I recently had, as they say, a medical procedure, one of those things that you expect as you get older (turns out I’m fine). Highly unpleasant, even with local anesthesia, so they offered me a Valium.
“I don’t like Valium,” I said. “Are you sure?” they asked. “Really,” I said. “Are you really sure?” they asked. “Really.”
So, with evident reluctance and no Valium, they began. They took my blood pressure and oxygen level. They did whatever it was they had to do. When they were done, they took my blood pressure and oxygen level again.
And the blood pressure was slightly lower. They oxygen level was slightly higher. “That’s strange,” they said. “I meditate,” I said. “Oh,” they said. “Yes,” they said. “Sometimes that happens with people who meditate.”
A couple of weeks later I mentioned this to a friend who had undergone the same procedure (with Valium, thank you) and she said, “Oh, you went into a meditative state.”
But no, really, I didn’t. During the procedure I complained when it hurt, I was annoyed when they couldn’t seem to agree on exactly what to do, I fervently wished it were over long before it was, and I was not happy when they told me the moderately yucky post-procedure routine.
But, you know, my blood pressure was lower and my oxygen level higher. Who doesn’t want a nice low blood pressure (but not too low, thanks), and a nice high oxygen level, even when yucky things are happening? Who doesn’t want to feel more calm, less anger, more joy, less anxiety?
A lot of people start meditation to do just that, to regulate their minds, to keep things from getting out of hand. And, yes, meditation can do this pretty well. A lot of people seem to do better if they meditate.
Wanting to do better is pretty much how I treat the gym. I want my bones to last a little longer. I want my muscles to stay a little stronger. I do just enough to take care of that.
But my nephew the circus performer has a far more profound relationship to his body. At his graduation performance I was astonished not so much by the astonishing things he and his friends were doing, but by their relationship to their bodies.
For bodies you have to start young. For minds, you can start any time. As long as our brains work moderately well, it’s never to late to have a profound understanding of our minds. Then all the other stuff — the blood pressure and the oxygen levels and so on — becomes just a side effect, not that big a deal.
That’s what Buddhism calls liberation. It’s not about bliss (although, like any other mental state, bliss can happen). It’s about penetrating reality and not getting stuck in anything. Then yucky is no problem, fabulous is no problem, boring is no problem. Even complaining is no problem. We don’t need Valium to blunt what’s going on.