book of changes
Recently I've been getting these minor anxiety attacks during zazen. I think this is a good thing. They tend to happen about ten minutes in, at which point my vision is usually so obscured with green and purple retina clouds that, although my eyes are nominally open, I can barely see the dresser in front of me. It starts with losing a bit of body consciousness, usually in the hands or face, and that seems to trigger the usual symptoms: elevation in heart rate, sweaty palms, and so on. The trick is simply to treat the fear as another object of meditation, as it can't stand observation for long. If you look at it directly it skitters away, like an electron. I don't know whether the anxiety is caused by an unaccustomed shift in brain-state, or whether it's just an accumulation of sublimated fear that needed to get out somehow, but after going through it I'm much calmer for the rest of the day. I think it's like a control burn in forestry.
So yesterday, as I was coming out of the fear and entering a calmer state, a car alarm went off right under my window. (It was probably Mika's or Aimee's car; I haven't asked.) This was the sort of alarm where the horn honks once a second or so. After my initial irritation I decided to try and treat the sound as an object of mindfulness, and made the following observations:
The horn is not a single tone, but two tones at a dissonant interval (minor second, I think).
The lower tone persists a fraction of a second longer than the higher.
The sound has the consistency of a solid object; there is a palpable emptiness in the air after it ceases.
This horn is really pissing me off.
In fact I discovered that I could observe my irritation at the horn in addition to the horn itself, so that after every honk I'd have a little spurt of pique, and I got into a nice rhythm of HONK [pique] HONK [pique] HONK [pique], etc. This went on for a couple of minutes and then the horn stopped, leaving me completely disoriented. I'd lost my focus. I could feel myself leaving the meditative state for a shallower stretch of consciousness, and... there is really no way to talk about these things without sounding trite and New Agey. For a second I was confused enough to lose the conscious desire for a deeper state, I guess, and in the absence of that desire everything clicked. I seemed to scratch the surface of the "nirvana is samsara" idea (good, kind of lengthy analytic discussion here), but imagine that concept not expressed in words but welling up as something organic and viscous, like milk. No, that's a terrible metaphor. Anyway, it was a (very minor) bit of insight, and I don't think it would have happened without the car alarm. It might be analogous to a Zen master slapping his student during meditation. The moral of the story, I suppose, is: congratulations to Mika or Aimee or whoever. You've got Buddha in your car.