And now, without further delay, here’s a short story for you.
My parents thought I was crazy when they got home from work and saw I had gotten rid of all my stuff.
“Gloria,” my mom said, “what’s gotten into you?”
My dad was looking at the tiny pinholes in the walls in square-like patterns where the posters had been. My television was gone, and so was my stereo.
“Nothing’s gotten into me,” I told them. “It’s all just stuff. I don’t need any of it.”
All I had left were my books and my clothing. I mean, come on, I had to keep my clothing. What would my friends think if I came to school wearing a monk’s robe? I’d still put on makeup and go on like nothing had changed, but when I’d get home, I’d wash my face and slip into something more comfortable. Then I’d sit there and breathe, and clear my mind as best as I could.
I was genuinely happy, but still my mom rubbed my arm and said, “Honey, I’m worried about you.” I told them the truth, but they didn’t understand. My dad’s look said it all; he had dollar bills in his eyes. He was concerned about the cost of the things I’d gotten rid of and about how much he’d have to spend if I went back to therapy. I didn’t want to upset him, so I had put my computer and the expensive stuff in a box down in the study. My mom was worried about my emotional state. Not that my dad didn’t care, but my mom and I were always closer about things like that.
“Does this have anything to do with what you went through last year?” she asked.
“Maybe we should call your doctor. I’m just concerned, honey.”
I smiled and took her hand in mine. “No, Mom,” I said. “It’s really not a big deal. I’m happy. I found, I think, peace of mind.”
My mom’s eyebrow raised, and she looked at me out of the corner of her eye.
I’m sure my parents talked when I was of the room, wondering what had changed and why. And as honest as I was, I knew they didn’t understand. It wasn’t a fad; it wasn’t something the other kids were doing. And it was nothing like last year. I wasn’t going around obsessively checking the door locks at night, like I used to, over and over again. I wasn’t counting anymore, or putting thing’s in symmetrical order. I could look at my mom’s collection of vintage candy tins on the living room shelf and not have the overwhelming desire to rearrange them according to height. Or my dad’s bookshelf—I didn’t care if the books weren’t arranged by height and color, and dusted of every last mote. Those days were over. I even stopped taking my medication. And I never felt better.
It was a radio show that first aroused my interest. An old Buddhist monk was being interviewed, and he said that focusing on his breath alone could reveal nirvana, or at least a glimpse of it. True happiness could be attained through meditation.
Normally, I wouldn’t have paid the interview much thought. I’m not into talk-radio or podcasts, but for whatever reason, I decided to listen that day, and the guy’s words made sense. We don’t need anything, per se; all we do is want. With wanting comes the obsession of wanting more. He had a quote that I liked. He said hope is the first step to disappointment. How true is that? He talked to the interviewer about his upbringing, and how he had been poor. His parents provided for him as best they could and bought him toys from the village—handmade trinkets and whatnot. As he got older and began studying meditation with some Buddhist monks, he realized all these things around him were nothing more than that: things. Everything he needed was already inside his consciousness, and happiness was easier to achieve than we’re led to believe. A negative emotion is a perception of events, and with focused clarity, we can direct our minds in even the worst of times.
I was on my way to school when I heard the interview, and when I got to my locker, there was Jake Morrison three lockers down. He’s one of those funny guys, or at least he’s one of those guys who thinks he’s funny, and who all the other idiots laugh along with. Jake is just so super cool, he thinks, but I know he’s really just mad. He’s mad that I turned him down freshman year. He pretends like he never liked me, that it was some big joke, but it wasn’t. That’s when he became a jerk. He started making comments about my hair, about my braces, and about the time I sprained my ankle and had to wear a cast and was limping. It normally got to me, but not that day. He turned to his friends and said something. They all started laughing, looking over at me. I didn’t care. I honestly didn’t care. I listened to what that old monk said: our emotions are purely in our minds.
If I want to be happy in the saddest of times, I can. Everything in life is a perception, and we can shape that perception to whatever we desire. Our psyche, the monk said, is an island. We can grow whatever we want on this island and let the waters of the ocean keep negativity at bay.
I didn’t know how to process his teachings, but I knew where to start—with Jake. So, when he made fun of me that day, I told myself I would remain in a positive mindset. I didn’t respond. I didn’t care. I turned to Christine and asked how her weekend was. We talked about the lab assignment due on Wednesday as we walked off with our backpacks full for first period. That entire day was different than any other day in my life. Not just better … but brighter? Like somehow the sun was shining everywhere I went, and I could see things with clarity. I was aware of my surroundings in a different way.
When I got home, I ordered a few books on meditation from Amazon. They arrived two days later, and I started reading the first. All I had to do was focus on my breath. It was so hard. The hardest thing I’ve ever done. I never thought that focusing on something so simple would be so impossible. I spent ten minutes that seemed like an hour sitting on the ground and breathing. All my mind did was go in every direction other than where it was supposed to go, which is nowhere. I didn’t think I’d accomplished anything, but then when I felt like giving up, I sat for another five minutes. Still, I didn’t think anything happened. There were a few moments when I seemed to be focusing on my breathing with a clear mind, but that’s about it. It was frustrating. But when I was done, things appeared different. I felt happier, lighter even. I could see my room and surroundings clearly for the first time; all the little bumps on the walls from moved furniture over the years, and the dust collected along the baseboards. That blissful sensation I had at school that day with Jake came back. I was stuck in the present moment, not in the past, not in the future. The oceans surrounding my psyche were at high tide. I was happy and alone inside myself.
I’m thinking next week I’ll shave my head. That’s what monks do. It helps eliminate vanity. I can get a wig or something to wear to school; or maybe I’ll be brave enough to show my true self. Christine will freak. It might shock Jake so much he leaves me alone … but that’s doubtful. I’m going to order some robes too, I decided. I’ll wait until they arrive to get rid of my clothes. All my books, unless they’re about meditation or something, are going. And my bed … do I really need it? The frame is pointless, that’s for sure. It’ll be gone too. Once my robes come, and I get rid of my clothing, I can move the dresser. My mom and dad will want to keep it, so maybe we can bring it to the basement. Then I can clean the baseboards and walls, make them sparkling white. They’ll worry, probably even more, especially after I shave my head. But I’ll explain. Everything’s fine, I’ll tell them. I know it’s only been a week since I heard that interview, but my thoughts have never been more rational. I’m good. I’m great. Never been better.
I hope you enjoyed Gloria. Check out my website, http://www.brandonzenner.com, and get the short story Helix Illuminated for free when you sign up for my email list.
That’s all for now.
All the best,