In every great pitch, there’s usually a catch. Here’s a lovely garden you can romp and play in all your days – just don’t pluck those scrumptious looking apples. Here’s a handsome, fascinating, intelligent man for you – so long as you don’t mind a man with all the sensitivity of sandpaper and the emotional maturity of a baby baboon. And then there’s guided meditation: it will relax you, it will temporarily de-stress you, it may even wake up the butler of your brain and get him started on the biggest de-cluttering job since the Jackson family visited Neverland Ranch and said “boy, he didn’t half buy a load of tat.” Meditation will do all this, until your guide says one line too many, one line that snaps your suspension of cynicism and springs you back into the comforting familiarity of incredulity of all things “spiritual”.
The line? “People get angry so often they think it’s normal. But in fact, it’s far, far easier to be happy than angry.”
Which is utter nonsense. For there is nothing in the world as easy or as satisfying as ever so occasionally allowing oneself to blow one’s top.
I myself can get angry at just about anything if I put my mind to it. Train delays, disobedient cake mixtures, Sunday morning radio programming. A stranger talking on their mobile or repeatedly clearing their throat or breathing through their nose with enough force to deflate themselves while I’m trying to read are, I think, annoyances few people can suffer tolerantly. Which is nothing compared to the frustration of being unable to open an overpriced bottle of mineral water, or walking all the way to the supermarket to satisfy a crumpet-craving only to find the town’s all out of crumpets.
Above all though, I get angered by injustice. And not just the monstrous injustices of this world – slaughter in Syria, racial violence, inequality between men and women; if I was to think too much on these I would spend my entire day writhing in a slobbering rage on the carpet. So instead I grind my teeth over the little, everyday injustices. Queue-jumping, social ostracizing, insurance rates.
Or, being falsely accused of a driving offence, which by coincidence is what happened to me on the very morning of my meditation. The allegation was, I hasten to repeat, entirely false. A car with my registration was alleged to have been involved in a minor incident in a town I’ve never visited in my life on a day I happened to spend entirely in bed wallowing in the worst stages of a viral infection and on which my car did not budge from its parking space. Yet despite the indisputability of my innocence, I was outraged. Just think of the bother I now had to go to in clearing my name!
Looking on the bright side though, as my indomitable mater did, at least my dosage of enforced relaxation could not have been more timely. Or at least it would have been very timely, were it not for the fact that my meditation guru turned up ten minutes late. And if there’s one thing that riles me as much as injustice, its unpunctuality.
My guru however had the fortune to be blessed with a disarmingly amiable Ben Whishaw-like countenance, and so when he finally popped his head around the door of the ‘Quiet Room’ I lost the heart to quip that his slackness had made the challenge of de-stressing me infinitely harder. And to his credit, he transpired to be the sort of chap who is quick to recognise his flaws and address them. For on discovering I had never meditated before he proffered the professional opinion that twenty minutes was a far more suitable space of time than the earmarked thirty, and he stuck strictly to this prescription, finishing not a second past the hour.
What passed in the intervening twenty minutes was by no means unpleasant; in fact I will venture as far to say I found it very helpful.
Before we began, my guru asked me – as this was to be a guided meditation – whether there was anything in particular I wanted to hear. People, he explained, meditate for all sorts of different reasons – not just to relax but to gain confidence, to enhance self-awareness, to address particular problem areas in their lives. Some, he suggested slightly too hopefully, simply want to hear silence. Yet all these options were as meaningless to me as a wine list to a toddler. I’d never dipped my toe in meditative ponds, so how could I possibly choose?
My guru responded to my indecision by popping on a CD of inoffensive meditative music and opting for a generic relaxation guidance, which judging by the suspect nature of some of his pronouncements I’m fairly certain he made up as he went along. For one thing, it’s hard to consciously relax your feet when they can’t possibly sink lower than the ground they are planted on. And as for the idea that there is a warm lamp burning constantly within me – surely such a lamp would make me highly susceptible to spontaneous human combustion, which is hardly a relaxing thought.
Yet these niggles aside it really was quite a helpful session. My guru, albeit with one eye glued to the clock, guided me through an easy-to-follow course from relaxing the whole body to conscious awareness of your place and your inner self, to visualising yourself somewhere beyond your physical place. As my eyes focussed on the far wall and my lids gradually drooped shut, I found my mind drifting to Wadi Rum, and to a high rock where I once sat of an evening and listened to the beautiful silence of the desert. And although my mind did occasionally return to Oxford and the pressing question of what I was going to have for lunch, my focus was on the whole probably not too bad for a first-timer.
Feeling far calmer than I had all morning, I thanked my guru at the end of the session and told him that some of his comments had really hit the mark. Pleased with himself – and undisguisedly slightly surprised – he proceeded to recommend further sessions and even an all-day retreat. I listened attentively, considered committing to regular meditation, and was just starting to regard my guru as a genuinely wise fellow, the riddle-solver to life’s complexities. Until he went that one line too far.
For the sad fact of the matter is, if it was really easier to be happy than angry, would we need meditation at all?