After The Interview
by Nelly Kaufer
In the space of a few minutes, our mind can go in so many directions. It takes more time to read these thoughts than it did for for this fictional character to think them.
Harold, a pudgy man in his mid forties, eases himself into his Jeep Cherokee. He just reported at the meditation group and his mind is full of impressions. As he glances into his rear view mirror, he sees his work suit neatly hanging on the rear hook. He is so glad to now be dressed in comfortable sweats and fleece. He works a as sales rep in the hardware industry, just like his father did. He is happy to be in a meditation group. It seems like this is more who he is.
Harold has read lots of Buddhist meditation books, but this is the first time that he has joined a meditation group and worked with a teacher. Because of anxiety, he did brief psychotherapy with a “mindfulness based therapist” and it seemed to help. His therapist suggested that he continue with meditation. Harold found a listing for this meditation group on the web.
Did the teacher think my meditation was good? I never can tell. I really want to get it right this time, that’s why I am reporting often. Other people seem hesitant, but I’m tired of being the nice guy and always waiting my turn. Something here feels really important, though I’m not sure what that is. But just when I think I know what the teacher wants, he asks a question or responds in a way where I’m not sure anymore.
I know I have permission to do the meditation I was taught. I want to do the meditation my therapist taught me. She taught me to notice when I was getting all worked up about work, and when I was “catastrophizing” about what might happen, and then to return to the breath. She called it the “sacred pause”. It did feel sacred. I am so tired of thinking about my boss and what he wants and whether I will meet the sales goals he set up for me. What a relief when I am fully aware of nothing but my breath, which is so much purer than my petty thoughts.
I was hesitant to tell the teacher about how my thoughts strayed to work and how I went over the same incident over and over again, but I told him anyway. I really wanted to talk about the sacred breath. But he seemed interested in the scene I went over and over. It was when boss man had the charts of the sales goals and commissions up on the wall. When the meditation teacher questioned me about this, I realized how vivid the colors were in the charts. There was a point at which they seemed to pop out at me. Right after that, that I slipped into something I can barely remember. It seemed like daydreaming to me. I popped out of that and directed myself right back to the breath. I was pretty sure that space I went into was not meditation. But then the teacher seemed interested in it. He asked me more questions, and when he did that, I was able to remember a little more about it, but not much. I realized it felt good, somehow, comfortable and safe. Aren’t daydreams cozy, but an utter waste of time? Still, if the teacher thought it was a waste of his time, why did he ask me questions about it? I am confused. I wonder if this is the right meditation group for me. I liked it better when my therapist gave me instructions in mindfulness; I knew just what to do and what not to do. Sometimes, I couldn’t do what I was supposed to do, but I think that’s because I wasn’t trying hard enough. That’s what my boss tells me when I don’t meet my sales goals, that I could if I only made more outreach phone calls and had more conviction about the products we sell. Then I would become a great salesman.
I couldn’t talk about all of this when I reported, so I summed it up with “I was thinking about work”. The teacher asked me more about what I was thinking and feeling and I just said I was worrying and thinking about the evaluation review I had that day. I couldn’t dare say more than that. I wasn’t sure if I answered the way I was supposed to. It is so hard to get a read off this teacher. But for sure I wasn’t going to let others in the group know what I was thinking because this is clearly not what I am supposed to be doing in meditation. That is for sure!
I am not sure this kind of meditation is good. It seemed like the Teacher was encouraging me to think about work and I came to meditation to forget about work. I’m not sure if this guy really gets what meditation is all about. I opened my eyes during the meditation and the teacher’s head was slumped over. Can I trust a guy who slumps?
Anyway, in the dharma talk, he invited us to be interested in our thoughts and feeling. He said we could learn a lot from our thinking process. When I get to the sacred breath, everything feels wonderful and I feel a part of everything. I feel my inner goodness. It seems like I will stay there forever, but then my upsets about work often burst right into that sacredness. This is terribly frustrating. Maybe I need to try harder.
Harold flips on the radio to the soft jazz station he likes to listens to. He eases himself right into the music and forgets everything else. The next day at work, Harold’s boss coaches him to try harder to reach his sales goals, prodding him to make more outreach phone calls and project more conviction about the new irrigation system they are selling. Harold hears slightly veiled threats in his boss’s words. He is not at all sure he can trust this guy.
Okay, just breathe deeply, remember what my therapist said. I need to stop these thoughts about how bad the economy is and how I might never get a job again if I lose this job. Actually, I can’t stand this work but I’ve never done anything else and don’t know if even I could. Will he replace me if my sales drop off? After all, these are hard economic times and my girlfriend thinks of me as someone who can provide her what she wants. I’m not at all convinced that I can sell the new product. Maybe the sales pitch is a bunch of crap. STOP, remember the sacred pause. Why couldn’t I find it last night in meditation? Why can’t I find that sacred pause now. BREATHE. The boss is right. I must be a loser. I am a loser at sales and I am a loser at meditation.
Suddenly Harold remembers the interview from last night and the impression the teacher gave that his meditation was going along just fine. But this teacher is not very famous and Harold had been reading books by famous Buddhist meditators and they all seem to agree that the breath is where it is at. He is sure that good meditators spend most of their meditation focused on their breath. And if this is for sure, then he is sure he must be a bad meditator.
Yet the dharma talk seemed to suggest just the opposite. That I could be gentler, more receptive and that something positive could develop from that. I am skeptical, but this teacher seems smart and he seems to be able to deal with whatever comes up in the group. When other people talk about their meditation, they talk about so many different kinds of experiences and he seems to understand what they are talking about. He said we could be interested in our thoughts. Actually, there was something different when I went to work today. It’s like I knew something more about how I really felt about this job and something more about why I wasn’t making those outreach calls. This is really scary; what if this job is not good for me? What would I do? But this has the ring of truth about it and I am beginning to get a sense of what that feels like.