Is This Real Life?

Layla Benitez-James

I refuse to chalk it entirely up to the fact that it is just "that time in the semester," but my little brain has been refusing to stay focused on any one task. This has led to a sad cycle of intense concentration, followed by failure, followed by a chastisement of my brain and a re-focusing of my attention. I have helped myself slightly (so slightly) by starting up some (very few) short meditation sessions in the past couple of weeks. Last August, I attended a ten day meditation course here which taught me how to meditate successfully. However, finding time for two hours of meditation a day, or any amount, has been hard with school and everything else which creeps into a year. I have adopted a similar attitude towards meditation that I have to reading all the things I feel I need to read (no I have not finished Moby Dick, or Infinite Jest, or Gravity's Rainbow.) In the excellent McSweeney's #24, the Barthelme tribute, there is an amusing, and heartbreakingly true, anecdote from one of his former students. She asks Barthelme for a book list, everything she Needs to read to make her a good writer etc. He tells her to read everything. She says she can't and asks for a more specific list. Barthelme stands by his original advice. When she says she does not have time to read everything, he says that she is probably wasting time eating and sleeping. Yep. I definitely put an extra 30 minutes worth of sleep above my reading and meditation. Not to mention the seduction of the internet where blogs and YouTube are a constant temptation away from work. During the meditation course, I had no choice but to focus. I was surprised at what an absurd amount of planning it took to be off the map for ten days: no driving, no phone, no internet, no tv, no books, no writing, no talking, no eye contact. Untangling myself from real life was difficult; even the simple act of telling people they would not be able to get in contact with me for ten days began to feel drastic and tiring. While I did not break it down exactly, I realized how much time I spent checking in with people and checking up on people: confirming to myself over and over the reality of my life and its connections. When I shut all of that down for ten days, the world went on. During my technology and sensory overload de-tox, the world felt more real. The things I saw were concrete and immediate. In meditation, I learned how the mind wanders away from the task it is set to and how to draw it gently back. Although, this is easier said than done and easier done without school and work and real life breaking in. All this is to say what? I am trying to be nicer to my mind-to let it wander when it needs to-to let it run on a thought for a while before training it back to a task-to let it trip over something funny before writing my final essays? Yes. And it has paid off with some strange new poems and less neck ache. Last week, I misspelled "sincerely" in an email. Instead of seeing where I had hastily typed the wrong order of letters, I right clicked the word to fix it quickly. None of my computer's suggestions were "sincerely," but I gained some new ideas for signing off. I will leave you where my mind has wandered to- Searingly yours, Sensually yours, Searchingly yours, Semi-yearly yours, Layla

Comments (5)

  1. Filip Jelinek:
    Apr 26, 2012 at 08:11 PM

    Hello. Can I ask what course it was? Wish you the best.

    1. Layla Benitez-James:
      Apr 27, 2012 at 01:39 AM

      Sure, it was the Southwest Vipassana Meditation Center in Kaufman, Texas near Dallas. This is their site:

      1. Filip Jelinek:
        Apr 28, 2012 at 08:01 AM

        Thanks for sharing. It´s a very nice place. ( I am atracted by the path of atmavichara, represented by Ramana Maharishi or Swami Muktananda etc. I often participate in very intensive courses in Czech Rep, where i live. I have also visited Sri Ramanashram in South India. )

        1. Layla:
          May 02, 2012 at 11:09 PM

          It was a great experience, I am hoping to go back this summer. I have only been to Prague once but I would very much like to go back and visit more of the Czech Rep I was not familiar with atmavichara but from what I have now read online, it looks very interesting, what courses have you gone to?

          1. Filip:
            May 03, 2012 at 08:26 AM

            Really? You have visited the Prague? Great. When you will come in CR in future. You are welcomed as my guest or my parents pension in west Bohemia. :) As I understand atmavichara is quite similar to vipassana. There is also very important the witness of everything. You are aware of something a 24 hours a day. But the most important is to know what is it, that is aware of everything. It is you, your Self, pure consciousness. There are satsangs and retreats with masters Jiri Vacek, Jiri Krutina and his wife Eva in CR. The web is: Some photos of masters and lineage:

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