Several times in my life, I studied or read about meditation practices, and tried them with interest for several months. Then without fail, I would find myself anxious for one reason or another, and I would try to meditate as if it were magic, as if I could turn meditation on like a switch, and be saved from my anxiety. That doesn’t work.
I run. It relaxes me. It gives me energy. It makes me happy. I went through a rough period the last couple of months, wherein none of those things held true. Running made me feel less good than not running. Then one day, it all came back — the day I ran simply because I wanted to see how far I could run. In other words, I stopped caring about health, or relaxation, or what I would do when I finished my run, and only then could I enjoy the run itself.
Captain Ahab has a similar story about his pipe. In our earliest introduction, we find Ahab pacing the deck anxiously at night as most of the crew sleep. He pauses from his pacing to sit and smoke, but quickly finds that “smoking no longer soothes.” He laments, “Oh, my pipe! hard must it go with me if thy charm be gone! Here I have been unconsciously toiling, not pleasuring . . . and with such nervous whiffs . . .” Feeling that his pipe can offer no further serenity, Ahab tosses it into the ocean and resumes his pacing. For Ahab, as for all of us, routines are relaxing only when they are an end in themselves, rather than a conscious grab for peace or release. For what produces greater anxiety than hungrily grabbing for a carrot dangled just out of reach?
Chapter 30: The Pipe
May smoke rise ’round the bends
Of crows feet and ascend,
To waft serenity
Over snowy mountains.
When breaths jerk nervously
In panic, not relief,
The death knell’s rung in vain,
For where’s the warning?
To thrones of ivory white
The counselor councils right
That naught’s compulsory,
Just rule the moment.
Slipstreaming over pools of disaster —
All ending by and by, so lead the ending.
(c) and (p) 2008 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea September 28, 2008
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea September 7, 2009