Monday 24 September 2012

Zen and the art of the air rifle.

Something very few people know about me is that I’m an Olympic-standard rifle shooter. I’ve never competed in the Olympics, of course – nor, in fact, have I ever competed at all, but the actuality that this sport is something at which I truly excel is something I just know, you know?

You may want evidence of this claim, in which case I’ll point you to the fact that, in all the rifle-shooting games I have ever played, I have NEVER MISSED A TARGET. Never. I’ve hit every single tin can, every single moving duck and every single bullseye on those theme-park shooting ranches where pissed-looking mannequins appear out of beer barrels. Heck, I’m even an Olympic-standard shooter for the digital age, having repeatedly gained high scores with my laser gun on Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin ride at Disney. Oh yeah – I’m that good. 

I guess it’s just one of those things for which I always suspected I had a secret talent. As a kid, I’d spend an inordinate amount of time pondering all the undisclosed super-skills I might never realise: my world-class shooting expertise; the superhuman ability to dream future events; a heroic threshold for pain… (Turns out I might’ve blown the lid off the latter.)

And yet, such is life, it’s the things you’d never expect yourself to be any good at that tend to get you places. My astonishing ability to polish off a box of Cadbury’s Fingers in less than the time it takes to drink a cup of tea, for example, has got me a rather impressive thighspan. My dweeby attention to grammar got me into a career in editing. And then, just recently, a new-found aptitude for meditation has helped to get me out of a cycle of panic attacks. Yes, Old Self, you read that right: I’m meditating.

Before you get all rolly-eyed on me, writing me off as the kind of letdown who once swore she’d never enter into any of ‘that wanky stuff’, allow me to plead ignorance. See, I was kind of hoodwinked into it. What I thought I’d signed up for was some sort of physio-based yoga/movement/breathing type class (cos that’s not wanky in the least) …it just got a bit meditationy, is all. I didn’t even realise I was doing it, honest! I just went along with what my teacher told me to do, and when it got to the ‘now, slowly, open your eyes’ bit… well, it took me a while. And then I felt a bit weird, like I’d been daydreaming – albeit in a very concentratey way – so I turned to my teacher to find her looking at me funny.

‘What?’ I said.
‘Crikey,’ she said.
‘Eh?’ I said.
To which she replied something along the lines of: ‘It’s just… I’ve never really known that. I’ve never known anyone to meditate so naturally.’
I laughed, of course. I mean, she said ‘meditate’, ferchrissake! Haa.
‘It’s really quite incredible,’ she said. ‘Lisa, you’re a natural!’
At this point I assumed her to be just, y’know, making it up a bit – not in an insincere way, exactly; just to be ultra nice… because she genuinely is ultra nice, or p’raps because she feels a bit sorry for me what with the incurable cancer stuff and all, or maybe because she’s Italian and therefore probably just enthusiastic by nature. (You see what I mean? THIS is how I see the world. I’m the last person who should be a natural meditator.)

Only, it happened the next week. And the one after that. And the one after that. And then I started to wonder whether it might have something to do with the decrease in my panicky moments. At which point I figured I ought to start mentioning it to people.

I started with P.
‘I think maybe you should come with me and see for yourself,’ I said. ‘You were going to join me at Trinity one afternoon anyway [this being where my classes take place], so you might as well just come for the whole day and try it, too.’
It was a bit sneaky of me, really, because I knew he couldn’t say no. See, when you’re terminally ill, people tend not to disagree with you. Even those who are most likely to. I might’ve told P that I’d felt a funny presence in the old part of the building, for instance, or that I thought I’d started to see people’s auras – and where once he’d have told me to fuck right off, now he’d probably be a bit more likely to say ‘oh, really?’ and let me get on with it, albeit with a subtly raised eyebrow. And so along he came, to ‘experience meditation’, on what turned out to be such a beautiful day that we could do it outside, on a bench beside the pond. *sounds wanky-klaxon*

Stalwart that my husband is, he joined right in – but I could sense his awkwardness from beside me. Not in a feeling-the-force way, like – more a desperate-to-trump-on-a-creaky-bench kinda thing. The same happened when my Mum came along and gave it a go, though her unease was a little more audible, what with her needing to cough every 30 seconds, and my being distinctly aware that she was silently panicking about only being able to breathe out of one nostril.

They each agreed that the 45-minute session was ‘relaxing’ and that they ‘could see what I got out of it’, but – genuinely grateful that I was to them for coming with me, and gleaming with more than a little extra love that they’d given it a go – neither experience offered a eureka moment of ‘aha, I get it!’. And nor should it have. After all, I don’t ‘get’ Mum’s obsessive reliance on smelling salts to cure all ills, nor do I ‘get’ my husband’s insistence that he’s got the world’s fastest digestive system. (In the interest of fairness, I ought to note here that, on the day Dad joined me at Trinity, my meditation teacher was unfortunately away. Well, perhaps not unfortunately, given that I can’t escape the prediction of my old man piss-takingly breathing like Darth Vader beside me.)

So, alas – with the exception of my lovely teacher – meditation also remains the kind of secret talent that I’m unable to properly share. That’s fine, of course: I mean, my inner self isn’t exactly something I can wear on a t-shirt slogan, nor is it even that interesting, to be honest. (As Mark Vernon so brilliantly puts here – in the most succinct piece on meditation I’ve ever read – ‘it’s mostly pretty humdrum’.)

Which, I s’pose, is why – although I spend wayyy more time meditating than I do rifle-shooting – the latter is something I’m much more likely to blithely boast about; far happier, apparently, am I for you to see me as a gun-totin’ hotshot than a cross-legged yogi. Daft, innit? I guess it’s like Dad said after spying the book on the mindfulness of dhamma meditation that I’d taken on holiday: ‘I always knew you were a bit of a silly buddha.’