Mr. HalfFull and I recently attended our first meditation class together, meeting over six weeks for an hour every Friday after work.  I thought this would be a fun activity for us to do as couple, perhaps becoming a habit for our 30/40 World Tour:  Quest for Passion.  After all, shouldn’t a heroine’s journey involve a bit of serious contemplation?

I’m not sure what we were expecting, but when our first class began with the instructor introducing herself by her given yogi name, it became apparent we were along for a trip onboard her granola cart.  Her furry white rug and specialized meditation pillow (shaped like a butt!) added to the ambiance.  To top it off, before each class she would don a vibrantly colored headscarf to complete her transformation from ordinary person to mediation master.  The only thing missing was the scent of patchouli; all we got was a hint chlorine and sweat, compliments of our local rec center.  Lesson learned:  you get what you pay for.

Meditation

I can win at this!

For the longest time, I thought that meditation was focused thought — thinking really hard about a problem.  If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s over thinking!  I can totally win at meditation.  I love to win.

Full disclosure:  I took Mr. HalfFull to a mindfulness session a few years ago.  It didn’t go well.  As we walked out, I said to Mr. HalfFull, “I’m terrible at meditation.”  He thought I missed the whole point, giggling at my half emptiness.  In hindsight, the mindfulness session was filled with skilled meditation practitioners, not newbies like us.  Perhaps a class would help me learn how to win at meditation!

I’ve learned that meditation is more about emptying your mind, as opposed to thinking hard.  I should be awesome at this; I’m already halfway there.  But how do I keep control with an empty mind?  I have lists to make and issues to ponder.  Who has time to sit around emptying his mind?  How is that helpful?

Intellectually, I grasp the benefits of meditation.  While taking the class, I was also reading a novel that summed it up nicely:

…in meditation what’s peeling away are your own thought patterns.  Worries, anxieties, clichés, bright ideas, ambitions, plans, mental and emotional hangups, all that half-conscious brain litter.  You strip the layers away, one by one, until the images grow fainter and fainter and the noise grows quieter and quieter, and bing! you arrive at the core, which is naked emptiness, a kind of exhilarating vacuum.

That sounds kinda neat, but I’m not exactly the prime candidate for meditation.  I have an over active mind that is not prone to silence.  On the other hand, I figured this whole Zen thing would be right in Mr. HalfFull’s wheel house.  But after the first class, I was surprised to learn that he was even more skeptical than me!  He had a hard time taking the instructor seriously, especially in the strange classroom located adjacent to the rec center bathrooms and their amazingly squeaky doors.

The third session convinced me that Mr. HalfFull was not as Zen as I suspected.  We were listening to a recording of a guy who sounded eerily similar to Antonio Banderas.  Don’t get me started on our instructor’s abuse of her iPod.  She’s never heard of playlists, and watching her fumble through the iPod menus was not conducive to my meditation.  I channeled all of my Chi to subdue the control freak in me who wanted to scream and rip the iPod out of that hippie’s fingers.  So I was off to a calm start.

But I digress; back to the recording with Sr. Banderas.  We were instructed to visualize his journey while lying on a mat with our eyes closed.  Antonio’s narration starts off in a grassy park in the center of town where he meets with his teacher.  The teacher tells him to go in search of peace and then mysteriously disappears.

So the student gets up and starts walking around town.  First he comes across a bookstore and thinks that will be a great place to look for peace.  He goes in and looks at lots of books and enjoys himself, but hasn’t really found true peace.  The sultry Latino voice states, “Theez iz not trrrue peeze.”  So he goes next door to the café.  He sips coffee at a table outside, talks to lots of friends, and has a wonderful time.  But he soon realizes theez iz not trrrue peeze.  So he walks further down the block and comes to a music store.  As a lover of music, he thinks this might be the spot where he finds peace.  He listens to various recordings and enjoys himself, but again theez iz not trrrue peeze.  He goes back outside in search of another location where he might find peace.  This time he finds a yoga studio and goes inside to take a class.  Afterward he feels amazing and is calmer, but still theez iz not trrrue peeze.

If you feel like you’ve been reading this forever, imagine listening for over 10 minutes.  Like us, Sr. Banderas is a bit frustrated and decides to go back to the grassy park to sit down.  Now the background music of the recording is building, and we sense that there will be a big revelation.  So we are all listening intently gearing up for the climax after this long journey.  The voice says, “I rrrealized that trrrue peeze iz…”  At that moment, you can hear the PA system of the rec center click on to announce, “Julie, to the front desk.”

Dalai Lama laughing

At this point, my calm, focused, Zen husband bursts into laughter.  His laugh is so funny and so inappropriate for the setting, that I start laughing at his ridiculousness.  The rest of the class is silent.  What kind of hobos laugh in meditation class?

Weeks later, Mr. HalfFull suggested that laughing can be quite Zen:

I know laughter opens the doors to perception, and it allows a thought to get in, because you’re completely unguarded and Zen-like when you’re laughing.

Laughing Buddha

Mr. HalfFull's beloved premarital artifact: the Laughing Buddha

We have this wooden Laughing Buddha statue in our foyer.  It was a decoration that Mr. HalfFull brought from his bachelor pad to our home.  I never liked it, and he’s not even Buddhist.  He originally displayed it on top of the TV cabinet, and I would move it to a hidden shelf reserved for his artifacts.  But that’s a story for another day.

I never noticed that the Buddha was laughing until Mr. HalfFull pointed it out to me as we were editing this post.  I just thought he was a fat guy with an open mouth (the Buddha, not my husband).  Maybe Mr. HalfFull is actually Zen:

Zen Buddhism embraces humor as an instructional tool and mode of expressing enlightenment, or satori. The Rinzai school of Zen teachings, the oldest Zen school in Japan, teaches that enlightenment cannot be attained through rigorous, logical thought, but only in a sudden, transcendent understanding of the universe. In this way, achieving Zen enlightenment is something like understanding a joke.

After the laughing incident, my rigorous, logical, half empty mind thought Mr. HalfFull was just inappropriate and lacked serious mental concentration.  But now it seems possible that he found a sudden, transcendent understanding of the universe!  I never knew he was so deep.  Perhaps he is my key to becoming enlightened and half full (or completely empty?).

Julie Nametag

Look for her at your local rec center!

For the rest of our meditation classes, instead of saying we were going to class, we would tell each other that we were going to find Julie at the desk.  We haven’t found her yet, but I look forward to making her acquaintance one day.

  • Do you meditate?
  • Have you laughed at inopportune moments?
  • Does Antonio Banderas’ voice make you randy?
  • Is there a special place for your spouse’s premarital artifacts?
  • Will we ever find Julie at the front desk?  Will you?
Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!