Wednesday was National Relaxation Day. I typed it into my phone calendar that morning, with alarms 60 and 30 minutes in advance, to remind me that I had been assigned to relax from 2 to 2:30 p.m., after which I would write this story on deadline.
Well, one thing led to another. My morning train into Boston was three minutes early, which itself seemed a violation of National Relaxation Day, in that it began with me squeezing into a standing-room train as wet as a swimmer after sprinting the last two-and-a-half blocks to get to my new job at Northeastern on time.
The morning flew by. Then a couple of my new bosses took me out to lunch. The conversation was engaging, although I was interrupted by the alarms reminding me that I was running out of time to relax.
In the first week of a new job you worry about every little thing. You just do. Mainly because you don’t want to let yourself down. It was written into the daily news schedule that I would be participating in a group meditation at Northeastern’s Sacred Space on the second floor of Ell Hall. Everyone recognizes the importance of first impressions. I mean, your new boss is commissioning you to relax—and you can’t? Lunch ended in time and after a brisk walk and a polite greeting I found myself in a long, quiet, simple room, scattered with rugs and a few square oversized pillows.
The meditation was led by Ben Gincley, a fifth-year Northeastern student from New Jersey. He was very much relaxed. He asked the three of us who were there to remove our shoes and adopt a comfortable kneeling or sitting position. I sat in a chair, on account of my unreliable back, which made me feel a bit like Phil Jackson, the former coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, who used to watch the games from a kind of throne high above his fellow coaches and players on the team bench.
We each introduced ourselves and then Ben asked us to partially or completely shut our eyes, and to create a sense of sustainable posture. He encouraged us to take account of our feelings. He rang a bell three times, softly, which was very much the opposite of a starting gun.
Occasionally Ben guided us to be aware of the texture of the ground beneath us, the weight of our feet, and then within our ankles. He was the perfect coach for this event. But I didn’t feel very coachable. He encouraged us to be aware of our breathing. I was occupied by the soft soothing sound of exhausting air emanating from behind us, which made me think of the machine that the judge in the Paul Manafort trial has been turning on to drown out his private conversations with the attorneys.
Then I started thinking about Omarosa. I thought about my grocery list, the weeds in my driveway that I should have pulled weeks ago, whether I should make my lunch at night if the train was going to keep arriving early. I thought about what I was going to write for this story. I thought about my good friend, Steve, and the funeral of his wife two hours earlier in Philadelphia. Her name was Kathi. She had been fighting her cancer for eight years. I remembered how happy they had been the last time I had seen them together, four months ago, and I thought about the loneliness and sadness Steve must be feeling today in the midst of so many people who love him.
Ben tapped at the bell three more times.
A few minutes later, he spoke with me about the need to examine one’s own breath, the beating of the heart, the reality that we are here, alive in this moment, regardless of the crises that come and go. “‘This too shall pass’ is the phrase of the community,” he said.
I had awoken as if from a conscious dream. At some time, for how long I cannot say, because it really doesn’t matter, I had been at peace. Even now, as I finishing my writing on this Thursday morning, I am grateful for that moment.