next day. She was set on moving out rather than being roommates as I somehow ignorantly believed could happen. We had to decide how to divide up everything. We had furnished our apartment together to build a single unit, sort of how our lives were. She brought the kitchen table from her father’s house and I brought the chairs from my family’s house. I also supplied the plates and silverware. I brought the couch, and she brought the bed. She had a TV facing the couch and I had bought a VCR to go with her TV since we never had cable TV. I had a stereo and she brought some extra speakers that her father had. Our furnishings were something like that. Our lives were complimentary in the same way and half of “me” was going to move out.
After I had come back from school the next day, she popped in for a moment so we could divide up our stuff. We walked around the apartment starting with the kitchen which was at the entrance. We agreed that she would take back her table, and I would keep the chairs and most of the cooking-ware, dishes and silverware because that was what I brought into the place before we joined together as one. Then we went to the living room. I would keep the couch and the VCR and she would take back her TV. I never had any speakers for my stereo and I asked her if I could keep them and she easily agreed. She also let me keep the TV rack which housed the stereo and VCR below. She agreed because she had something else in mind.
We reached the bedroom but did not go inside. It was given that she would take her brass bed back. It was from her family’s place, just like the couch was from mine. Then she told me to wait for a moment, walked a few steps away into the bedroom and opened up one of my dresser drawers which had all my clothes that she had folded up nicely. She reached into the corner of my T-shirt drawer and pulled out the tie-dyed “Reuben & Cherise” T-shirt. It was the same shirt that we were given on that special John Travolta night outside of the Dead Show in Albany. A shirt that was given to us with the wish, “Here. Take it. I hope it works out for you.” It was the only thing that we had dually owned together except for the apartment. It was ours by no doubt and it was now to be owned by a single person. She held it up in front of me and said, “Can I keep it?”
“Sure, no problem.” I said.
I was a guy and she was a girl. I did not really think much of “mementos.” I was glad I let her have it, especially today. I am not sure what would have happened to it later. After that we parted again. I went to class and when I came back, it was like some prankster had robbed me of half of my possessions. The table was missing, but the four chairs that I had owned were still positioned as if a ghost table was still there. The TV stand was there without a TV, but a VCR was on the bottom. As agreed, my stereo still included her speakers, perhaps as a parting gift. The bed in the bedroom was gone but the dresser was still there. Inside the corner of my dresser drawer had a single T-shirt missing.
Half of “My” possessions were gone and it was a physical expression of how I felt without her. Half of who I was internally was missing just like the furnishings in my apartment. I guess I could kick myself a few hundred times for following through with the breakup. But as Popeye once said, “I am what I am!”, and in the end, I am happy for the course of events that followed, especially the fact that I am a monk today. I am not sure what my life would be like with her and if it would have been so happy. There was a reason why we broke up, and “happily ever after” had its limits. I looked her up on the Internet a while ago and I think she is now on her third or so last name. She seems happy and stable where she is now and I wish her all the best. I am now very happy with my life too. All that said, we never really discussed that moment. Perhaps, the music only stopped only for a three, five or ten seconds. Even so that would still be out of place. Like falling asleep and dozing off, it is difficult to know how long you were asleep for. We certainly did not doze off, but that lover’s trance was similar in terms of losing track of time. I never asked her the Peter Frampton question, “Do you feel like I do?” or “Hey did something happen that night?” “Did you go to the same ‘place’ that I went to? I sure went somewhere.” “How long was the music stopped? Did you know it?” Nope.. we never, not even once discussed it. Perhaps because there was no doubt. The only way I know that it was special and perhaps just as good as for her as it was for me, was because of one simple clue.
She wanted to keep the shirt.
So I’m glad she asked for it and I am glad she took the shirt. She’s a girl and perhaps took care of it for some time. But I am glad she asked for the shirt because it left a clue that our bonding moment together was important to her, and perhaps and equal experience for her too.
That’s the long story on how I ended up with a VCR and no television to go with it. In retrospect, I told the story because I wanted to express the idea of “falling in love” and then relate it to meditation. I had once told a story a long long time ago called, “Two Ping One,” where I spoke about meditation metaphorically about two oil slicks in a pot of water that floated nearer and nearer to each other until they eventually collided and joined into one unit. You could almost hear a magical “ping” as they joined. I gave it many descriptions, in addition to “the-oneness-of-it-all”, I said it also was “True Love.”
I think “falling” in love is a literal term. In meditation, one “sinks into samādhi.” There is a union that takes place and one sort of forgets “who one is” while he merges with a conceptual meditation object of samādhi-light. It is often a light, and in the best of circumstances, a crystal or diamond-like light. This crystal or diamond-like light is called the “clear light” because it is three dimensional and transparent. It has been my idea for a long time that the diamond ring was used as a symbol of marriage, love and union to represent this exact “meditation-like” moment long forgotten in its original meaning. In the olden days, we were more sensitive and in tune with this. We have many symbols and idioms that represent the Light of Wisdom.
