The brain of the buddha

She picked a coaster off the radiator and leaned toward me, put it into my  hand. “What do you see? Describe exactly what you see.” I pressed the tile between fingers and described. A painting. Signed by Matisse. A floating couple, red and blue, and a sort of room behind, with a sort of gray air, and a flower in the corner. I described until I figured I had said enough about the thing, though details continued to stream from its surface. Then I looked up and handed it back to her.

“Now, while you were describing this, were you thinking about the past?”


“Were you thinking about what’s going to happen later today, the future?”

My smile twisted. “Well, I’m sneaky, actually. I was thinking about what you wanted me to say, and wondering about what you’re trying to get at with this. I was thinking that maybe I was supposed to be completely absorbed in describing it and forget about everything else. I was thinking this while I was describing to you.”

And on top of this–while I am describing what I was thinking while I was describing, I am also thinking, weaving yet another layer over us. I am thinking: She must think I’m totally neurotic. That my brain is coiled like a spring and always atwitter. I’m really not that bad. When I am swimming, I am a buddha. I swear. Or when I am sleeping, or wrapping presents. Probably twenty percent of the–

“Ah, that is normal,” she cuts in. “It’s common to wonder things like that. But were you thinking about the future?”

She was right. She had me. I was not. I was fully (and neurotically) in the moment. “No.”

“Ah then. At any moment, whenever you are thinking about the future or the past, you have the choice to instead observe your immediate surroundings. You can be completely in now. That is always an option you have.”

She set the tile back on the radiator and folded her hands in her lap. Sunlight fell in a stripe between us, and the air was clean and empty, except for the sounds of cars and birds moving outside.

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