Screw shoes provide traction, and they’re easy to make: insert sheet metal screws with hex heads into the outsoles of running shoes, which are thereby transformed into the equivalent of studded snow tires. At pennies a shoe, the screws are a bargain compared to pricy store-bought traction devices. More to the point, they work: They keep me upright when the footing gets tricky.
I would benefit from a life equivalent of screw shoes, a spiritual strategy to ensure emotional balance when outer circumstances shift the inner terrain in challenging ways. I have long suspected the answer is meditation, which also is simple and inexpensive. Yet it is much easier to get my body out the door for an hour-long wintry run on hilly trails than it is plant my tookus in a warm chair for as little as 15 minutes of doing absolutely nothing.
My resistance is not about doubting the value of meditation, which is well-established. It’s more an aversion to the unpredictable nature of my monkey mind. Unlike my body — a good and faithful servant — my mind is unruly and unreliable: often melancholy, frequently dyspeptic and sometimes downright mean, to me and to others. I’m not at all sure I want to sit still and get to know this thing.
Yet the balance I seek depends on that willingness. Buddhist nun and teacher Pema Chodron writes of the importance of working with the mind, in part so the kleshas — difficult emotions like anger, jealousy and craving — can’t easily trip us up.
“How can we work with the kleshas, or act and speak with kindness, or reach out to others, if our mind is crazed?” she writes. “Through good and bad moods, through periods of peacefulness and klesha attacks, we train in being present. Day by day, month by month, year by year, we become better able to keep a rule of life, better able to lead the life of a bodhisattva who can hear the cries of the world and extend a hand.”
I understand the importance of training the body, but struggle to accept that training the mind likewise requires time and effort. Secretly, I’ve been hoping for the kind of spontaneous enlightenment experienced by teacher/author Eckhart Tolle, who describes a life of “almost continuous anxiety interspersed with periods of suicidal depression” before his sudden awakening at age 29.
I’ve been chronically anxious, I think; I’ve been deeply depressed. Furthermore, I’ve been through menopause, which is tough to top when it comes to protracted emotional maelstroms. Haven’t I been miserable enough to warrant spontaneous enlightenment?
Apparently not. And I am way older than 29, so in terms of that lifespan thing, it’s not wise to keep waiting on a deus ex machina.
Better to accept that work needs doing: If I want to keep upright — and maybe even help others do the same — I need the spiritual equivalent of sheet metal screws: a daily meditation practice, if only for as little as 15 minutes. How hard can that be?
I will start today. Or, maybe tomorrow. Soon, in any case …