He is “brilliant”,
That is a “bright” idea.
He is a very “bright” kid.
She was glowing with joy.
Everything is “crystal clear” now.
My mind is clear.
We have cartoon light-bulbs to depict ideas or mental thoughts.
We say that sadness is darkness where the light has been removed. “Like a cloud that has covered the sun.”
We say that love takes place in the heart.
Samādhi takes place in the heart.
Sometimes samādhi can be in the form of a happy cloud. We often have the expression of “Cloud-9” to represent this extreme happiness and it is also said to be a place where the angels hang out. Actually, if Cloud-9 is the same as the Clouds that I am talking about, then it is in the higher planes of the Brāhma Realms which are only accessible by attainment of samādhi. You’ve got to be special and train in samādhi to go to that realm. It is not possible in any other way. The normal heaven realms you might be thinking of are accessible by doing good deeds, usually by habit, but not always.
Although, the diamond-like light can be said to be the best of circumstances, a star, moon or a cloud as stated above can also work very well. Actually, it does not really matter what it looks like. It can be almost any shape or color. The important part is that you do not see any faults in what you are looking at. It is sort of like the innocence of a child who draws his first picture of a smiling sun in the clear blue sky and sees only perfection because he knows what it is and it is his creation. He shows it to his mother who is wise, yet she too only sees perfection. There is more though. He sees only one thing, nothing more. The boy only “sees” the sun. There is only the color that represents the oneness-of-sunness. When there is oneness, there is nothing else to compare “it” with the “other”. The “other” does not exist because there is only oneness. There is no “other.” It is therefore “incomparable” and one is left with no choice but to call it “perfection” because unity has been achieved. When unity is achieved you are content, satisfied, trust and appreciate what you are looking at, but you are not really looking. It is something you have found or that you allow to find you. You see it without the eyes or with what the eyes cannot imagine seeing because the “seeing” of this “one thing” is in huge quantities that overflows to the point of absorption. It is a state of full incomparable appreciation and when you appreciate something, it grows even more. It grows to a new level of perfection, but it is all the same, yet continuously anew. That is what the word “refreshing” is all about. The boy shows the picture to the mother and says, “I am your sun!” The mother sees the same, picks up her “sun” and hugs him. The unity of the two spreads into one while they slip into a timeless dance.
“Appreciation” is a financial term for growth. You appreciate it as you begin, and then it is easier to appreciate. Try to appreciate your wife one day in a way she knows it. Watch her change and become the type of person who is now more easy to appreciate. Then appreciate her again in the same way. Repeat that process until you both get tired of being happy. Appreciation grows to the point where you know and see only one single thing. True love is when you have eyes only for one. You wish not to look elsewhere. It is the only single thing on your mind and you want to know it again and again repeatedly. The magical part is that you can know it again and again repeatedly. It is innocent in nature and takes almost no effort, yet there is energy present to sustain this unified consciousness. That is why it is a wholesome consciousness which surely includes the ancient Abhidhammic list of “The Beautiful Mental Factors.” It is sort of automatic and nothing else really matters. That is why you cannot force it and you fall into it. You trust in it, let go, allowing yourself to sink while the energy of it all keeps you afloat. That is what falling in love is all about, isn’t it? It is that simple, yet so rare to find, like a diamond.
Samādhi is nothing that can be forced, other than a deep inter-rest in one’s meditation subject. It is all in the mind, and everything else slips away. Samādhi is when the mind repeatedly makes contact on the same concept over and over without interruption. Depending on how strong the absorption is, not even the sense doors can interrupt this repeated exclusive mental contact and one may become totally separated from the outside surroundings.
Venerable Pa-Auk Sayadawgyi often calls meditation objects “girlfriends.” It can be a most beautiful experience because it is a single object of focus. When you can achieve this state of single-mindedness, you will not need a woman, and it will make you feel like you are in love all over again. It will stay fresh in your mind for as long as you can sustain a practice.
I am glad she got the shirt. It was more than twenty-five years ago, but I am glad about the whole process of how we got the shirt. If reading this story has motivated, encouraged, and inspired you to try meditation, or increased your curiosity to know and experience how deep meditation can be, what more can be said about the storyteller himself? I am a monk now these days. It took a while, but I finally became true to my parting reason. Like I said before, I am glad she got the shirt.
“… That path is for, your steps alone.” … Ripple.
May you fall in love with your object of meditation,
© 2018, Bhikkhu S. and Steve Scena