Reaching for the Centre by Alexandra O'Sullivan
Reaching for the Centre
‘I am going to ask you a question, and I want you to pay close attention to what happens in your mind the moment I ask it. Are you ready? The question is – do you know what your next thought is going to be?’
What was it?
What did it feel like?
That was mindfulness class. Although in that moment, it was mind emptying. It was the first time I had ever felt my mind free itself from thought. It was awful. It was beautiful. There are no words. It lasted a millisecond. It may not have happened at all.
I liked the sound of The Clarity Centre immediately. The centre of clarity. I walked into the church-like building – it might have even been a church – but the purpose of entering was to ask difficult questions, rather than be given easy answers. To find discomfort on the way to truth. Not the opposite.
The group was a mix of women and men, young and old. We were held together by our separate suffering. Our mindfulness teacher was a buddha-shaped woman who beamed empathy. She encouraged us to sit in meditation and explore the pain. Alone, together. The only question she ever seemed to ask us was, ‘What does that feel like?’
The circle hummed with silence.
I was writing a review of The Red Pill documentary the other day, and trying to find the exact way to explore anti-feminist propaganda, without just calling it anti-feminist propaganda and leaving it at that. I wanted to get right into the middle of it, to the part that explained everything about why it was what it was, to the suffering.
I write for a feminist website. It took a long time for my editor to approve my pitch. I waited in the silence. My previous article was also not being published. I couldn’t help feeling, as the silence stretched out, like I was being eased out of publication, perhaps even eased out of the feminist movement. To where though? That was the question.
In mindfulness class, we practiced ‘active listening.’ The goal was to listen to the other person, and really hear what they were saying, then reflect what they had told you back to them. The point was to do this without judgement. Why would suffering be judged? Why would seeking to understand suffering, be judged?
They are saying now that the future is female. But what is female? What is the future? Why is it on a t-shirt?
The future is consumerism. I took my seven-year-old son to the shops the other day, so that he could spend his pocket money. He wanted a fidget spinner – the latest school craze. He bought one, and quickly exhausted all the options of where to spin the small star shaped device – on your hand, on your knee, on the table, on mum’s takeaway coffee – mum says stop it! He wanted to go to an arcade. He spent the rest of his money on games and won a temporary tattoo. I took him to the toilets in the mall and wet down a wad of paper hand towels. I placed the picture of a cartoon rhinoceros on his arm and pressed the wad of paper against it. A old lady came out of the toilets and stood beside us, washing her hands.
‘What have you done to yourself young man?’ she turned off the tap.
‘It’s a temporary tattoo,’ I told her.
She waited by the basin. I knew she wanted to see it. I lifted the sopping paper off carefully to reveal the picture underneath.
‘Oh!’ she said, ‘that is lovely!’
‘Well,’ I gave the tattoo a satisfied look. ‘See ya!’
It was a weird thing to say, given the fact that I’ll probably never see that lady again. I didn’t even see her properly then, given the distraction. But ‘see ya’ is a way of saying, ‘This was a nice exchange, I hope I have another one like this soon, and I hope you do too.’
We left the toilets and walked back through the mall. The rhinoceros fell off my son’s arm.
Centre yourself. Find your centre. The centre of the universe is wherever you happen to be. It is the same for you. What does it feel like? I can’t answer that, you have to answer it yourself. Let all the thoughts in. Do not push them away. Move closer to the middle. Expand out into the universe. Sink into the floor. Feel it all. There’s a lot of pain, isn’t there? What does it feel like? Explore it. Welcome it. Let it stay if it wants to. You can’t get rid of it anyway. It has always been there and it will always be there. This is the end of delusion.
Recently a physicist wrote a hoax article about fidget spinners, claiming that ‘a harmonized cascade of these spinners’ could throw the earth’s gravity out of alignment. It’s almost possible to imagine, that if every person spun their spinner at the same time, in the same direction … although we would never achieve that level of synchronization. The earth is safe – for now. Is there comfort to be found in how little control we have over the earth’s gravitational pull? Or, should we be wondering – is the force on which all our lives are balanced, too powerful to pull back from, once it starts its own death spiral? Should we continue to worry about our own fidget spinners, or open our minds to larger possibilities? It’s bad news either way. It’s probably best not to think about it at all.
In class, we were told to identify our distraction habits. The things we do when we want to avoid feeling. Some people drink, some people have sex, some people go shopping. I get on social media, find the most controversial topic I can, and read through the comments. I tell myself I’m researching human nature, but really, I’m riding the waves upon waves of hostility, floating on the surface but staring into the depths below, and feeling intellectually superior.
Who has fallen from the feminist fan-club to the hate pile today? The internet will tell me. I wonder how something that was created to dismantle oppressive structures has become an oppressive structure. I’m circling too close to the truth. There’s fire at the centre. I feel angry. I feel depressed. I feel empty. I feel until I stop feeling.
I’m writing about The Red Pill and researching anti-feminism, and writing about writing about The Red Pill, and researching feminism – or the ‘blue pill.’ These pills we are meant to take to ‘find the truth.’ How can it be the truth if we force down a pill to see it? Why can’t the truth be found without altering our natural chemical balance? Is the truth true?
It’s all getting a bit hard to swallow. It’s all sticking on the way down. How much ‘human nature’ should I be exposing myself to? Is human nature the truth? Or, has the ‘truth’ socialised us to such an extent that we call it human nature? All these people on the internet, using words as weapons and acting so certain, do they know what their next thought is going to be?
I saw a man the other day, striding along through the gym car park – buff arms in a blue singlet – while his mate held an iPhone in front of him and walked backwards fast to keep pace. ‘Family are mates and mates are family,’ the buff guy declared as he moved towards the iPhone camera but never got any closer. It’s the age of exposure. Everyone is a philosopher. Anyone can lift off the wad of sopping paper, but how real is the picture underneath? How long will it last?
The best mind drugs offer simple solutions to complex problems. Red pill. Blue pill. Red pill. Blue pill. You can choose which one to take but you can’t take both. Mixing is dangerous! Stay out of the middle, no one can save you there. The centre cannot hold. This is the end of enlightenment. The future is rhetoric.
I received an email telling me that the memorial service for my mindfulness teacher would be held on Friday. I hadn’t received anything telling me that she had died. I received the after news before the news. In this information age, sometimes the system glitches and creates a time warp. I couldn’t make it to the service. I couldn’t go back in time and react to the first news and then plan accordingly to make it to the service. I put on one of her guided meditation cd’s and sat on a cushion in the middle of my loungeroom floor, listening to a voice that no longer exists.
What does that feel like?
I don’t know.
Embrace not knowing. What does not knowing feel like?
I don’t know.
The question will take you deeper and deeper. There’s no end to asking it, once you start. At what point does critical thinking dissolve into meaninglessness? Is clarity just a façade for the easily soothed? While the rest of the world spirals outwards in its ever-expanding destruction, I can keep winding in these ever-decreasing circles, but will I ever get to the centre? What is at the centre, anyway? I circle around it, and the closer I get, the more it feels like fear. Meanwhile, death circles around me, but never quite touches me. It will though, eventually. It will reach the centre. The future is extinction. This is the end.
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