At one point in time I thought my allergies were under control. My parents have some incredible sensitivities and have been generous enough to pass on the genetic inheritance in different forms to my brother and I. None of the glamourous, high-profile stuff, mind you. Nuts are fine. Bees aren’t that big of a deal. So there wasn’t a fear of death while growing up. But there were a lot of tissue boxes, a lot of noisy noses and a lot of putting up with the annoyances that were our lot in life.
And I really did think I was going to be all right. But life invades.
My introduction to Buddhism was I think an exploration of vocabulary as much as anything else. Words like nirvana, avalokiteshvara, transcendence and meditation all sound pretty cool and mysterious to a kid. It also helped that it was “Asian”. Might as well be from another world, worthy of exploration by the Star Trek crew (an aside here, but I loved Star Trek as a kid. Only when I hit adulthood did I realize just how much of that show was about our own humanity. Well, that and race. Race seemed to come up in every other episode…).
Eventually I drifted from the stories and vocabulary around Buddhism and got to learning about the practice. I remember thinking, quite early on, “So you just sit and think and breathe? Ok!” Oversimplification and teasing with absurdity – two of my more frustrating inclinations.
Time stretched. School and distractions took the focus for a while. Girls were discovered. Successes and failures came and went. Tissue boxes got used up, a lot.
It came as a surprise to me to find out, when visiting friends’ houses, that people could live without a tissue box in every room. And they could live quite well in otherwise toxic environments. Beatific, chemically-enhanced fragrances combined with yellow smoke and cat dander. How could they breathe in such places?
But they could, and quite well in fact. Plain as the nose before me, stuffed up as it might have been, these superhuman people lived quite happily, all the while sitting, breathing and thinking away in such putrid, inhuman surroundings. In my amazement and stupour, and my desire for physiological calm, I would often enough have to remove myself from the room.
It can be an incredible experience, depending on the severity of the attack. The brain doesn’t function the same as it would normally. It’s in reaction-mode and has no place or space for reasonable considerations. Often enough it is the senses that are directly affected. Eyes run wet and ask to be closed, ask to be rubbed. Mouth-breathing becomes necessary, so a different part of the brain has to wake up and manage those used-to-be automatic functionings. Ear pressure becomes a conscious entity inside your skull. And while the brain and body are accusing each other of traitorous intent, other people may look at you from their serenity. With curious heads tilted just so, they might even ask, “Something the matter?”
I’m happy to have brought such small moments of wonder to such people. But it does irk me a little to know I may never reach that transcendent state without a great deal of control over my environment. There was an ad on TV recently for allergy medication where the tagline was something like, “Achieve peace of mind.” Allergy pills are supposed to be good for 24 hours now. It may be a case of lowered expectations, but 24-hours of breathing normally has sometimes been all the salvation I ever hoped for.
Isn’t it interesting that we have to be in decent physiological condition in order to transcend our physical selves?
What do you think?